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Thursday, July 14, 2005

A Borf's Tale

Borf was a prolific stencil/graffiti artists in the D.C. area. Yesterday, he was arrested, and the Washington Post decided to run a story they were working on about him. You can read that here.
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Borf's stencils were anti-old people, anti-the system, anti everything. In interview, his politics are what you'd expect an 18 year old's to be after reading Debord and a slew of anarchists, Borf doesn't believe in capitalism and globalization and all of that. But the subject doesn't communicate through his interviews--he's been communicating through the walls and the metro. He is not his own interpreter, I am. What I like about conceptual graffiti and absurdist graffiti is that it often constructs a fictive space where an imaginary discourse can take place. Rather than assembling facts and figures to engage with the issues on their own terms, it imagines the dialectical backdrop for the arguments we wish we were having. Regardless of what he says about capitalism and our existences being transitions between spectacles, in performance, Borf creates his imagined war, his fictive space, with the whimsy, intellectual detachment, and sense of play that my favorite street artists do.

In Borf's world, which he says has been influenced by Shell Silverstein (but reminds me of Roald Dahl more), the "children" are in a war with a zombie menace, the manacle dragging ogres of free market capitalism. Like an etheric, vigilante Peter Pan, he writes: "Borf is the threat of grown-ups". One of his more infamous pieces is of a little girl holding a sign that says "grownups are obsolete". Or of a clunky robot that says BORF BORF BORF BORF. Or a mailbox that reads "Borf sends letters to your children". Some people, rightly, found it as entertaining as a Saturday morning cartoon show. Others, intimidated or put off by Borf's egotism, made their own anti Borf graffiti on the streets. And like Superman's warped clone Bizarro coming to kill him, faux Borf graffiti sprung on the streets; Borf is a dork!, Borf doesn't belong! The childish taunts only reinforced the impish myth, as there was no Borf. There was only a 17 year old with Situationist texts, freetime, and a spraycan. By performing a world in which his adolescent battle for freedom, free time, and free play were the equivalent of legitmate, crayon wielding peasant uprisings, he effectively created the realtime, 3D game of Borf, with his detractors playing the torch-bearing townsfolk embittered by his assault on Protestant working life.

Litter the gutter with your hallelulahs

Guy Debord's writing was a an interpretation of gnostic theology, retooled to fit late capitalism. Imagining capitalism as a world "after the fall", he saw the letter--the flesh--as being our impenetrable, indistinct, emotionally drained daily lives. He saw the "spirit" as trapped in a one way, self-created semiotic centrifuge which he labeled the "spectacle". Despite his influences, I believe Borf and his ilk to be proving Debord wrong. Images are not the storing houses of meaning, to graffiti writers. They aren't manifestations of capital, and in so far as graffiti deflects, defers, obscures and ignores "relevant" narratives in favor of its own polychromatic fantasies, they aren't examples of Situationist detournment either. They collapse both the letter and the spirit; they are holographic fantasy worlds that represent human imagination at its most decrepit and illuminating. Urban art is a technology for consciousness transformation that takes as its premise that the full visual environment is informational, that the frames of reference, the daily negotiations between ego and environment, are not just begging to be argued with, but that they require only the best arguments and the most suitably dramatic oppositions. They invigorate our narratives with their four color comic grandeur and scope, and remind us that the only world worth fighting for is bombastic, overstated and at times, yes Borf, tearjerkingly stupid.

Link taken from Wooster Collective