Editor’s note: I am so glad to publish this essay by the prolific ekg. This piece of writing explores some of ekg’s ideas about street art and graffiti while chronicling his time getting up in Paris earlier this year. ekg’s work may at first appear to be quite simple, but upon closer inspection it’s clear that there’s a lot going on behind his tag. Hopefully this essay provides a bit of insight the mind of ekg. – RJ Rushmore
L’Imagination Prend Le Pouvoir! (Imagination Usurps Power!), or what i was thinking while getting up in Paris for three weeks.
the above Situationist slogan was one of many revolutionary statements painted across the walls of Paris during the 1968 youth rebellion. the idea that imagination is revolutionary was a revelation to me. the inner personal vision becomes political; the political becomes fantastical. this internal reversal stokes passion and inspires external action, resulting in even more commitment to the illegal public mark, the residue and resonance of such revolutionary aesthetic actions. beautifully symmetrical in equivalency and explosive force, external actions that initiate change become a reflection of the internal universal. at this point in the grand evolution of our species, having created an electronic topological reality of coordinates, data, and patterns, Graffiti and Street Art are the uncontrolled voice, the instinctual blurt, the collective convulsive id of the cultural unconscious, a channel for aggressive alternative frequencies, the visually vociferous, ghost images of mutated mass-media, writhing wraiths of the imagination, irruptions into the matrix. in terms of these ideals, Paris is still a city vibrating with aesthetic rebellion and living up to its past as a hot bed of experimentation, philosophy and art, especially, graffiti and street art.
while in Paris, i was on an all-city broadcast mission: solo guerrilla visual communication and direct neurological connection with the local populace, utilizing the physicality of the materials, tools, methods, and operations of Graffiti and Street Art to transmit illegal aesthetic manifestations. i had also visited a bunch of other cities over this past year, where i would simply walk and tag for eight-to-twelve hours a day until i would leave the city one-to-three weeks later. walking so much, just looking for the next spot, is mesmerizing, as distinguished from meditative, relaxed or unconscious, other descriptions i have read describing the experience of tagging. personally, i become energized and elevated, turned on and tuned in, an activated semiotic transmission tower, relay station, radar, satellite: during the day, one develops a heightened awareness of the empty spaces, the bubbles of silence, between the flow of people and traffic, finding that subtle spot of invisibility within the rhythm designated by the metronome of the traffic and pedestrian light system; whereas at night it is the opposite, turning up the antennae to eleven, hyper-aware of a single particular movement or noise, the glare of headlights, the rhythmic approach of pedestrian shoes, just one noise or movement. Lab Note: a look-out check list for any time of day: 1. pedestrians 2. cars (parked and moving) 3. police 4. surveillance cameras 5. windows (including second floors). as Rusk once said to me: Stay paranoid, stay safe.
while walking and walking and walking, like a hiker or urban explorer, for such a concentrated period of time, drawing the same icon over and over, painting the same basic pulse again and again, making the same mark ad infinitum, when i tag with the individualistic, transgressive, expressionistic, primitive, human gesture of an ekg pulse (or any mark or tag made by any graffiti writer or street artist, especially en masse), i feel like some sort of johnny appleseed sprinkling symbolically resonant seeds of personal connection (heartbeats), public communication (broadcast transmissions), and anti-status quo dissent (the pulse of the people, the voice of civil disobedience) across the brick, concrete, metal, and glass display surfaces of the twenty-first century urban architectural landscape, a space that literally and metaphorically articulates the Aetherial Semiotosphere, a misty sparking realm between mind and sign, within, around, and above us, instinctual and human but elevated and abstract, a charged bursting atmosphere of activated signs and biological reactions, including the subsequent machinations of external media from paper to electronic, expanding ripples across the undulating polygon topography defining this neurological tunnel between retina and wall, biology and meaning, pigment and cerebellum.
the system is the dysfunction, the medium is the mess, the dominant social algorithm is the virus, the frame is the content, the spot is the cartoon word balloon: a writer’s ocd-vision-trance and terminator-cyborg dedication designates and coordinates the choice of broadcast display nodes, all making a statement in their totality about the writer’s intentions, message and personality. a wall or a truck? a cutty track or a downtown etch attack? the roof of The Schoolhouse off the Brooklyn J/M train or a fire-extinguisher on the Dior store in Paris? the spot is an element of the voice of the writer and is a crucial formal aesthetic category of the Graffiti and Street Art movements. placement in the environment makes a statement about the aesthetic vision, the substantive content and the intentions of the artist. materials are also crucial to the vocabulary of expression, revealing our individual sense of propriety, how we play with others, our physical talents, our personalities, our dedication to the art and the movement, as a means of individualistic self-expression, aesthetic insurrection, and alternative community building whether spread through physicality, thought, or electronic pulse.
