Graffiti: overground archaeology or environmental crime?

Alison Barnes

‘In a city that belongs to no-one, people are constantly seeking to leave a trace of themselves…’ (Sennett 1990:205)

Graffiti, by its very nature, is inevitably temporary type. Whether due to chemical cleansing agents deployed by local councils and property owners, or simply the effect of the wind and rain over time, at some point, it will, sooner or later, disappear.

The word graffiti means ‘little scratchings’ and it comes from the Italian graffiare, which means to scratch and for thousands of years ancient cultures have engaged in this form of written expression. (Reisner 1971; Abel & Buckley 1977). When studied, the older examples of graffiti have often been used to provide insights into society – Pompeii being an obvious example (Abel & Buckley 1977:4). There is something about graffiti in this context that is somehow acceptable – visitors to Pompeii don’t complain that the graffiti is destroying the landscape they simply view it as part of the history of the place. In the case of the Berlin wall, graffiti has actually been ascribed value, with the pieces of the wall available for purchase that have graffiti on them fetching higher prices than those that don’t (Cavan 1995:4).


Urban space and everyday life

Urban spaces are in a continual state of flux; permanence is impossible. The inhabitants, their lives and their territorial markings are temporary. The city is being continually rewritten—like a palimpsest—layer upon layer, never quite wiping the slate clean.

The ‘messages’ embedded in the landscape can be read as signs about values, beliefs and practices and geographers have begun to see the potential in reading the landscape and refer to its biography (Jackson, 1989:173). Michel de Certeau drew many analogies between the city, its inhabitants and their movements and the practice of writing and speaking. He saw the inhabitants of the city as ‘writing an urban text’ as they move through it (de Certeau, 1984:97).


The Situationists were profoundly influenced by Lefbvre’s writings and they were determined to penetrate the outward, spectacular, commercialized signs of mass culture and explore its interior by examining everyday patterns of life, in particular people’s use of buildings and urban space. By using the methodology of the Situationists and charting ‘signs’ that are usually unseen, informal or even illicit—in this case graffiti—rather than the ubiquitous golden arches or neon coca cola signs, one can perhaps begin to read a text of a less homogenous, global nature. One that is perhaps more local in its outlook on occasion, but one that is nonetheless still capable of delivering insights that reach further than its literal and physical city boundaries.


Via http://stbride.org/friends/conference/temporarytype/overgroundarchaeology

Body Typography


Can anyone tell me anything about the context of this picture?

I quite like how someone is being used as a furniture, just painted in white, as the spacing between words.

Il faut…

Vague ideas should be challenged by intelligible images

Taken from Godard’s movie “Histoire(s) du cinéma”

Moholy-Nagy: Painting/Photography/film, 1925


p39 “What is typo-photo?

Typography is communication composed in type.

Photography is the visual presentation of what can be optically apprehended.

Typophoto is the visual presentation of what can be optically apprehended.

(…) Until recently typeface and typesetting rigidly preserved a technique which admittedly garanted the purity of the linear effect but ignored the new dimension of life.”