Playing wit Graffiti

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I decided to graffiti on the wall right outside Canopy Club, a bar on campus. I decided to graffiti on “21 & down” with a beer bottle in reference to the frequent underage drinking that happens on campus. When people look at this on their night out they might think it’s entertaining because most people who hang out at Canopy are probably underage. My desired consequence for this graffiti is for the audience to realize how ironic it is that the legal drinking age in America is 21 but it is not taken seriously at all. I also want the audience to reflect on how ridiculous the 21+ law is since most people who are patrons of these bars on campus are under 21 or barely 21.

I think the medium of graffiti gives a lot of possibilities when you want to speak about a social issue, as the location on which we are committing this illegal act also contributes meaning to the work. Also, graffiti is almost always in a public place seen and used by numerous people every day, which makes it a suitable medium if you want to shine a light on a subject you want more people to think about.

Berger and McCloud: Iconography

One similarity I found between John Berger’s The Ways of Seeing and Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics was the theories about icon. Scott McCloud talks about how everything portrayed through the medium of comics is an ‘icon’ of something else, a simplified version of a (possibly) real-life object. He uses the example of Magritte’s famous painting “The Treachery of Images”, which portrays a picture of a pipe with the caption “this is not a pipe”. Because it is not; it is simply a drawing of a pipe. All the imagery and words we perceive are all ‘icons’ of something else: a smiley face is a simplified icon of a real smiling face, the American flag is an icon of the country of United States, and so forth. Words are icons too, visually they are just ink on paper, but thematically each word holds meaning, referencing to another idea. John Berger talks of icons similarly. He uses the example of religious symbols that people visit. A cross in a church that people come to see, to pray in front of. The cross is not the actual God, but people still come to see it and pray in front of it as it’ is the icon of God. Paintings are similar. They depict an image that is not the actual thing, but people still attach meaning to it.

Ways of Seeing

  1. The first episode of John Berger’s The Ways of Seeing made me think of how the medium through which we perceive things has so much control over the message we get from it. Especially when an original object is transmitted through another medium, it is now up to the camera, music and the words to determine what we see, hear and understand. The original meaning is lost, and there are new possible meanings to the object now. These messages can be intentional, or they might not be, but nonetheless, we should be wary of the possibility of these new meanings that may be created through the replication.
  2. Reproductions multiply the meaning of originals by transmitting them through different media, thereby adding a second (or third, or fourth, and so forth) ‘touch’ to it. Objects lend themselves to easy manipulation using camera, words and surroundings by being replicated and shown in places that is not its original place. For example, when a painting is replicated in a TV documentary about it, there are narrations and music added to the viewing of the painting that adds more meaning to it. This is something that cannot be stopped as soon as the painting goes through the act of reproduction.
  3. When creating something like an image-text we need to be hyper-aware of the medium we are using (hypermediacy!) and be skeptical of the messages it may depict uncontrollably. We also need to be thinking about the surrounding and the environment of the piece, as location and everything around it ‘confirms and consolidates’ its existence and gives it another layer of meaning.

Language in the Landscape

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This is a picture of the marquee of The Art Theater. The text in the picture says “Art” in red neon letters and in the marquee underneath it says “Blue Jasmine” and “The Room”. The Art is an independent, co-op theater located in downtown Champaign. Near the theater there is a gloomy little Thai restaurant and a Tattoo Parlor called “No Regrets Tattoos & Body Piercings”. The red neon “ART” sign is a permanent fixture at the theater, but the marquee changes every time there are new movies screening. The marquee is decorated by bright yellow lightbulbs which gives it a very vintage and nostalgic tone. Near the theater entrance they always have the posters of movies they are screening, as well.

The font of the text is sans serif, all-caps, and are very clear to read, which makes sense as it is trying to tell people without minimum distraction what movies are playing that evening. I like the impermanence of the marquee; every time one passes by it, they will easily be able to know what movies are playing, without having to enter the building. Furthermore, certain movies are put on longer than others, usually more popular movies by celebrated directors like Blue Jasmine directed by Woody Allen, which means that the text will be up on the marquee longer than other lesser-known independent movies. Also, there are texts that return over and over again to the Art – like the cult classic The Room, which the Art puts on for at least a week every year. I find this very fascinating, on how some movie titles are more ‘impermanent’ than others.

The words themselves inform the audience of what movies are playing, but they are also used to promote and sell the movies being screened at the theater. The words, and the fact that they are displayed in a theater marquee, reflect how these movies are a bit different from the mainstream blockbuster movies. They are independent, cult, art movies that may or may not be closer to what the old independent theaters pursued. I think for most people familiar with the Art or the downtown Champaign area, the Art’s marquee sign symbolizes a sense of independence that is beginning disappear at a fast rate in our contemporary society. Like I’ve said, every time I see the marquee I feel a sense of nostalgia – for me personally it’s a longing for my favourite theater in the whole universe, the Bytowne Cinema, an independent cinema in my hometown Ottawa. However, for many others who might be familiar with similar independent cinemas that disappeared over time, the Art’s marquee symbolizes something from their past that no longer exists. Or it may symbolize the power of collaboration and cooperation, as the Art is a co-op theater, which means that it is cooperatively owned. In fact, more than 1000 people proudly call themselves owners of this independent theater, which I think is amazing and something Champaign should be very proud of.

