This took me forever but it’s finally done. Fifteen months after it closed, I have released the full-color zine from Ryan Seslow’s Concrete to Data exhibition at the Steinberg Museum of Art at Long Island University in Brookville, New York (My Flickr set).
I produced five unedited pages a week (chronologically) during the eight-week exhibition, and the resulting publication acts as a journal of my travels as I photographed, chronicled, and reflected on the nature of street art in cities around the world. I also integrated older fragments from blog posts, image archives, and relevant articles that I thought would illuminate aspects of what I was seeing at the time. I even commissioned a few people who knew quite a bit about the field to write things specially for the publication, including Robin Grearson, Brent Burkett, and Abe Lincoln, Jr.
Well-known street art photographer Luna Park was even kind enough to include some of her images on a few pages to accompany my 2009 piece on street art photography, which I wrote for the Brooklyn Rail — I have since elaborated on that piece in an introduction to her first book, Unsanctioned: The Art on New York Streets.
I also included an anonymous interview with a graffiti writer I had conducted years ago and never used. I thought it brought up a lot of poignant points that continue to be relevant today.
For those interested in the process of how this project came today, I couldn’t have done it without Ryan’s generous assistance. Every Sunday, I would send PDFs of the pages to Ryan via email and he would print them out on campus, photocopy them, and place each page in one of the forty transparent plastic display cases I had purchased for the project. He had allotted me a space near the entrance of the museum, which we made into an informal reading area for those who wanted to stop by and pick up the newest batch of photocopies for free.
At the conclusion of the project, I received 100 copies of the final zine, spiral bound, from the museum (or, I should say, I’m still waiting to receive those).
I want to ensure this project is always accessible, so I’ve produced a free full-color downloadable PDF version [48 MB] here, but I’ve also created the opportunity to order a print version ($20) on MagCloud — I think the print version is worth it.
Ryan initially invited me to participate in the show by exhibiting images from my extensive photography archive of street art and graffiti, but I decided against that and in favor of this zine format since it seemed to capture the informal and evolving nature of the subject. The project allowed me to reflect on unresolved thoughts about the role of street art in politically charged atmospheres, including the Palestinian Occupied Territories, my own personal history with graffiti, its absence from many cityscapes, images of what I was seeing, and it also allowed me to collection together fragments from various sources I was reading at the time.
I don’t see this project as a book in any formal sense, but more of a palimpsest. This is a pastiche or, better yet, a morgue file. It is an open query that comes from illuminating and erasing parts of your subject simultaneously by adding layers of information that can obfuscate intent as much as revealing meaning. I was engaging in the history of street art through this unique exhibition that had one foot in the local scene and another in a historicization of the recent past. This project sought to connect the contemporary viewer to a history and contemporary role beyond their own borders, in order to understand that the authority of art is shifting.
This publication is a site of processing, not an end (and it is unedited, to reflect on the immediacy and challenge of graffiti and street art itself). To me the idea of the palimpsest functions as a metaphor for questions and concern, including the nature of authorship, the hegemony of text, the circulation of images, cultural transmission, and the embedding of art in society.