for me, “writing” is the best way to communicate, whether it is text or graff. i am not a good conversationalist, public speaker or verbal interview subject. i am insecure, high strung, paranoid, and ADHD, so i express myself best from the solitary undisturbed vantage point of a “writer,” whether i am alone in my room during the day or out on the streets at night. both environments offer a quiet, personal, focused space: whether sinking down into an internal depth (the laboratory of the ivory tower) or frenetically vibrating with a wide broadcast resonance frequency (physical action on the streets). when i do research, write or paint in my studio, there are no interruptions to confuse and sidetrack, instigating a neuro-chemical bio-release that transmits emotions through our nervous system, which distract and confuse the thought process. on the street one synchronizes with those surprises and interruptions, hopefully aware of every detail of one’s surroundings, every moment and movement, every possible vantage point for someone to be watching, ready to call the authorities, and yet still be obsessively focused on selecting the next spot and marking it without detection. when in the zone, after a certain amount of time, no matter how much my knees, ankles, back hurt, i just want to keep going, as the sun rises and the bread and pastry trucks arrive, i am like a vampire scurrying back to my coffin.
i am from new york city. “I <heart> NY” (I Love New York) is our city and state tourism motto and logo. it was created by the legendary designer Milton Glaser, who had a knack for cultural encapsulation during the sixties and the seventies. at some point i would like to design an “I <ekg> NY” knock-off with a bright orange pulse on top of a black heart. i only bring that up because after visiting Paris, i must add that “i <ekg> Paris!” as well. i loved Paris! so many interesting differences from nyc, especially manhattan, which is vertically out of control when compared to Paris, which has been frozen at a certain height and style due to legislation to preserve the architectural heritage and typical old-world French atmosphere. although, the rules have begun to be eroded over the past few decades to allow high-rise buildings to start creeping in.
as a result, the city currently has a precious character, a small town feel, with neoclassical ornate low buildings allowing sunlight and a feeling of space to have a voice in the urban environment. i thought i read once that some famous artist called it the greatest “period piece” to ever be preserved but i couldn’t find the source anywhere online. Paris is a big city consisting of small quaint streets that reticulate out from the center of Paris like a spider’s web that splices and decentralizes the city, creating pockets of autonomous neighborhoods. there wasn’t just one “arts neighborhood” or shopping district. everything seemed spread out and self-contained, unlike nyc where similar professions tend to congregate together creating large concentrations in one neighborhood. some folks that owned a bar in the 20ieme, said they never leave that neighborhood. but the metro is an intricate system of cushioned trains that run very often, making it easy and cheap to navigate the whole city. i didn’t come close to connecting the whole city with pulses as i grandiosely imagined, only some of the neighborhoods east of the Pont Neuf. i hope paris still feels the love. i will definitely be back: romantic attachment, ocd itch, aesthetic deviation dedication, so many streets left unvisited, walls untouched, display surfaces unactivated, monitors unplugged.
lost my iPhone a few days into the trip, which meant no photography, except a few times when i could borrow my friend’s camera. so i started making notes of writers i saw, but wasn’t too diligent about it. i’m embarrassed to do an incomplete shout out considering how much graff i saw, but i gotta acknowledge at least what i kept a list of and what i can remember. i love lists and shout outs, and always read them religiously in other people’s zines and inserts for albums or cds. they are so revealing and personal when it comes to influences, friendships, and connections. recently, Droid907’s zines have really moved me in that way, very personal, yet in that honesty and the breadth and method of his travels makes a larger commentary on the state of the USA at this time. in the same vein, similar in temperament, but more playful and slick are the zines put out by Boris of Bulgaria and The Grifters from Paris via Bulgaria. something about those two voices, one from the US and one from Europe, struck me with their off-the-grid lifestyles, transgressive codes of action, similar interests whether intellectual or visceral.
so across the elaborate neoclassical architecture of Paris, frozen in time as a period piece due to building codes to keep it low and intimate, i saw a lot of internationally famous writers as well as a ton of locals i liked but never heard of. i saw an incredible amount of work done by Horfe, Cone, Tomek, and the rest of the PAL crew, especially in the neighborhood near the Stalingrad metro stop. Saw Kidult up a bunch of times in the wealthy neighborhoods at the center of the city with large spraypainted slogans, such as: your luxury is our misery. Le Chat was up around the city in a diverse amount of neighborhoods. i chilled at the anarcho-punk bar le saint sauveur in the 20ieme, which is covered with stickers and graff. boris the bulgarian and the grifters crew were all over that hood. GFS crew ruled the 11ieme neighborhood. other locals i saw up: Poverty, Everywhere, Libre?, Yop La Boum, G.75, 100Ans, Soler, O’Clock, Pulse, Xoer, Skume, Goblin, Rodeo, Wean, Fint, Wotr, Plane, and soooo many more that i am forgetting. the local GBH3 crew had a sticker on every block as did BNE. i saw a lot of other out-of-town writers up as well, such as Kuma, Darkclouds, Pez (Spain), Tony Bones, Goya907, UR, Abra, Faust, 1-Up Crew, Reka, Above, What!, Seru-P, Jare, Sye5, Cash For Your Warhol, Mozo, Kerse, Above, Faust, Utah, Snoeman, UR, and many more. i also got some friend’s stickers up: Choice Royce, Dick Mama, Cash4, Smells907, Pet, Rap Gang, and so on. when i took the metro i also listed some stuff in the tunnels that i managed to read: Wood, Soak, Vader, Rean, Video, Trane, Demi, Okaz, Ocho Meyso, Bisker, Demi, Raske, Prevok, Serib, Zepe, Sery-B, Sheat, Punch, Dexa-1UP, ZBK, Revet, Plan, Fiac, Seaz, Spadz, Flask. for how long i was there, this list should be ten times as long.
