Berlins walls often resemble public bathroom stalls: there are absurdities, messages and shitty graffitis plastered everywhere. I’ve always loved collecting these open air notifications, some hilarious, others thoughtful or political. I am also very interested in finding out more about this social practice of public communication.
Here are some quotes that I find helpful in establishing context:
“The practice of writing on walls is so universal that it almost qualifies as a human characteristic. It is done everywhere from third-world villages to affluent cities. People were scratching their names in plaster a century ago, as a visit to many old tourist sites will confirm (indeed, for sheer destructiveness, the Victorians are hard to beat). Graffiti adorned 18th-century Parisian lavatories, medieval Norwegian churches and the walls of Pompeii, which was buried under ash in 79AD.” [1. http://www.economist.com/node/3445153]
“As explained in a previous section, the idea of modern graffiti art came from a rejection of authority and the ruling class, turning the worker into a “commodity” that has no personal feelings or need for self-expression. In response, artists took to public walls to express their frustration. Their argument is that the walls are part of the community, and members of the community should decide what is displayed on public walls, not outsiders.”[1. https://www.graffiti.org/faq/werwath/werwath.html]
I think I agree with all of them: I consider the graffitis, as pointless and unintended as they may sometimes be, a subversive act and unconscious reclamation of public space. In Berlin, graffiti has had quite a nurturing childhood.
The bathroom graffitis of Berlin are a means of communicating through the city to the citizens, establishing power and spatial structures that may be invisible to those who don’t pay attention (i.e. those who are not considered part of the city, for example tourists or those living outside of the public domain).
It’s also a way of participating in the transformation of communal living spaces, often an element that seems to vanish overtime in a modern urban society. In Berlin, many of the graffitis I’ve documented in the past are at least a little bit political or thought provoking, often self-referential or very conscious of their environment. Many things I’ve read are also only powerful because of the space they’re written on (that is, they’d not be worth a second look if scribbled down on a piece of paper).
What is so important to the rest of us that you had to write it on a wall?