My tutor saw my progress with lino prints and thought I should reconnect with the wallpaper patterns more, and the major theme through most of them was the utopian view point in them; landscape with wildlife and gardens. This made me think about how we use these ideas of ‘good’ as symbols, we idealise them and yet only allow a certain kind of them inside our home. I thought about having the outside recognise the inside of our homes in the same way: only turning that on its head as well – that is only allowing an honest view rather than dolled up lies.
So the subject of graffiti came up; stencil graffiti in particular, to fit in with my lino printing. I had a look in the university library; it had an interesting book, that wasn’t exactly on topic, “Bathroom Graffiti” by Mark Ferem from 2006. It covers; first the topic in general – what it actually is, and what it means, “Bathroom Graffiti is not so much a chicken soup for the soul as it is a seafood gumbo for the mind.” According to this book it was Alan Dundes, a professor at the University of California, for anthropology, who coined the term “Latrinalia” to mean “shit house poetry” – literally poems written in the toilet.
Although the main point in the preface is that the Latrinalia is not just poetry, but a reflection of social culture; “Baths, wine and sex destroy our bodies. But only baths, wine and sex make life worth living!” is a piece of graffiti from a bathhouse in the ruins in Pompeii, Italy, and is, by Dundes theory, still a theme of today’s graffiti and social lifestyles that humans base their lives off. The whole idea of graffiti is another of humanities incessant, useless needs; humanity needs to leave a mark on the world, as all are afraid of being forgotten.
“Give a man a fish you feed him for a day, if you give him a wide tip marker he can live forever, immortalized for the moment, or at least until a new coat of paint arrives.”
Although some Latrinalia is crude and gorges on the basest human desires, others are witty poems, intellectual comments and cultural critiques. Examples from Dundes include a “Freud Sucks” written backwards on a towel dispenser, only to be read properly if you find the appropriate angle in the mirror next to it. Another is “If Pro is Progress, what is Con?”
As you have probably noticed, or you will next time you’re in a public stall, religion is another big part of the graffiti: “Bathroom graffiti is just one of the beacons calling attention to a pandemic spiritual disconnect.” Whether there to insult, or be the start of a new conversation happening in least talked about places on earth, Dunde decides that “The latrinalists of today may just be tapping into that additional fifty percent of brain mass we happened to come by so long ago.”
“In losing our identity we might discover who we are.”
There is a moment in the book that Dunde takes to comment of the universal collaboration; that is that all people seem to have the need to reply on this unofficial message board to all who come across it.
“As society applies cultural constraints to freedom, and the smell of censorship wafts through the air like a summer barbeque (or a public restroom in need of a cleaning), the women of the future world are gathering their thoughts on bathroom walls, not to incite riots but to incite the spirits of the collectively oppressed.” He comments that the graffiti is just used as its stereotyped “call me___” and insults or crude messages or doodles; most graffiti is collect together people, to comfort, support or give advice to a group in society to combat the cultural need to keep people in line.
“Hope is our weapon” (Written in ANTI-MARKET, Echo Park, CA)
There is also an entire passage dedicated to “Escaping Identity”, which is particularly achievable in a unisex bathroom, as “the culture of bathroom graffiti enjoys a diversity of perspectives that we all appreciate.”
Politics and Cultural comments are popular as well; “Government is Not Resaon: It is Not Elequence. It is FORCE. And Force, like Fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful monster.” (Written in Sid’s Bar in Newport Beach, California. Spoken by George Washington.) The quite aninimatity of the toilet cubicle allows for all opinions to be spoken in secret to all the world (or at least the next one to enter), it’s the equivalent to the voting box.
“My carma ran over my dogma” (written in International cafe, San Francisco, CA)
It’s a strange type of therapy, where you’re talking to strangers and they’re talking back, and it’s useful and monetary worth means nothing; it divides the individual in the cubicle at the time; their moment of immortalization, and includes them in this history of conversation between a thousand others.
The Thing I found most amusing, aside from some of the comments themselves, was the amount of spell checking and grammar control in the bathroom graffiti; there are scarce few images that haven’t had something crossed out a replaced with the appropriate spelling, or an added comma or capital letter or colon.
“When the last tree falls, when the last river is polluted and when there is not a breath of clean air left, people will realise you can’t eat money.” (Written in Canada High School, Calgary, Canada.)
Dunes also notes the increasing rise in the topic of apocalypse; the laterinalists have been noted to comment freely on just about anything; this they cover with the ultimate coming together of humanity; what we’ve done wrong, and fearlessly poke the point that we may be nearing the end, about to “be in for the ride of its[humanities] life.”
“I’ve survived Milkshakes and drank earthquakes. Invested in Soda Pop + Sofas. For Now, I’m Counting Rocketships and Fingertips!” (Written in Gowanus Yacht Club, Brooklyn, NY)
The final part of the book introduces the phrase of “culture jammers”, which I am given to understand means those who speak up. Dundes says “Culture jammers re-appropriate public space, or at least alter it. Bathroom graffiti becomes a unique equalizer, a form of mass communication that’s been grafted into the public consciousness. Because bathroom walls have yet to be co-opted by the counter culture trend spotters, they allow people from any and all social, economic and cultural backgrounds to have a voice.”