Tag Archives: Street Art

Graffiti in Singapore

I didn’t expect to find graffiti in Singapore. Given the harsh penalties, I assumed there was enough of a deterrent to keep people from spray painting shit on walls. I was wrong. But most of it is simple tagging. I scratch my head and wonder of the artists: you risked a caning for that?

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I found some murals, but they were of the sanitized disneyfied variety at the Somerset Skate Park. Since there are other skate parks on the island, I imagine there are also other sanitized disneyfied murals.

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Then again, none of this is surprising. There’s an awful lot of Singapore that feels sanitized and disneyfied. It goes in for shopping and spectacle, malls and monuments. In the downtown, there’s little that isn’t for show. But it feels like an H.G. Wells novel. Visitors see the smiling Eloi who play all day in the sun. But we know that somewhere underneath lurk the Morlocks who keep things running. I wasn’t there long enough to figure out where the Morlocks live, but I suspect that’s where the real graffiti is.

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Graffiti in Singapore

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Random Acts Of Creativity

The old house was the same, droopy and sick, but as we stared down the street we thought we saw an inside shutter move. Flick. A tiny, almost invisible movement, and the house was still.

Somebody cut a few sentences from Harper Lee’s novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, and pasted them to the side of a booth in a parking lot. Why would they do that?

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I like to get up in the morning and follow more or less the same routine every day.* Mostly I get dressed by starting with my underwear, though, if I throw caution to the wind, I might start with my socks instead. I eat my cereal with a sliced banana on top and wash it all down with a glass of grapefruit juice and a mug of black coffee. I eat my lunch at noon and my supper at six. I go to bed at eleven so I can have a good night’s sleep. I like the regularity. It never occurs to me that I could disrupt this well laid pattern by snipping up a novel and pasting bits of it onto carefully selected surfaces. It might make me late for lunch.

In the same way, it never occurs to me to stay up past my bedtime, sneak through the dark streets, and peel selected letters from a shop window so the remaining letters offer an entirely different message.

Adulterated Shop Sign on Queen Street West, Toronto

I think it has something to do with the 2nd law of thermodynamics. I’m a closed system with no energy from outside sources, so I wind down as the energy dissipates. One day, I’ll be old and doddery. I’ll hobble around on a cane and yell for everyone to speak up. People who design and print stickers of stylized hotdogs, then run around the city looking for places to stick them, are people who have mysterious reserves of energy. Their creativity defies the fundamental laws of the universe. They are demi-gods creating ex nihilo. They are ageless.

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But the execution (of a creative plan) accounts for only half the energy. Before the snipping or the peeling or the designing or the printing or the running around, there’s the imagining. There’s the decisive moment when a person says “aha, I could really DO that.” For ordinary mortals, that imaginative act draws GigaWatts from the grid, but for creative demi-gods, the “aha” moment arrives with a lightning bolt and, for that reason, has its own power supply. Even the simple act of giving a stone figure a cigarette catchlight leaves the traces of an autocatalytic impulse.

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Something you should know about random acts of creativity (RACs for short): they haven’t been vetted or approved or officialized by an authoritative curator type. That means not everybody is happy to see their appearance in public spaces. If RACs could be curated, then everybody would be happy because they would have the assurance that, somehow, the RACs had a proper place in the big picture; they might even have an economic rationale which, no doubt, is the true raison d’être of all creative undertakings.

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Something else you should know about RACs: they are ephemeral. One day, I passed a brilliant treatment of James Dean. The next day, I passed and it was gone. Someone in authority had obliterated it with whitewash. Why do we put up with such vandalism!

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These ephemera are the shadows of consumerism. Like all consumer goods, planned obsolescence is written into their DNA. Some of them shine at us like glossy advertising. We note them with a two-second flick and then they turn invisible to us. We become desensitized to their impact, just as we lose our urge to spend money once a marketing campaign has petered out. What are we being asked to buy? What urge are they stimulating in us?

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* I apologize for the redundancy: “more or less the same” is what makes it a routine. (I apologize doubly for the incoherence: nothing can be “more or less” the same; either it is or it isn’t.)

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An Unseasonably Warm November

At a time when the weather should be cold and dull, a streak of bright warm weather comes as a boon to street photographers. People are out being people, doing all the varied things that people do, maybe with more gusto (desperation?) because they know it can’t last. Here is a selection of photos to mark the week that has come and gone:

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Hunting for vinyl at Kops Records on Bloor St. W.

