Spray Paint Signatures: an ENGL 4446 project

Terms of Engagement: Teaching & Learning in the English Department

This term begins with a new display on our Student Research bulletin board (Seton 5th floor, English Corner). Katrina Haight’s “Spray Paint Signatures” was created for Dr. Graham Fraser’s Contemporary Culture course in 2014.  If you haven’t seen the bulletin board, you can view excerpts from her project in today’s post.

Dr. Fraser’s explanation of this innovative assignment is followed by Katrina Haight’s text and images.

(And in case you missed last term’s display, an assignment by Shelby MacGregor, you can view it here).

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English 4446 Contemporary Culture:
Psychogeographies: Wandering, Lostness, the City as Text

by Graham Fraser

[T]hey are walkers…whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it.…The networks of these moving intersecting writings compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alternations of spaces…. The act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language.   
                                                                      — Michel DeCerteau, “Walking in the City”

Walking is a way of seeing – a way of knowing.  Since ancient times, peripatetic literature equated walking with the practices of thinking and writing that underscore literature itself.  The rise of the modern city brought about a corresponding body of literature and theory to express the particular experience of the pedestrian exploration of the urban environment, from the Parisian flâneur of Baudelaire and Benjamin to the psychogeographical experiments of the situationists’ dérive.  English 4446: Psychogeographies explores these ideas, investigating urban walking as an embodied metaphor of the acts of reading, writing, thinking, knowing and not-knowing in contemporary culture.

Having studied the cultural theory of urban pedestrianism, the poetics of cartography, the aesthetics of collage, and the semiotics and politics of urban design, and after reading novels, zines, journalism, records of performance art, and creative non-fiction documenting the streetscapes of New York, London, Paris, Johannesburg, Venice, and Boylan Heights North Carolina, students then took the opportunity to put their reading and theory into practice by undertaking their own psychogeographical exploration of Halifax.

The work presented here is Katrina Haight’s record of a graffiti-reading tour of the North End of Halifax in the form of an intertextual palimpsest/collage that reflects the nature of graffiti itself.

(Please note: all photos and text: copyright Katrina Haight 2014)

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Spray Paint Signatures:
A Psychogeographic study of North End Halifax’s Public Art

by Katrina Haight

Spray Paint Signatures: A Psychogeographic study of North End Halifax`s Public Art by Katrina HaightSpray Paint Signatures: I explored a section of the North End of Halifax one early morning before class. I wanted to see what the voices that spoke from murals and signs on the walls of cafés, pubs, alleyways, parking lots and restaurants had to say about their city. I found that these numerous artistic expressions each fit into a certain theme. This walk revealed to me such a layered, colourful portrait of just a small part of Halifax.

Spray Paint Signatures copyright Katrina Haight

Spray Paint Signatures © Katrina Haight

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Love and Solidarity: As I began to leave the slightly more suburban section of Agricola Street, I came across some graffiti with a particularly positive, constructive message. Spray-painted on a fence in red and blue were the words, “HELP EACH OTHER.” It was an appeal for compassion, and it really caught my attention. Farther down Agricola, I notice someone has written in black permanent marker next to someone’s front door, “I love you,” which is a terribly intimate thing to leave on someone’s front door.

When I get to Gottingen Street, I wander down near the corner of Cornwallis and Gottingen. Across from Menz Bar near Alteregos Café, I see the memorial “healing garden” made for Raymond Taavel, a gay rights activist who was beaten to death after trying to break up a fight outside Menz Bar between a patron and a man who was severely mentally ill. Not far off is a sign spray-painted on a wall that says “EACH SMALL ACT IS A REBELLION – WE ARE STRONGER TOGETHER – WE CAN WIN.” Both Raymond’s memorial garden and this spray-painted message offer a sense of solidarity for those who might feel alone.

Vibrant City

Vibrant Expressions Katrina Haight

Vibrant Expressions © Katrina Haight

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 Walking around Halifax early in the morning when the sun has only just risen really brings out the vibrant colours painted on the walls. Before stopping for a coffee at Alteregos Café on Gottingen Street, I notice a bright and surreal mural of an old woman in a mask covering the entire side wall of the café. Serving as the backdrop for the Raymond Taavel memorial garden, the mural is so striking, because it is simultaneously so bizarre and so beautiful. It is one of the many example of gorgeous public art around Halifax. ….

Street Calligraphy

Street Calligraphy Katrina Haight

Street Calligraphy © Katrina Haight

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Gottingen Street is full of elaborate, colourful examples of graffiti signatures. While I found the writing difficult to decipher, I could appreciate it for its aesthetic value. Often done in bright blues, greens, yellows and pinks, these signs brought the street to life through how colourful and unique they were. Each served as a testament to the artistic skill of the tagger with crisp lines and vibrant colour schemes that made the sign practically jump out at pedestrians as they walked past.

Curves of the Road

Curves of the Road Katrina Haight

Curves of the Road © Katrina Haight

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On Gottingen Street, there are a number of murals of beautiful women. In some of these paintings, the women stand at about twenty feet, accented by a tag beside her or in the background. As I noticed these women when I looked around, I was reminded of how Gail Scott paid particular attention to the women of Paris, as though her fascination and love for the city and her intrigue and lust for Parisian women were interchangeable. Here, on Gottingen, the beauty of women and femininity can literally be seen in the streets.

Layers of a City

Each piece of street art, from the small signatures to the large scale murals, illustrates an element of Halifax’s culture. A small written message on a wall in an alley might give insight into the struggles of a complete stranger. Vibrant murals make us appreciate the way the city comes alive in the sunlight. A simple spray-painted message may attempt to appeal to someone’s sense of compassion and remind them that they are not alone. Each serves its purpose and contributes to the city’s sense of identity.

—Katrina Haight

 

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