Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

The difference between advertisement and graffiti


Why is there such a need to tag walls and especially in the vicinity of books devoted to poetry? Will poetic intuition and the work of a poet with images suffice to give some explanation? Certainly code poetry as a project does not since it assumes an in-between real and virtual walls a position by which a tagged wall can become a link to a poem when using the mobile phone to scan the tag and then find the link to a website. It is making use of modern communication technology but more work would be needed to link it with the changing graffiti along those walls.

A possible explanation is the conflict between creation of something beautiful and advertisement which uses the notion of beauty to seduce.


        Different sales pitches

It might not do justice to the graffiti to subsume it in this case to a certain sales pitch. Yet the contrast to what is being offered in a sales under the brand name "Greek is chic" could not be greater. The man has a tie around his neck as if the only clothing while the strange animal head beside him reminds of skeletons of animals found in the countryside with bones long bleached by the sun.

By 'sales pitch' is meant the intention to sell something. It is a term which stems from the American culture linking pitching in a baseball game to what a salesman has to do when meeting up with a potential costumer. Advise has it the first pitch counts a lot if the customer is willing not only to stand up to the plate, but stays there to receive further pitches. Naturally the aim is not to strike him or her out but to entice her to buy something.

By comparison what a graffiti does is to pitch a message behind which stands a viewpoint of society. A salespitch for a product or service differs to the extent that it exists and can be made readily available once willingness to pay for it has been signalled. The pitch aims to solicit this willingness. Since it happens always under certain conditions, including the willingness to pay a certain price for it, the pitch implies what is within reach if both sides come to an agreement.

By contrast, graffiti expresses not so much the likelihood of attaining something once an agreement has been reached. Rather the expression thereof is usually a political form of protest against paying too huge a prize already for existing within the urban space. People feel themselves being made redundant before they have even a chance to articulate themselves. That is why graffiti is often a muted outcry or protest against the inability to articulate nuanced forms of criticism as to what happens day in, day out. By being forced to exist in such a society, the graffiti artist states in fact that there cannot be put a clear figure as to what reality consists of. By extension, the graffiti does not even dare to image what it would cost to bring about another society. That latter cost is simply subsumed in a wish to articulate only indirectly consideration for what it would take to alter and to change society. Thus much remains under a general slogan expression not so much a wish for change as it is a statement about current state of affairs which would require to be change nothing but a revolution for mostly in the mind and therefore on how to image things to become if reality becomes worse than what it is already now. That time differentiation needs to be taken into consideration when attempting to decipher and to decode graffiti like images and languages used in the forms of often slogans and words with loaded meaning.


     Contrast to fashion and concept of beauty

The need for design and image change as part of city branding in the virtual world go hand in hand with modern forms of advertisement not of individual products, but of an entire city or even region. Hand in hand with it goes the importance of a logo by which something is recognized. Another term for this is a brand name. Consequently any city administration but also company, football team, school, etc. is interested to be easily recognizable by people associating immediately the right meaning with a given logo.

Experts maintain advertisement and marketing depend upon an interplay between the imagination and what ties loose ends together. Surely Coca-Cola has achieved this with its typical bottle and use of the colour 'red' as its success lies on using a secret formula to give its drink a distinctive taste. Another example would be the advertising strategy used by Benetton insofar as controversial photos broke through all sorts of barriers which had prevailed until then in the advertisement industry.

Fashions and fashion design set patterns which declare this is what everyone, or at least those who can afford it, desire. Furthermore it is generally acknowledged that there are fashions as much as fads, trend setters with many dressing alike even though the contrast cannot be sharper in reality. Michael D. Higgins mentioned once in his speech held in Leipzig 1999 when referring to the sniper who shot a couple in Sarajevo most like he was dressed like them in jeans.

