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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Graffiti and Dog Poop and Art and Vandalism

Culturally speaking, Spain is a nation of icons, whether they are vanished, fading, or continue to exert influence on modern Spanish society. The sword, once a symbol for Spanish conquest, is now found only in museums and tourist shops. The corrida, or bullfighting, although still present on the Iberian Peninsula, no longer instills the passion it once did in the hearts and minds of the Spanish people. The soccer ball has usurped the corrida as the dominant icon in modern Spanish society. It even beats out the Catholic Church; if you don’t believe this compare attendance figures at cathedrals with the huge crowds at football stadiums. The spray paint can is also a dominant cultural icon in Spain although most people here wouldn’t acknowledge it or even understand what I mean by this.

I am talking about the graffiti that is everywhere in Spain, like some modern architectural disease. I have never felt that graffiti is much of an art form. In fact, I hate it, at least in most of its varieties. It is to visual art what rap music is to poetry, or what Keanu Reeves is to acting. It is puerile at best and mostly just petty larceny—sometimes not so petty (Think of Keanu in Much Ado About Nothing).

There are almost no sacred cows when a vandal teen intersects with a can of paint. There is very little real public art in Valencia that hasn’t been tagged. Even La Lonja de la Seda, the silk exchange built in 1492, Valencia’s gothic architectural masterpiece and UNESCO World Heritage site, was recently a billboard for graffitists who scrawled “Copamericanos terroristas” in red letters on an exterior wall. Valencia is hosting the upcoming America’s Cup race and I imagine that La Lonja is easier to spray paint than a 12 meter racing sloop. This trenchant message reflects the world view of someone who probably painted the words while balancing on a skateboard and is too stupid to see that defacing of a cultural icon is terrorism. The blemish was quickly removed but not without leaving the stone slightly damaged. Damn those Americans boaters.

The Lonja was just recently restored and the architect who oversaw the work said that anti-graffiti paint was not applied to the exterior walls of the Lonja because it gives the stone fa├žade an improperly bright appearance.

About 99.99% of the graffiti is just vandalism with not the slightest nod to artistic expression. Most of it isn't even communication; it is the urban teen's answer to a dog peeing on its territory. When graffiti does try to communicate something it seems even more pathetic.

I remember seeing a slogan painted on a wall in Lima, Peru many years ago. It was some rather long-winded sermon about the communist party being the only political group that looked to the future. The vandal had begun the slogan in huge red letters, five feet high. He quickly realized that he was quickly running out of wall so he started making the letters smaller, and smaller, and smaller until the letters in the last word weren’t much bigger than this type font. So much for the foresight of the Peruvian communist party. If I had a picture of that work I would file it under "Ironic Metaphors."

Almost none of the graffiti here in Valencia is political. I can almost understand political graffiti but the tagging variety popular here and in most large American cities is a mystery to me. About the only thing being communicated to me is ugliness. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t care to get inside the head of graffiti vandals although I would like to see the outside of their heads connecting with an aluminum baseball bat, you know, for art’s sake.

I have read about the ways to prevent graffiti besides the anti-graffiti paint but one thing that I have noticed here in Valencia is that vandals usually won’t mark over someone else’s work. About the only thing little dickheads with paint cans seem to respect are other little paint can-wielding dickheads. If you are a business owner and you don’t want the little shits defacing your storefront, the best thing to do is have someone with at least a hint of artistic ability paint you walls first.

I don’t think that painting graffiti murals over every square inch of exposed exterior surface is the answer—I don’t think the human eye could handle that much vulgarity. That would be like having rap music on every radio station, or a Keanu Reeves film festival.

Besides graffiti, the other thing that detracts from the beauty of Spanish cities, call it another steaming cultural icon, is that which is left in the wake of man’s best friend. Lots of people have little dogs here and lots of little dogs means lots of little dog poop which most often is left on the sidewalk, or in tree wells, or in the grass at parks, but usually finds its way to the bottom of your shoes. Dog poop is little Barfy’s answer to graffiti. You quickly become adept at playing a kind of dog shit hopscotch as you walk down the sidewalk. France seems to have the same laissez-faire attitude when it comes to cleaning up after pets, but they also have legions of professional dog poop cleaners who scour the streets on motorcycles equipped with dog poop vacuums (I'm not making this up).

Once again, a psychologist could probably explain these issues, graffiti and dog poop, with the same discussion of anti-authoritarian, post-Franco mentality of the Spanish people. It’s as if someone will be labeled as a fascist if they tell anyone to pick up after their dog or to stop defacing a public monument with a can of spray paint. Perhaps the Spanish do not view either of these issues as a problem, or not a problem big enough to warrant much of a response. There is a fairly aggressive anti-graffiti campaign but it seems that the average citizen here has become somewhat immune to the ubiquity of spray paint vandalism. Most of the dialogue you read about graffiti in the newspapers concerns the more benign, artistic forms.

In my status as a casual observer and recent immigrant I can’t offer much insight as to how they feel about these two matters which to me are rather obnoxious. I suppose that if and when they feel that they are worth addressing they will do something about it. Until then, watch your step.

1 comment:

  1. Did you make all this up? I'm sorry but I still can't believe... I'm now feeling so confused, so I'll be checking some more articles on this topic (something like this one, for example, http://bigessaywriter.com/blog/graffiti-wall-art-or-act-of-vandalism). Graffiti...


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