Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Toward a Theory of Public Ritual

Given that public art both reflects a society's attributes and serves to modify these attributes, when it is erased from memory it creates a valuable example of how anti-agoristic politics seek to denude the public sphere of all underground perceptual content and replace it with the symbols of the state and the corporation.

I recently discovered that the City of Tacoma had erased the art on the liberated walls of Antique Row's parking garage, which had been there for several years. Just last week I was rediscovering the psychogeography of that area, and took several pictures. They are perhaps the last pictures of the urban scenery that had flourished there. The city says public art is "a sign of urban decay" and in fact passed an ordinance that has made it obligatory that private property owners remove public art within 7 days or be billed by the city. This has created a public ritual nuisance where the city has turned the public against the public's art. "Silencing" has become an institution, a duty, a ritual, under the recuperation, guise of groups like "Tacoma CARES". They proclaim to "rebuild" the city instead of recuperate it.

The organizational and ideological sources of graffiti clean-up campaigns are rooted in the overt desire to gentrify the downtown area and nearby neighborhoods, which was once a largely African American community. To develop a sense of community in the gentrified parts one is confined to various family-based activities that the city will from time to time sponsor. As gentrifying forces and their institutions have taken over, it has confined the family to sterile play environments. Play and work are binary opposites transformed into compartmentalized zones of obedience and subjugation. The city condemns psychogeographical memory. Its categories and restrictions have turned memory against itself.

I FeedTacoma


Tacoma Resident said...

I really don't like the "ritual" of painting over my neighbor's garage every other week when someone decides to grace my alley with their version of Public Art. Graffiti is a crime in Tacoma. It keeps this town looking crappy and destroys neighborhoods. There's nothing artful or poetic about that.

Acumensch said...

How did the graffiti in the parking garage destroy that neighborhood? Read the link - the city approached the garage owner and made her remove graffiti which the artists had her permission do in the first place.

You can't tell the difference between gang graffiti - which actually does destroy neighborhoods - and recuperative street art? That's no surprise, the city can't either. We have a word for this kind of thing - "philistinism".

intacoma said...

You already know I agree :)