Personal advertisement on any surface

© 1998 Paco Alarcón
English Translation: Paula M. Waldeck
Original Español

Restless youngsters decorate the carriages of the underground trains, chorusing to the rhythm of rap: "Fight the power".

What? A group of kids are doing a thorough job decorating the underground carriage with their thick felt-tipped pens. They are having a great time shouting, and pushing each other, competing to be the one who stamps his mark (tag) most often on the windows, seats and doors. An elderly couple are watching them, offended and murmuring their protests. The rest of the passengers act as if they don't exist, taking cover behind our newspapers. When they get off, the voices of the community make themselves heard. "What behaviour, making everything so filthy!" says the old lady sharply. She is backed up by an honest citizen with the weekly sports paper under his armpit. "And they're not babies. Someone should give them a good hiding!".

I go out to the street, thinking about the long human tradition of white wall violators, those that mark their territory, that scratch basalt and are carried away, seeing things in the stone and releasing them. Man has continually been perfecting his capacity for altering his environment, from the prehistoric struggle for the control of fire or the appearance of archaic languages, to the present-day massive contamination of his surroundings. The cave man makes engravings with silex or flint burins, and drawings in the clay with his hands or twigs. In the pale whitish light from glowing bones, he paints bisons running, their forms accentuated by the jutting rocks. There are many tectiform drawings and different figures, whose meaning has not come down to us. They are part of the message that evolved and gave form to words, to the construction of ideas, to sounds, signs and letters.

Tags are designs for personal advertisement, repetitive nicknames by means of which their authors may see themselves reflected on any surface. For the great majority they are nothing but caricature-like figures, chaos on the grey of the city. Their impenetrability is part of the charm of the tags, the tribe's secret code.

In the languages based on Latin characters, we have lost the feeling for that calligraphy studied so asiduously in former eras. It was at its height of glory in the times of the scribes and miniature codices. And I can remember spending long hours of my childhood practising gothic lettering (typical of Francoism and its germanophilia). I became captivated by that wide nib which leaves thick lines when you strike downwards, and thin ones when you move it sideways. Nowadays, we no longer see those word pictures with their snow-covered chalet and the smoke billowing poems from the chimney. The keyboard reigns, and all the better if it's Apple!.

However, other languages, with their signs made up of separate elongated strokes, are still developing outstanding works of calligraphy. In the Islamic world, the absence of plastic arts encourages the work of poets, creators of landscapes for the sensual songs of the slaves. The metalworkers beat the brass while intoning lascivious Mozarabic songs, the "zejels". With their pens the calligraphists knead the sacred language in which Allah revealed himself to Mohammed. The plasterers exalt esoteric harmony with beautiful filigrees and mould the verses of Ibn Zamrak in decorative calligraphy on the walls of the Alhambra:

"You protect even the branch from the breeze and even the star in its sky you frighten: If the heavenly bodies quiver it is from terror; it is with gratitude that the willows bend."

The epigraphic poetry of Granada was not permeable to the common understanding of the people. Only those initiated in the mystery, few in number and scholars of vast culture, were able to understand its meaning, among the branches of the floral motifs. So the language lost its utilitarian meaning and merged into the loops and bows, the "almocarabes" (an interlaced design in plaster), of the geometrical decoration in the fragile "nazari" architecture (the dynasty that built the Alhambra, the last Islamic kingdom of To the Al-Andalus).

The expression of the Void through Fullness is the task of the Chinese ideographs. Energy spirals from the feet to the brush in a choreography through which the calligraphy emerges, balancing the strokes of ink and the paper. Many ideographs are figurative and the very expression of the concept educates the Chinese in a way of thinking which closely unites the image and the representation of that image. In the composition of their pictures, the peaceful strokes write out tales of fantasy. Fragrances inked in jade. The illustration is strengthened by the stability of all the elements: the glow of the winter sun through the bare poplars, the columns of writing and the mist on the mountain of Lo Fou.

As I stroll, I continue to observe the signatures on the letter-boxes, obliterating the information plaques. With their signatures, restless youngsters riddle the vans sleeping in outlying districts. How happy their owners are!. These kids are the hateful ones, the foul ones in the world of fashion and design. Writers on walls, and when they are older and get enough money together for a few ecological sprays, painters of amusing grafitti. "Don't believe the hype" to the rhythm of rap is their accompaniment as they draw colourful landscapes on the walls of alleyways, troops of characters fighting alongside the railway. As in all art, there are exceptional figures, Barcelós of the airbrush who fade the edges of gigantic characters, good painters who leave us as a present their surprising vision of ephemeral worlds in polichromy.

Catalonia pages: 1 | 2

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