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Skateboarding at Alexandra Park

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Talking God with proselytes

I see these people everywhere. I could be wrong, but I think they’re Jehovah’s Witnesses. They’re always careful to stand close to the curb so that they fall within the road allowance. Standing on public land, they have a Charter-guaranteed right to be there (freedom of expression) and shop owners can’t make them leave. Fortunately for me, I enjoy the same right and am free to take their photo while they’re standing on that public land. Lucky me.

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#whatsvictorupto – street art at Bathurst & Dundas

I see sidewalk art in this style all over the place with the hashtag #whatsvictorupto but, until this week, I’ve never caught the artist in the act of creating his work. I tend to think of art more as an event than as a static object. I like to witness the process. In the same way, I take a great deal of satisfaction from the moment of capture that comes with the release of the shutter. The event is at least as important as the result.

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Take-down at Church & Bloor

No day is complete without a shoplifter take down. I was passing by as an undercover security guy had a young man pressed against a pole and was clicking on the handcuffs. There was almost no time to respond and it was getting dark, so most of my shots were too blurry, but this one worked. I find it curious for two reasons. First, the shoplifter is wearing what I presume to be prayer beads around his right wrist. This raises questions about the man’s spiritual life, his attitudes to personal possessions, possible feelings of disenfranchisement. Maybe he’s a victim of late capitalism. Maybe theft is resistance. The second curiosity is the person facing the man in handcuffs. I was focusing on the handcuffs, so the person’s face is blurred. He’s a shadowy figure with his hood up. He adds a note of mystery or foreboding to the image.

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New Graffiti Under St. Clair St. Bridge

An earlier post on graffiti under the St. Clair St. bridge is now officially an archival document. The original subject matter no longer exists, so the only record of it is in photographs like mine. The city’s anti-graffiti people have grey-washed the concrete footings on the east side of the St. Clair St. Bridge. Why, I wonder, would they deem it necessary to spend public funds covering up murals that aren’t even visible to the public? To see them, you have to make a special effort. Predictably, some of the grey-washed walls are already covered and others have been outlined in preparation for future murals. Below is a sampling of new art.

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The Original Street Art

Before there were graffiti artists, there were civil engineers. At least that’s a theory of mine. For years now, Toronto has been in the grips of a construction boom and, before anybody breaks ground, teams of surveyors and engineers spray paint lines all over the pavement. The streets become canvasses for a kind of urban development graffiti.

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Street Art In Thunder Bay

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Thunder Bay has a vibe that reminds me of Victoria. There are a lot of young people, especially the sort of young people who don’t hang out at Conservative Party conventions. They live counter cultural values, buy local, vote Green. And express themselves accordingly …

Street Art In Thunder Bay

Street Art In Thunder Bay

Street Art In Thunder Bay

Street Art In Thunder Bay

Street Art In Thunder Bay

Street Art In Thunder Bay

Former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool 4A and 4B elevators, Shipyard Road, Thunder Bay (now owned by Viterra Inc.)

Former Saskatchewan Wheat Pool 4A and 4B elevators, Shipyard Road, Thunder Bay (now owned by Viterra Inc.)

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Street Art in NYC

I didn’t have time to sniff out really good examples of street art when I was visiting Manhattan. I suspect that if I were a tourist visiting Toronto, I’d have the same problem in reverse. I wouldn’t know where to look. Nevertheless, I saw what I saw and share it here:

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More #wallnoize

Sunday night, after everyone had finished in the tunnel by the Glen St. exit from the Sherbourne subway station, I went back with my tripod and a wide lens to document the results. Here are some samples of the #graffiti from wallnoize7:

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#Wallnoize7

Last week, somebody (from the city?) came to the tunnel under Bloor Street East at the Glen Street footbridge and grey-washed everything – the legit murals, the illegit murals, the stencils and tags on top of both. I thought to myself: what a waste of public money; I bet tags start showing up in hours. Sure enough, the next day the first tags appeared. And then, on Saturday morning, it’s as if the graffiti army showed up: kids (am I showing my age?) lined up on either side of the tunnel, traffic cones at either end of the tunnel, ladders, boxes of spraypaint, and a guy with a clipboard doling out paint and telling people where to go.

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#Wallnoize6

I saw Spudbomb doing his thing under the Bloor West Go Rail overpass. I don’t know if Spudbomb is a person or a collective. Or an aspiration. Or a poltergeist. Who knows.

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Turns out this is part of Wallnoize, a cooperative effort between a collective of experienced graffiti artists and the city. But more about that tomorrow. For now, here are some more photos of street art in progress:

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