Double film screening proposed by Loty N., followed by a debate.
Style Wars (USA, Tony Silver & Henry Chalfant, 1983, 69 min.)
Documentary on the origins of hip-hop culture made for television in 1983. The film focuses on the phenomenon of graffiti subculture and life in New York in the 80s. It shows politicians, art critics, subway maintenance staff, ‘ordinary people’, and most of all, legendary graffiti writers. Style Wars fast became a sort of ‘audiovisual graffiti bible’ and was acknowledged by writers in Europe as a videographical reference. It thus became the best document of a historical moment which, for the history of graffiti, was comparable to Athens in the age of Pericles.
Dirty Handz 3– Search & Destroy (Francia, Anonymous, 2006, 78 min.)
This film is a continuation of two videos, now banned – Destruction of Paris City and Back on Tracks – and finalises the trilogy Dirty Handz. It tells of the adventures in Europe of a Parisian group of graffiti writers in the nineties and the first years of the new century. They search rail systems in London, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Hamburg, Berlin, Munich and other cities for trains to write on, finally ending up in New York in a kind of pilgrimage to the original setting of the game they adore.
I find these films interesting on two levels. The first and most obvious one is the theme. Graffiti as a social occurrence introduced into society as a negative force and a focus of legal, moral and aesthetic tensions. A game with a series of simple basic rules which end up generating ongoing activity between a growing number of ‘players’. These rules may be adapted to new situations, but they are always changed in the same ways.
The films can also be read on a second level. Each of them represents a social occurrence in a different way. In Style Wars, two people from what is acknowledged as official culture – film and university – enter graffiti youth culture in what could be thought of as an exercise of audiovisual anthropology. They portray the graffiti-underworld for television. This determines the direction of their approach, aimed at the general public, ‘public opinion’. The film artefact enters into circulation and sets off a sort of quiver. Hundreds of young Europeans see it and decide to play the game. I’m interested in the potential of film as an activator of forms of action through the adherence of an audience (via the affect, intellect, etc.) to what the images in it state.
In Dirty Handz 3- Search and Destroy, it is the writers themselves who portray the graffiti-thing. They carry out a biased self-portrait in a ‘graffiti video’: a subgenre that proliferated in the 90s when cheaper cameras became available. Graffiti videos tend to be pornographic in style, with explicit images of action portraying certain aspects in great detail to arouse the audience into getting out into the streets and doing the same thing. Actions in them have a stronger appeal and influence, but a higher ideological price is paid; the statement is more authoritarian, more directed, more violent.
Dirty Handz 3- Search and Destroy isn’t your average graffiti video. There is something different about it: the main character’s voiceover appears to be aimed at public opinion. He gives us a first-hand narrative of his story, of how he began and of his life graffitiing trains around Europe. I’m interested in looking at and thinking about the ways in which different social groups portray themselves to themselves and others; the way in which a group identity is constructed by assimilating or breaking away from other groups’ resources. Because of the self-promoting nature of graffiti and its constant obsession with stating its own presence, this all becomes very explicit.
Loty N. (Bilbao, 1982). In the late 90s he got together with a lot of other graffiti writers in Bilbao. Then came experimental music, also poems. Eleven years in Donostia and back to the Great Bilbao. Now working on a couple of videos. Et cetera.