My investigation of the drippy line permutations known as tags led me throughout various boroughs of New York City. Tags can be found scattered in varying degree throughout the landscape but a high concentration is found on doors. This can be explained for numerous reasons. First, most doors tend to be recessed enough to allow for privacy. In such a moment, one can easily write with anonymity. Secondly, doors are smoother than walls. Most writers use markers with felt tips that are easily torn up on rough surfaces. Next, tags with drips are an adopted aesthetic of the graffiti vernacular. Since doors are a hard surface drips tend to be longer and straighter. The porousness of walls absorbs paint and makes drips either non-existent or thick and overly pronounced. Lastly, and most importantly, doors serve as a social network for graffiti aficionados. They are the time sheet where writers "punch in" and add themselves to the roster of graffiti history. If graffiti was a religion, the door would be the temple.
Taking this quite literally I began to assume that the door was the temple. For a specific demographic it was a gathering place for worship. It was where writers would have a solitary moment of silence and leave an offering. Sometimes they would tag over another writer and other times not. Regardless the dialogue of the door grows thick as many writers circumnavigate entire blocks, boroughs, and neighborhoods, leaving branded doors in their wake, and to borrow a dated term, go all city.
The majority of citizens view these acts as reprehensible territorial markings, akin to the behavior of dogs. However, this form of identity tourism is not a new or unique concept. It has been adopted by the Basque in numerous Aspen carvings, hobo monikering with oil-based chalks on the side of traincars, most notable is perhaps the popularity of the 'Kilroy was here' tag which travelled the world over during WWI. But, of the oldest scenarios is the Japanese practice of Seyncha Fuda.
During the 7th century many would go on a religious pilgrimage to 33 holy temples in western Japan where they would would affix a personalized piece of paper to the temple using a liquid glue equivalent to wheatpaste. The practice expanded to a pilgrimage of 88 holy temples by the 17th century that were to be visited in a specific order. The piece of papers that were pasted to the temples were supposed to give the individual good luck as long as it stuck to the temple.
If anything, the act of leaving one's mark is a universal one. From Nasa's flag planting on the moon to the Lascaux caves, humans have been leaving their mark in an assortment of ways. My investigation of line drawings as interpreted by graffiti artists is just another branch of humans innate need to make an announcement of presence. But tagging alone is just tagging. However, when a tag is made beside another you have a dialogue. And there is no stronger dialogue then within the framework of doors, excuse me, I meant within the framework of the temple.
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May 05, 2008