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6 questions for fi5e

February 4, 2005

“even the smallest ‘I was here’ tag is a social and political statement” —fi5e
1. How did you first get involved with street art?
I have been posting web-based projects on my site since 2001, but I started to switch my focus from the web to the street about a year ago. Moving to New York City and seeing all of the amazing graffiti and street art happening here played a major part in this shift. I find experimenting in the street similar to the web as both offer a highly democratic and un-curated arena where one can put up work without having to ask permission.
2. a. The All City Council Project was huge in scope — it directly challenged the new anti-stickering law while indirectly commenting onstreet art itself. Was it initially imagined this way? Can you offer the background and context on how you got started and what the inspirations were?
Initially I was working on a very simple computer application written in C that could mix an ASCII art image (an image composed only of text) with a legible text document (as read from left to right). After this tool was completed I was thinking about how it could best be used within the context of graffiti. At first I was creating pieces which read as a ‘ni9e’ tag from a distance and read as the HTML code from my website close-up. While interesting, this was not all that hard hitting. Then a classmate, Josh (bikesagainstbush), told about me the sticker law the New York City Council passed. My reaction to the law, which was probably the reaction of a lot of people reading it for the first time, was “wouldn’t they be guilty of their own law if someone put their names on stickers?”

b. What was the response?
This project was different than previous work because the audience I was trying to reach was very specific. In other projects, my aim was to reach a wide group of people walking around the city or surfing the web, but the All City Council Project was aimed very directly at the council members. In some cases, I was literally putting these up on their office doors. The response on the Internet was huge. The WoosterCollective linked me up initially, and from there it spread to and other web sites. In terms of web traffic, it has been one of my most viewed projects. I wondered if the Internet popularity might bring the police knocking at my door, but so far that has not happened. In general, I respect the intelligence of the City Council and hope that they will get the joke rather than feel threatened (which was not my intent)…. perhaps this is overly optimistic, but time will tell.
3. What do you think of Bloomberg’s renewed interest in the “Vandal Squad”?
In my opinion, anti-graffiti legislation is shortsighted and blames the victims of a problem as if they were the cause. Rather than deal with larger issues, such as poverty, racism, and classism, we blame those being affected. Graffiti is not a “quality of life offense.” The over saturation of advertising, the price of rent and health insurance, the lack of funding for arts and music programs in public schools, the “no child left behind” act–these are the real “quality of life offenses”. Graffiti is a reflection of these issues, not the cause.
4.a.Your current project focuses on graffiti analysis. How did this interest first develop?
Graffiti is often misunderstood by the public and local legislators. This lack of understanding leads to fear, which is why I think the discussion of graffiti most often revolves around legal rather than artistic issues. The “Graffiti Analysis” studies are an attempt to express the intent and beauty I see when I walk down the street and present it in a language that communicates to a larger audience. If more people can view tags as something other than an eye sore, we will see less legislation and more creative new graffiti forms.
b. Can you discuss the differences between analogue and digital and their relationship to graffiti and street art?
Graffiti (both traditional writing and “street art”) is usually something made by hand. While some have started using the computer and home printers in the production of graffiti, there is a lot of room for experimentation in what new media and code can create in the streets. I see digitally created graffiti not as a necessity to the art form, but simply another voice to be added to the discourse happening in public urban spaces.
5. Both of your projects have a pronounced technological aspect, both in the use of technology to create the art itself and the incorporation of video communication. Any thoughts on the points where graffiti and media intersect?
I go back and forth on this issue. While I understand the inherent problems with mediating the viewing of graffiti in the streets, those who don’t think that the Internet is a part of getting up are kidding themselves. I would never claim that seeing a piece on the web is equal to the power of seeing it in the streets, but the Internet, for better or worse, is now a part of graffiti. Having never seen a BANKSY piece in person, I have been profoundly influenced by his work through the web. Although this may be an unpopular sentiment, I embrace the web as part of getting up and put a great deal of emphasis on how my work is documented and presented in this medium. It would be a shame if graffiti was only viewed on the web, but it would be a bigger shame if would-be graffiti artists were never exposed to the brilliant work happening outside their own city.
6. Who or what inspires you to go out and put your work up?
I feel strongly that even the smallest “I was here” tag is a social and political statement. If people can become comfortable in questioning (and at times breaking) laws which are imposed upon them than we will be one step closer to real change in this country. I would encourage everyone to see how different the world looks when you walk around with a UNI in your pocket. I am inspired by the thought of everyone in the city writing their name on the wall and taking back control of the space in which we live.
Thanks a lot to visualresistance and anyone who took the time to read this.
— fi5e


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