Once upon a time- 12 years ago- I lived in San Francisco. It was just for a year, fresh out of college, interning at a theatre, broke as all hell, living on fumes and alcohol, but it was one of my favourite years ever.
Because I loved that city. I loved how the people in San Francisco interacted with their city. London has great graffiti, edgy, unique. But San Franciscans talked back. They didn’t just paint murals but they used text. More than I’d ever seen before.
One of my favourite artists there is Rigo 23*- I used to pass this sign in Potrero Hill on the way to my wardrobe job everyday.
Stencils on the pavement, giant billboards with random signs and witty come-backs to the city bustling below them, the entire diary of this one girl who lived in my neighborhood who would add 3 or for lines to a lament running along the sidewalk in chalk, that would start to be erased as more and more was added, but ultimately left traces of her thoughts a full block long. And I loved that sense of talking back. Marking the streets up. Not down alleys, hidden from view, or in the tube tunnels, but arguing with the city in broad daylight, full force.
And the more I live in New York, I realize there’s also also a conversation going on.
So far I’ve discovered the Toynbee tiles in the pavement all across Midtown, tiny plaques that read “Toynbee Idea In Movie ‘2001’ Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter”. These tiles apparently exist in cities all over the States and South America, and appeared from the mid 80’s, as a possible reference to James Morasco concept of resurrection on Jupiter while calling a in to Larry King’s radio show in 1980. That’s explained better here,** if you’re interested.
Stencils of “Protect your Magic”***, a project started by Fadia Kader started popping up in April. They’ve appeared with images, against Frida Kahlo, a jumping off point for the project, and with other full size murals. But I love the simplicity and truth of the slogan. Keep a little for yourself of what makes you magic, not everyone deserves it, or all of you. As a creative person it’s a lesson I’ve learnt the hard way, to keep a little of my creative fire for me, my personal projects, and my sanity. Anyway, there’s a great interview with her here.
Another piece I just saw today at the New York Times Building Lobby, was not on the street, but a different use of media and text, from artists Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen. It’s a wall of tiny monitors, which, as people are reading the news online, steals clippets from their news and broadcasts them on these screens, adding sound, and also showing the text as a single strand that weaves it way across the multiple screens, messily, intersecting with others read text, criss-crossing over it and muddying it, much as the text graffiti above does with city streets. It’s the first time I had heard of either of these artists, but Ben Rubin, in particular seems very invested in the art using text in public spaces.
Another of his projects, “And that’s the way it is”,**** in the Walter Cronkite Courtyard at The University of Texas, projects snippets from the Walter Cronkite archives, with contemporary journalism new feeds from across the country, like text clouds across the building front. It’s both beautiful and thought provoking, in their unreadable clutter.* How much information is too much? And how do we pick about the tangles texts to determine what is important?
Anyway, the point of bringing up San Francisco, was that it was these first written pieces that made me fall in love with text as art and image, and want to explore and dissect everything to do with that, so it’s funny, and also fitting to find a city so embedded 12 years later. And it’s also making me wonder if I can call this city Home.
and for an awesome map of sf murals and art see this blog http://www.artandarchitecture-sf.com/wp-content/uploads/map2.php
** sourced from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toynbee_tiles
with more pictures here
*** see here for more info www.ataleoftwobiddies.com/2014/04/protect-your-magic.html
**** see here for more about this project and Ben Rubin
And this fantastic blog about the New York Times Building Exhibition, Artnerd.com