Her pictures set me thinking. Who are the taggers, why do they tag and what prevents them from tagging? Being fascinated (naturally!) by invisibility, my interest in the subject stems from the contrast between the invisibility of the perpetrators and the distinctly visible traces they leave behind on the face of the city. This simple fact seems to explain many of the issues involved.
Is invisibility always something that we choose? Research conducted amongst taggers and graffiti artists around the world has shown that they share some basic traits, notably that they are predominantly male and generally between the ages of 12 and 25. However, there are no defined links to any particular social or racial background, meaning that the phenomenon has spread to almost all geographical locations.
Without wanting to fall into the traps of cod psychology, this is clearly an age where individuals are asking many questions and building personal identities. Young men have traditionally had difficulties with self-expression, but may also be wondering where their future place in society will be. Tagging gives them the opportunity to create an imagined identity (the tag) and to impose this identity on their surroundings. On a more visceral level, it also gives them the thrill of climbing up onto rooftops and doing something illegal.
On a technical level, tags exist rather than more advanced multi-coloured pieces simply because not everybody has the talent or the time to work on larger works. Their creations are known as bombing, a night-time activity based on repitition and rapidity. If they find themselves with more time in a more hidden location, they will create a throw-up, a larger two-tone version of the tag. The only aesthetic criteria considered important is that it should be recognisible and easy to produce in the dim orange glow of the streetlight.
Are there any parts of the city that remain sacred and untouchable today? Research seems to suggest that city councils that are proactive in this field and offer sanctioned zones suffer less problems, although it would be naive to think that this would put a stop to an activity based around a certain rejection of authority. Near my home though, I discovered one shop owner who had found an original solution. The shutter which protects their establishment at night is decorated with a mural painting on which a 'No Tag' message has been added. To one side, they have added a black panel which they have invited taggers to use. To date, this system seems to be working and their mural has remained tag free.
Does this suggest that if our streets were more creative environments there would be less tagging? On a very basic level, many parts of our cities can be seen as a series of flat surfaces, devoid of character and interest. City authorities have no problem sanctioning advertising on many of these surfaces, yet reject street art installations. It would seem to be an experiment worth trying to change some of these parts of the city into canvases of free expression.