Topical808 state abandoned alienation analysis andy votel anthropology architecture chanel 9 community cultural culture cymru derelict ema espo exhibition faunagraphic finders keepers FON gouranga graffiti gregory snyder half man half biscuit hip hop identity industrial kid acne kid robot knife manufacturing marc auge millennium gallery music new york non places out of sight pep le pew phlegm pop popular culture porthmadog qualitative quantitative representation research methods roa rocket01 rolf's cartoon club rolf harris rollin stock scorchio seacreative sheffield steel stereotype street art sun arise teaching material the fast show urban urban art visual methods visual sociology wales welsh y mwyafrif
The new teaching term will shortly be upon us and I am hoping to incorporate some of my research material into my teaching, specifically the teaching of research methods to first and second year undergraduates.
In my experience, the majority of students either cannot or don’t want to see the relevance of understanding research methods as part of a social sciences degree (sociology, criminology, politics, psychology). Once you point out to them that we would have no material to work with if we didn’t employ research methods they grudgingly acknowledge their value but they still need an awful lot of coaxing and cajoling to take an active interest.
Partly out of desperation, and partly to lighten the atmosphere in a particularly dreary quantitative methods seminar, I showed some first year students some of my urban art and graffiti photographs and asked them what we could do with this collection of images to understand more about why they were created and the people that had created them.
The tactic worked, and before long pretty much the whole class was discussing the pros and cons of taking a quantitative or a qualitiative approach and the benefits of mixed methods approach.
I suppose that it’s obvious, but once we started to look at the concepts in relation to real material as opposed to discussing pure theory we all started to enjoy the classes and the students became far more involved in the work.
Here’s a selection of these images which I have been collecting over the past couple of years and which will form the basis of my current research and continue to be a useful teaching tool (I should have been working on something else today but making the video was just too tempting):
I’ve been neglecting this site for the past few weeks so here is something to make it feel wanted again (sensible stuff to follow, I just wanted to try out the pretty picture).
Click on the image:
The French anthropologist Marc Augé differentiates between anthropological place, where lived experience is familiar, associative and repetitive and non-place, a space which can be defined by experiences of alienation and solitude.
Non-places are the railway stations and airports, shopping malls , autoroutes and orbitals that we move through but do not dwell in. It’s probably best to experience these environments with a detached manner although sharp eyesight might reveal the presence of an amusing or thought-provoking image, destined for a short existence as these spaces are routinely patrolled and anything that does conform or belong is removed as swiftly as possible.
The tedium of travelling on the English motorway system is punctuated by the impact of strategically-placed graffiti and artwork on the concrete bridges and embankments. A frequent example is the word Gouranga written in a legible and no-nonsense style.
There are several theories as to what Gouranga signifies, and its ubiquitous nature seems to have secured it a place in the public consciousness. The song Twydale’s Lament by Half Man Half Biscuit includes the lines Gouranga, Gouranga, yes I’ll be happy when you’ve been arrested for defacing the bridge:
The temperature here in Yorkshire is unusually warm, although unfortunately the sun remains hidden behind the clouds most of the time. That’s what you get when you live on a small island sandwiched between a large continental land mass on one side and an even larger ocean on the other.
Still, it is fairly scorchio as Chanel 9‘s weather presenter Paula Fisch used to say. The writers who created Chanel 9 for the comedy sketch television show The Fast Show incorporated a range of southern European cultural stereotypes into their work.
Despite the revolution in global travel and communications cultural stereotypes stubbornly refuse to disappear. I came across this postcard a couple of days ago which could serve as a pictorial checklist for a stereotypical Welsh cultural identity. It’s all there; the quaint national dress, the leeks, the rugby, the sheep, the daffodills, even the Snowdonia mountain railway.
No sign of a harp or a male voice choir though, despite the wealth of music that the country has given to the world. Andy Votel, the DJ, producer and man behind Finders Keepers recently presented a documentary on Radio 4 which explored the history of Welsh pop music over the past few decades. As the BBC blurb states, Free Wales Harmony: When Pop Went Welsh reveals a cultural revolution that happened on our doorsteps and the music that made it sing. A struggle to save a dying language that involves protest, prison, Mabinogion concepts, the Royal family, cottage burning and even the death of Jimi Hendrix.
Obviously the programme couldn’t cover every aspect of the recent Welsh music scene, so here is a clip of one of my favourite bands from the early 2000s, Porthmadog’s Pep le Pew:
Mark Lawson interviewed Kid Acne for yesterday’s Radio 4 Front Row programme during which Lawson discovered that Kid Acne had appeared on the Rolf Harris Cartoon Club TV programme when he was twelve years old. There is a wall on Shoreham Street in Sheffield where both artists’ work can still be seen side by side today:
The painting is on the wall of what was the FON recording studios back in the early 1990s. The numbers 808 behind Rolf’s self-portrait relate to the Manchester band 808 State who collaborated with Rolf and recorded a version of Sun Arise at FON in 1992. The studio owners gave Rolf and the band permission to create a mural and the clip below shows them in action:
This is still fairly new territory for me so I have been wanting to gain a much fuller understanding of the world of graffiti writers and urban artists. Two books that I have found both highly accessible and extremely informative are Gregory Snyder’s Graffiti Lives: Beyond the Tag in New York’s Urban Underground and Out of Sight: Urban Art/Abandoned Spaces compiled by RomanyWG.
Snyder’s book introduces the lay reader to the very specific language and terminology of the graffiti writer, and explores aspects of the culture through his friendship with a number of graffiti artists, most notably Espo. It is a book written by an academic but it is not a heavyweight academic book in the sense that Snyder’s genuine enthusiasm for his research has an infectious quality, and he paints a vibrant and detailed picture of the lives of his contacts.
I recently came across this piece of film online where Snyder contributes thoughts on graffiti writing to a televised debate about various subcultures.
One of my favourite artists is Phlegm. His work appears across the city of Sheffield bringing something eye-catching and unusual to the walls of pubs and shops, but he also chooses to paint in abandoned buildings which are not that easy to locate or access. The pictures below show a couple of his recent pieces of work in one of these out of the way locations:
The work of artists including Phlegm, Roa, Faunagraphic, Rocket01 and Seacreative is captured by RomanyWG’s atmospheric photography in Out of Sight. In addition to the numerous photographs many of the artists explain what it is that draws them to work in derelict and hidden places.
There is a short YouTube clip here which gives you a good idea of the content and scope of the Out of Sight book.
If you have an interest in graffiti, urban art and the creative people behind it all these books will fill the gaps in your knowledge and fire your enthusiasm to go out and discover more exciting artwork.