Mapping My Identity

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The above transit map is a map of my identity. I have thought about just focusing on one aspect of my identity for this project, but after much thinking I realized that I, like everyone else, am a very complex individual. I wanted the audience to get a broad but comprehensive understanding of me as an person. Hence the transit map. It encompasses various elements that come together to form the person that I am. Not only that, this map also depicts who I am in terms of choice – I could choose certain aspects of my identity, but other things were not for me to decide.

My decision to use a subway transit map to depict my identity stemmed from many different reasons. First, I love big urban cities and I love learning about different cities’ public transit system. It gives me great joy to become familiar with a city’s transit system, to get to familiar and unfamiliar places using the transportation. I feel the same way about myself, in a way. I love exploring and examining my identities. Also, transit maps in most cities are always developing. New stations are added onto preexisting lines, and new lines are constructed. Similarly, my identity is always developing. Maps “bear implicit promises of routes into and out of the unknown” (Harmon, 9) and I feel that this map does that, as it does not delve into details about my identities, and leaves the specifics up to the audience to figure out. Each station on the longer red or blue line represents crucial part of my identity, while the shorter lines that stem from these ‘identity stations’ on the longer lines are details about that specific identity. For some stations, I also do not understand their bigger implications, which also fits the unknown aspect of maps. Moreover, transit maps are used to describe the movement of the transportation system. Personally, my life  and my identities are always ‘in transit’. I would like to think that it is never still, and that it is constantly in motion.

The colours are significant in this map, as the colours of the lines have meaning in themselves. The red line is all the identities over which I did not have complete control. The lines that come out of the red line, in colours close to red, are also important aspects of my identity I did not get to choose. The blue line is elements of my identity that I had control over, and the lines coming out of the blue lines are also sub-categories of those identities I got to choose. Of course, there are things that I had some control over, but not complete control, which are illustrated through the map in the form of intersections. Details of these identities I depicted on the purple line, purple being the colour one gets when one mixes red and blue. The red line, which symbolizes identities I did not choose, is a straight horizontal line as I did not have the option of bending these identities to my accord. However, the blue line, symbolizing identities I chose, is more fluid and moves up and down, interweaving with the red line, representing the more flex nature of my chosen identities.

In a way, this is a remediation of transit maps, so I decided to make this map digitally as I wanted it to be a very similar remediation of an average transit map one would normally see. I thought that drawing it out by hand would hypermediate it, which I did not want. Furthermore, I made the map in Adobe Illustrator, which is a program I have very little experience with; I have only had experience with Photoshop and InDesign. Nonetheless, I love to explore new grounds and challenge myself, which is reflected in my choosing to use an unfamiliar program in successfully creating this map.

I realized a lot about identities while creating this map. For instance, mapping out the rough draft of the map, I felt confident in deciding what identities were completely under control or not under control. However, thinking more in depth about different identities and trying to physically place them on a map, I became aware that in a way, all these ‘identity stations’ can become intersections. Do I really have full control over choosing which friends I have? Did I really have full control in choosing my major and minor? Is my passion for art something I chose or was it something I am uncontrollably drawn to? There were moments in the creation process where I was confused and uncertain on where to place certain stations, and even now, all these stations could be challenged. Although this map made it much more easier for me to list my identities in a creative and an interesting way, it also felt limited in its structure. If I could revise this map, I would probably think more about my identities and where they belong on the subway lines. I would also add more aspects of my identity that I could have missed or developed, expanding the map further.

This map is supposed to be seen, rather than be read, which makes it more approachable to a wider audience. Particularly, as it is in the form of a transit map, which many people are familiar with, it may draw attention more easily than a written piece of work. I also appreciate how on first glance you are immediately drawn into exploring the map, which may be difficult to do with a big block of text. Through this map I wanted to express that identities are complex and it is not always up to us to decide who we are. The audience for this map is whoever’s interested in learning me beyond my name and major. There are ‘stations’ on this transit map that are self-explanatory, but there are others that may be good conversation starters, and I would love to have a conversation with anyone who’s interested in learning about me further.

Citations:

Harmon, Katherine and Gayle Clemans. The Map as Art: Contemporary Artists Explore Cartography.

Language in the Landscape: Questions

  1. The reading says that the message is influenced by its form. Does the speaker/writer also influence the message?
  2. How much does language control our behaviour? Are our everyday performance dictated by language?
  3. How much power does language have? Does language give more power to some than others?