much respect to everyone in Paris. if i had more time, or had reached out to meet up with anyone, i would’ve loved to check out some of the more out of the way spots and train tracks. i was just too focused on trying to spread the heart beat through out the city though. i believe that a crucial element to the power of graff is quantity, which implies omnipresence and omniscience, but for the ekg pulse it is even more crucial so that as a metaphor it can make the point. eventually i realized that even with three weeks there, i wasn’t going to be able to succeed. i got sick for a few days, broke my finger so spent a day in the emergency room, lost my wallet and phone, it rained A LOT, and there were so many small streets to walk through, so many nooks and crannies, i didn’t come anywhere close to touching the whole city. i made some good headway in neighborhoods east of the Pont Neuf bridge, but i’m looking forward to going back and finishing what i started. i may have been stupid broke and carrying around sandwiches the whole trip, but i will always fondly remember eating them on my breaks with a pint of Pelforth on tap and warm pomme frites.
i think the most exciting rediscovery and surprising insight for me during the whole trip though was made in relation to the art of Invader. i always enjoyed the graphic quality of his work, as well as the techniques and message of his street work, but because i was more obsessed with artists who paint, i never really looked into his work. before i left for Paris though, i happened to read an article about him in some random magazine. i really related to the impetus that drove him to keep a map of the 275 tile pieces he has installed in Paris since 1998. i was also blown away by the fact that only a few have been removed. that means some have run for fifteen years, and could conceivably run until the buildings come down. then, after i arrived in Paris, i saw one of his pieces in every neighborhood i was in. i’d be looking up and around for a sticker spot, or for rooftop rollers or something, and there would be one of his pixelated icons or scenes. they were always on the second story so you’d have to bring a ladder if you wanted to remove it. then, even if you did take a crow bar to it, you’d just crack the tiles. it would take a loooong time to remove each tile properly, if even possible. this blew me away when i realized that he could be all-city for all-time because of his strategy, techniques and materials.
so, if Invader’s fame continues to grow and he becomes a national treasure or something on that level, then these pieces could not only be institutionally preserved, but would also transgress the original intentions of their embodiment of illegality, and be transformed into municipally valued and protected artifacts. it would be interesting to see how Invader would react to institutionalization: would he reject the honor like Sartre refused the Nobel Prize? much like artists during the nineteenth century, such as Manet and Monet, who bypassed the official art salons of Paris at the turn of the twentieth-century, Invader and all the street artists and graffiti writers around the world are ignoring the strictures of the capitalist equivalent in the twenty-first century: the art marketplace and gallery system.
as a matter of fact, Graffiti and Street Art are just more proof that DIY lives again and again, century after century, from the Caves of Lascaux to the walls of medieval Rome to the streets of Paris. among underground thinkers, the revolutionary, the disgruntled, it is a powerful procedural operating stance to take if you want to create a platform to express a free extreme singular voice in the age of surveillance. go off the grid, challenge your coordinates as a monitored citizen, recognize and cloak your self and everyone around you and band together: make your own culture. doesn’t really matter that i’m saying it except to point it out because it’s already happening. as always, something is growing and resonating below the surface that eventually will not be called “punk” anymore (please!), nor hippie punk, or some other hybrid term. it is a new form of broadcast rebellion and visual contention unique to its century, the twenty-first, undefined and unnamed as of yet, developing formal aesthetic categories, a new media, that were unneeded in the past because our society did not demand them. until now.
paris is another piece in the theoretical puzzle, and this is a local weather report, a snow globe crystal ball, an attempt to read a forecast from the extensions of man, across the global village in the twenty-first century, illustrated with diagrammatic rantings and defined with collected data pattern analysis, hopefully to reveal philosophical underpinnings and circulatory trends, cultural ills and universal truths, systemic mutations and retrofit social algorithms. how should we paint a portrait of the new human? has it already been painted one illegal mark at a time across the walls of the world?
so after walking and walking around Paris, and rambling and rambling for 2840 words, and then closing with a spaced out attempt at visionary brain dump, i just thought i’d end with a concise closing statement that i’ve been working on for a while:
illegal aesthetic manifestations create neuro-interpersonal connection, alternate-frequency communication, and anti-status quo community as they splice, transmit, and mutate throughout the aetherial circulatory system ad infinitum. go all-city, all-universe, all-time-and-space: bomb the semiotosphere! revel in the power of the tag, the human mark, the identity avatar, the monitored action, the new millennium painterly gesture. david flinging pebbles at goliath.
– ekg, august 21, 2013, nyc.
Photos by ekg, except the “L’Imagination Prend Le Pouvoir” Situationist graffiti photo. If anyone knows the proper credits for that, please let us know.