Hands Up – A Photo Essay

The tag. Who would think that a name written on a wall could draw so much anger and vitriol? While we might romanticise lovers names carved into trees or those historical inscriptions that capture a certain time or event, contemporary tags are rarely given such status, viewed almost primarily as an affront to order and ownership and a symbol of wasted youth.

The tag is the basis of graffiti culture, the building block on which all else follows and evolves. For many traditionalists a solid tag outweighs all, a good hand-style is a necessity. Rendered in marker or spray paint, with clean lines or messy drips, appearing legible or incomprehensible, the humble tag can be as complicated and complex as the people executing them.

Yet, the beauty of a tag is often overlooked. In their various states tags can exhibit chaos, urgency, care, thoughtfulness, anger, humour, defiance, opportunism, and immediacy; a carefully planned dance or an impulsive act of disruption. But, beyond these readings, a tag is importantly a reflection of action, even when the writer has vanished, the legacy of their stealth movement remains, evident in the little details. The sense of flow and energy reveal the dance-like performance. Unlike more developed designs, a linear tag is about efficient movement and a familiarity with the required physical exertion. Watching a sweetly executed tag come to life can be enthralling as it unfolds.

This photo essay, compiled largely from Otautahi but also featuring some images from around Aotearoa, is not a collection of the best hand-styles or tags (it is not my place to determine anything other than knowing what I like), instead it attempts to capture this diversity and the way that in certain environments and frames, these forms can be beguiling and intriguing, aesthetic and appreciated…

Are you a photographer (or you know someone who is)? Do you have an idea for an urban photo essay? We would love to hear from you and potentially feature your work here! Email hello@watchthisspace.org.nz and let’s talk!

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And That Was… August 2019

August might not have had the greatest weather, but it still provided a number of highlights that served as doses of sunshine, from exhibitions to the New Zealand International Film Festival. For good measure, I even managed a trip out of town to Wellington (it rained, but I got breakfast at Sweet Mother’s Kitchen, so I didn’t care), where you can always find something interesting while exploring. So, if you can get over the disappointment of not having a guest columnist this month, here is my personal top five from August 2019…

Chimp – Aliases 

Flier for Chimp's Aliases exhibtion at Fiksate, August 2019

Wellington artist Chimp was already familiar to Christchurch through his fantastic Justice and Emergency Services Precinct mural Organic Matters, and in August the city got a deeper insight into his evolving practice – the technical flourishes and superb detail of his mural work were joined by abstract forms and urban references in the body of work that formed Aliases. Chimp spent the week building up to the show in town and hanging out with the Fiksate crew, doing radio interviews and filming promo material, not to mention the busy opening night…

A Weekend in Wellington 

A Togo piece in central Wellington, August 2019
A Togo piece in central Wellington, August 2019

I heading up to the capital for a friend’s birthday party in early August, and it was a timely reminder of why a new environment can energise your appreciation of your own surrounding landscape. Following my nose and wandering down alleyways in central Wellington, punctuated with their amazing coffee and restaurants (thanks SMK, Burger Liquor and all!), I was refreshed and returned home determined to put in the footwork here with more regularity.

Martha: A Picture Movie 

The NZIFF had some amazing films on offer, but personally I was no more excited than to see the first feature documentary by the amazing Selina Miles (herself no stranger to Christchurch, having been part of the Rise and Spectrum shows), Martha – A Picture Story. The film explores the life and times of the legendary Martha Cooper, an iconic photographer of graffiti and urban art (amongst other bodies of work), who into her 70s, is still keeping up with the likes of the chaotic 1UP Crew on train missions! As I settled into my seat at Lumiere on a Monday lunchtime, I realised the crowd were largely a similar age to Martha, so here’s hoping there were some inspired viewers!

Fiksate presents Glen 

Fiksate's Glen installation, part of the Winter Wander presented by Glitterbox Pursuits, The Terrace, August 2019
Fiksate’s Glen installation, part of the Winter Wander presented by Glitterbox Pursuits, The Terrace, August 2019

While it was completed in late July, Glen, an installation by the Fiksate crew in The Terrace for GlitterBox Pursuits’ Winter Wander project was officially on view through August, so it fits in this month’s list. An abstract painting come to life, the space was filled with cut outs and changing lighting. Rumour has it Glen may or may not have been inspired by a namesake encountered at a festival, you decide…

“Cars are for Chumps”

Cars are for Chumps, unknown writer, central Christchurch, August 2019
Cars are for Chumps, unknown writer, central Christchurch, August 2019

What would this list be without some cheeky urban inscription? This was a personal favourite in August, from the legible form, to the content of the message, the seemingly impossible height, and the ellipsis ending, what’s not to like? Shout out to the writer (Setle?) and shout out to the walkers, skaters and cyclists, and to the city’s cycle lanes, who seemingly upset so many people to a disproportionate level…

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