Walking down Fuencarral street in Madrid, looking around and running into public texts whose proliferation make up, in part, the shared space of the city. In the background, to the right, in red and blue, traffic signs informing that parking is prohibited. In red and white, a bank sign, and up above, in white and blue, an ATM sign. Signs of order, signs of capital and commerce, and marks of private property that the state and its institutions have taught us to read, naturalizing their logics. These signs coexist with other signs that demand from us other methods of reading and an other type of relation with the city: tags.
Tags: signatures using a pseudonyn in public space. In the foreground, tags in yellow going around the base, and tags in white going up the lower part of three street lamps on Fuencarral. Yellow and white on black. These signs are persecuted and criminalized. They do not rely on the “legality” granted by capital.
Coming back to the same street a month and a half later. The signs of capital are still there, but the tags are gone. The have been washed out by the city hall. There is neither space nor desire here for melancholy or nostalgia. Tags are meant to disappear: their very condition of marks on the street, their mode of occupying the street, is signed by uncertainty and transience. They may stay for a month, a day, an hour. In a beautiful text, writer Dumaar Freemaninov (aka Nov York, aka Dumar Brown) talks about graffiti as a “philosophical frame”: “Just as with the Tibetan Buddhist Mandala, graffiti is not meant to last long but instead its function is wrapped up in ritual and deep understanding that all is temporary and life is but a dream. This tag too shall pass. It’s rather freeing to think tagging the walls of your city is a path towards enlightenment” (“Foreword” xvii. In Ornament and Order: Graffiti, Street Art, and the Parergon by Rafael Schacter, 2014.). It is in uncertainty and transience, in the echoes of their ephemeral and transitory condition, where the potency of tags resides as a medium for reflection about our own occupation of the city and the planet.