Graffiti in contrast to fashions does not follow fashionable trends which set the tone in society; rather, graffiti signifies these trends and brings out some of the underpinnings not admissable in a normal functioning company which rules out all kinds of disturbances so as to be able to plan the production and sales of certain products. That form of organization which defines practically the human being as a disturbance (M. Foucault spoke about the patient disturbing the diagnosis process of the doctor when asking questions related to the pain he experiences) leaves the individual no other chance but to experience him- or herself as deeply disturbed. Only this disquietness is not translated in such an urban society which reduces the city to an overall production machinery of mere images as to who belongs to its order, who not. Of interest is that homeless and crazy people are picked up by the police and removed so that the ordinary citizen is not disturbed.

That means a city to function must attain a high level of normal appearance and everything is done to maintain it. Along with this goes a perversion of the arts and the use of aesthetics and hygienic arguments to justify the removal of street protesters as if tourists wish to see monuments, not real people suffering under the current crisis. The graffiti is a form of protest against all this white wash and therefore political lie which upholds a fake appearance.

It is natural to seek beauty in both nature and in urban settings, while people wish to belong to humanity. However, once perversion sets in, and it has so already for a long time, belonging is reduced to the successful ones and humanity narrowed down to the ones who are beautiful. That means a low level of acceptance of all those who would want to live their differences and otherness openly. Likewise the 'cutting edge of success' makes clear that below it begin the levels of those who cannot afford to keep up with all these fake appearances. It includes those who do not wish to be identified with such a society and who wish to convey this in the way they are dressed or even mutilate themselves consciously to set themselves apart. Here lies the precise nature of risk to repeat but the same mechanisms of distortion of reality, in order to set oneself apart.

Needless to say the commercialization of things which catch on is also possible. When it became an expression of protest to walk around with torn jeans, soon expensive jeans were made which look likewise old, worn and torn, but which cost a lot. Cashing in on what has become popular can equally mean to throw everything into a confusion. No one is then sure how to protest as it becomes impossible to identify when walking down the street who belongs to what movement of society: the genuine protesters or to the police working under cover to make out those who resist the system? And there are those who wish the blend in with the rest, in order to cover their tracks. In short, so much is done to express as it is equally deceptive.

In that sense, even graffiti can be perceived as a good way to hide real differences which do exist in society. But this society has grown old insofar it disdains practically any kind of reference to a class society. To hide themselves it means literally also the rich try to blend in at times. Exemplified by the American Dream as if everyone can make it to be considered as equal with others, catchy words make the round to suggest everyone has a chance to be successful in such a society. The reality speaks a clearer and different language but the public places, cafes and shops are frequented only by those who can afford it. However, the entrance ticket has been bought already a long time before but once people have entered this consumption society made up of design and overproduction of shoes, clothes, etc. they cannot go back. They feel cut off from themselves as much as from the others. This is the real dilemma and here graffiti seems to discover the gaps in between. They contradict in both a loud and silent way why should it be the sole truth that everyone can make it, if only he or she tries hard enough?

There is no self reflection on the part of society of that resounding question. Most of the time, while walking down streets filled with cars and by passers, random chances to speak with someone about real opportunities are rare indeed. Perspectives to unfold are denied to a majority of people. They know only how to advance by contributing in the same way to the system as it is required for the system to function. In the end a kind of rationalization sets in. It replaces philosophy by acknowledging everyone has a way to sustain him- or herself, thus no one seems to care so much any more how that other person does it. Much more important is how to sustain oneself and that is not easy. But precisely because this can bring one too close for comfort to defeat, this weak spot is hidden, pushed aside, over played, and displaced by a language which suggests the individual person no longer exists and only the well adapted prevails.

Graffiti would like to contradict that image of a self negating personality and therefore resorts to images which seem to be taken out of the world of the imagination or the unreal. This is also the case when even two thirds or more of the population suffer due to having become inconsistent and exclusive in practice not only of the other but of the 'self'. 

Hatto Fischer

Athens 18.12.2013

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