March 18, 2007
Graffiti As The Revolt of Signs – Zonenkinder: European Street Art Collective Remember Jean Baudrillard
Dr. Gerry Coulter
(Bishop’s University, Sherbrooke, Quebec, Canada).
Graffiti is transgressive, not because it substitutes another content, another discourse, but simply because it responds, there, on the spot, and breaches the fundamental rule of non-response enunciated by all the media.1
The past two weeks have brought cards and letters and notes to my office from around the world. I am gratified by the kindness and affection which has been extended to Jean’s memory. This publication has always been a labour of love for me and one that constantly brings new opportunities and friendships. The past two weeks have been a time of sadness and enormous inspiration to continue after the end of Baudrillard. Among the many heart-warming tributes to Jean Baudrillard which have been done include a graffiti memorial by a group of artists known as Zonenkinder2. It is beyond question that JB would have found the image touching.
II. The Zonenkinder Mural for Baudrillard
Zonenkinder Collective. Baudrillard RIP (March, 2007)
III. Baudrillard on Graffiti
Baudrillard liked graffiti and broke the law in New York City on many occasions by photographing it. Graffiti was for him a singularity – a form of resistance which the cyber age was powerless to stop. Graffiti for Baudrillard was a kind of terrorist act – a “disinscription of the walls and architecture of the city”.3 This is a theme he spoke to as early as 1976:
There is no need for organized masses, nor for a political consciousness to do this – a thousand youths armed with marker pens and cans of spray-paint are enough to scramble the signals of urbania and dismantle the order of signs. Graffiti covers every subway map in New York, just as the Czechs changed the names of the streets in Prague to disconcert he Russians: guerrilla action. ...It is nevertheless astonishing to see this unfold in a Quaternary cybernetic city dominated by the two glass and aluminum towers of the World Trade Centre, invulnerable meta-signs of the system’s omnipotence.4
With a nod to Deleuze and Guattari Baudrillard noted the mobility of the graffiti
Photograph: Jean Baudrillard – New York (1997)
artist and how rapidly the inner sanctum of capitalism could be penetrated by the suburbs:
The city is a ‘body without organs’, as Deleuze says, an intersection of channeled flows. The graffitists themselves come from the territorial order. They territorialize decoded urban spaces – a particular street, wall or district comes to life through them, becoming a collective territory again. They do not confine themselves to the ghetto, they export the ghetto through all the arteries of the city…5
For Baudrillard, the murals and marks of the graffitists were a way of saying “I live here” and “we exist too”.6 If graffiti was a form of narcissism for Baudrillard it was also a kind of
Photograph: Jean Baudrillard – Quai du Seine (1998)
“ingenious publicity in which each person becomes the impresario of his own existence”.7 A symbolic ritual – incisions and marks on architecture8 – running contrary to all the signs of advertising and media – an attack on the semiocracy of the corporate contemporary.9
For Baudrillard the graffiti artists turn indeterminacy against the city.10 Graffiti’s emptiness gives it a kind of strength in the age of the virtual and allows excluded groups to place signifiers amidst the sphere of signs and dissolve it. The political significance of graffiti is that it exposes “the white city” as the actual ghetto of the western world.11
Gerry Coulter – Graffiti Truck (Paris, 2006)
Gerry Coulter is the founding editor of IJBS.
1 Jean Baudrillard. For A Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign (1972). St. Louis, MO.: Telos press, 1981:183.
2 The website of the Zonenkinder
Collective is: http://www.zonenkindercollective.de.vu/
The image reprinted here appeared in the Wooster Collective website on March 13, 2007: http://www.woostercollective.com/
3 Jean Baudrillard. The Spirit of Terrorism (2nd Edition). New York: Verso, 2003:75.
4 Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976). London: SAGE, 1993:80-82.
6 Jean Baudrillard. The Conspiracy of Art (Edited by Sylvere Lotringer). New York: Semiotext(e), 2005:141.
7 Jean Baudrillard. “Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur” (1983) in Mike Gane (Editor) Baudrillard Live: Selected Interviews. London: Routledge, 1993:41.
8 Jean Baudrillard. Simulacra and Simulation. (1981). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994:112.
9 Jean Baudrillard. Symbolic Exchange and Death (1976). London: SAGE, 1993:78-79.
©International Journal of Baudrillard Studies (2007)