In the last two posts the conceptual thread has been weaving its way from urban subnatures to subcultures, via a movement from the derelict expressions of weeds to spray paint. We arrive (and conclude) at the cultural subnature of graffiti located immediately adjacent to the weed prairie in Portland’s inner southeast industrial district. All the images in this post are from this long and narrow strip next to the Willamette River.
Graffiti is one of the most obvious and pervasive forms of cultural subnature, as it intentionally violates established behavioral rules, which is typically the motive behind doing it. Graffiti’s least artistic variant–tagging (which some would argue isn’t even proper graffiti) is found all over Portland. As creative as Portland is, most of our graffiti generally isn’t (compare us to cities like San Francisco or Melbourne, Australia).
What is far more interesting than the graffiti is the maintenance regimes deployed to cover up the cultural subnature and their unintended effects. Portland instituted a no-tolerance graffiti policy in this district, with stiff fines and a graffiti removal regime that consists of painting over the vertical surfaces of buildings — hundreds of them. Similar to the mowing of fields of weeds, the traces of this process reveals the city as contested terrain; the urban as a series of spatial events consisting of a back and forth contested exchange in surfacing and resurfacing the vertical fields of the city:
This unintentional patterning of the city was superbly documented in Matt McCormick’s Sardonic short film The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal (2002). The film compares the unintended artistic results to post modern minimalist art and Russian suprematism. Brilliant.
It’s remarkable to see that 8 years later the visual battle between perceived order and chaos is still occurring in the same manner and the layers of paint just keep accumulating.