Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Taipei Graffiti

加油!Graffiti extolling the virtues of both being awesome and reggae music. I didn't know there were Rastafarians (or Rastafarian wannabes) in Taipei.

If you ride the Taipei MRT with any frequency, you're certain to come across backlit billboards on station platforms or mezzanines that have a big "slash" sign through some ugly amateur graffiti and the phrase "Graffiti is bad for the city's image".

I suppose for the ugly kid-with-one-spray-can-and-no-talent-writing-his-name graffiti, I'd agree, but I have to admit, there is some guerrilla street art (as I like to call graffiti) that is done with an artist's precision and knack for size, form and color.

While I'd be fine with doing away with the scrawled signatures in black or white spray paint, it would be a shame to group these vibrant works with run of the mill tags, and an even bigger shame to whitewash them.

I find that well-done graffiti, which many American cities are starting to embrace and even fund (for real graffiti artists) as a form of beautification, doesn't hurt the city's image - it colorizes it. Kaohsiung has started to allow mural-style wall art at Pier 2, and I do think that the Taipei government quietly tolerates the artistic graffiti along the bike trails.

I'd like to see Taipei throw its graying cement and tile arms around the idea of graffiti - we might get some really cool stuff going on, like this building - which was once clearly quite ugly - on Wooster Street in New York:

...and I honestly think that could improve how much of Taipei looks. Sure, we might get some political graffiti as one can find all over Central America:

Bus stop graffiti in Nicaragua urging people to re-elect Sandinista president Daniel Ortega.

...but that might not be the end of the world. It might get the Taiwanese youth more politically engaged, if anything.

I support any kind of artistic talent, whether it's on metal pull-down doors...

...or it's along the walls that separate the riverside bike trails from the rest of the city.

I have noticed that while Central America goes for political messages and the USA is concerned partially with art and partially with tagging and gang politics (something I absolutely do not support - I'm about art, not hate), Taipei graffiti tends to be picture-oriented - sometimes with an almost existential feel like the above, or sometimes with a clearly anime/modern Japanese aesthetics bent, as below:

I'm a fan of the anime-influenced guerrilla street art, in particular - it lends Taipei graffiti its own ineffable quality (I don't think I've ever seen graffiti in Japan, so generally you'd see it here, not there) and brings out the more "yes, we are in Asia, we're not just imitating New York" aspects of the art.

And you know, if someone with one spray can and no talent wants to write something worth reading ("Ming-de wuz here" need not apply) that makes you smile, not cringe, well, I'm all for that, too.


Another thing I'd like to see? More graffiti in Chinese (or Taiwanese) - you see a lot of scrawlings in English, but rarely do you come across big, colorful Chinese characters saying something interesting. Heck, even if they don't say anything interesting, I do think that graffiti'd Chinese would be cool - think about it, a language associated with delicate calligraphy and Confucius bending over a book millenia ago, all associated with erudition and rarefied precision, now used as modern and often illegal street art in a different and fascinating sort of contemporary public calligraphy. The youth of Taiwan, taking over this whole "ancient inheritance of Chinese characters" and using them for their own artistic purposes. I've never thought of Chinese characters as something indie or individualistic, but they could be in this context.

That would blow my mind. That would kill. At the risk of sounding too "naughts", that would pwn. Or own. Or whatever the young'ins are saying these days.

Finally, I'm not sure this counts as "graffiti" per se, but it is a kind of art and it probably was not sanctioned - in my book, it counts, and it's super cool.

Bonus points if you can identify where in Taipei I took this picture:

So as far as I see it, long live Taipei Graffiti! Bring on the bug-eyed anime creatures.


Kath said...

Strongly agree!!! Interestingly I saw some graffiti in Tokyo and it was very odd. And not particularly good looking, but interesting nonetheless. Check out my Tokyo Tidbits album on FB - it's photo 70.

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

Actually, come to think of it, I did see a little graffiti in Tokyo - someone wrote the F-bomb on the vertical bit of every stair on concrete stairs going up to a door. There's a picture of Brendan next to it floating around somewhere.

Pommygirl said...

I'm going to guess the head is from the hiking trail near where you live- it looks awfully familiar.

Jing Mei hiking trail? My memory is failing me...

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I deleted the 2nd white head comment bc I figured that the first one was basically the same with more info - no need to duplicate! Anyway, yes, the head is from the hiking trail out behind MRT Jingmei, up Jingmei Mtn. to Xianjiyan (the trail lets out in Muzha) - Xianjiyan being where Lu Dongbin (a figure from Chinese mythology) looked for his girlfriend and couldn't find her. That's why across the way and within view is the temple that enshrines him (Zhinan Temple on Maokong). The head is about halfway up on the Jingmei side.

John Scott said...

I agree that grafitti can sometimes be cool... but context is everything, don't you agree? If it appears on your house, you shop, or directly across the street where you have to look at it every day, then you would probably see it as vandalism. Would you really want to see it everywhere you look?

I recall that being one of the things that impressed me most when I first came to Taiwan—the near total lack of vandalism (including grafitti). I had just spent years in Sweden. It is hard to imagine unless you have spent time in big cities there, but you just do not see any walls or any "blank" public space that is not filled with tags, grafitti and obscenities in various languages. Anything that teenagers can break or burn (and they are very good at it), will be destroyed- including bus stop shelters, public phones, public art installations, you name it. A far bigger problem than in big cities in the U.S. The positive side is that it sustains lots of local jobs, as the cities and counties have to employ large numbers of full-time workers, and spend millions on replacing damaged infrastructure and grafitti removal.

I hope that is not one of the trends that Taiwan youth are following. When I first came to Taiwan and would see something beautiful in public places, like the intricately carved granite reliefs one sees along steps near a temple, my first thought was, "that wouldn't last two days in Sweden."

Jenna Lynn Cody said...

I would not mind graffiti directly across the street where I have to look. Would I mind it on my house/shop? If it was good graffiti - the kind done by people with talent - then I would not mind at all. Free art for me!