Citizen Tleilax

Bathroom Graffiti – An Exercise in Collaborative Folk Art

The scrawlings found in public restrooms are a strange exercise in collaborative folk art. While often mundane and inane, much like the YouTube comments which I also consider a natural folk art of sorts, they function in an interesting way. Written conversations develop from an original statement or question of some sort, via individuals who add a single part to what was there when they arrived, frequently pointing an arrow to what they are responding to. This often leads to rather lengthy arguments or speculations, yet each contributor likely never sees what else was added after they said their own piece.

Obviously the content of such “latrinalia” varies widely, but I find the phenomenon very attractive in general. I am particularly fond of bathrooms which are completely unregulated in terms of user-contributed decorations, veritable museums of the artform. There is something magical about a bathroom that has been completely covered in numerous layers of tags, art, stickers, and sentences–the depth and texture is astounding. Such a space appears to me like a secret lair within a deep and complex urban cave, a massive collision of culture and energy that would take years to fully dissect & uncover all the origins behind each ingredient in the mix.

I find such a space refreshing and comforting, because in addition to it frequently indicating the presence of potent creative spirit, it reflects the trappings of an autonomous zone. It is a space, limited as it may be, where freedom of visual expression is complete and uncensored, nothing removed or hidden aside from when other participants use their freedom to cover a part with their own contribution, whatever that may be. It truly is a social, community space in this way.

Below are a few old photographs I’ve taken of bathroom graffiti. They aren’t perfect examples of the types I was specifically referring to in this post, but interesting nonetheless.

Bathroom graffiti at Foufounes Electriques, Montreal
Foufounes Electriques, Montreal, December 2006

Bathroom graffiti at Chain Reaction, Anaheim
Chain Reaction, Anaheim, March 2003

Bathroom graffiti in southern California restroom
Unknown location, Southern California, February 2004

YouTube Comments Have Literary Merit

FIRST! – A Book of YouTube Comments
Edited by Pablo Capra
Published by Brass Tacks Press
Zine/Booklet – 23 pages

Well, perhaps “literary merit” is an overstatement–however there is certainly a value in such expressions, however base they may predominantly be at first glance. The comments referred to here are mainly those which are posted as instantaneous reactions to what has just been viewed, requiring probably less than 2 seconds of thought on the part of the authors. These types of comments are of course not limited to YouTube; they can occur in various places across the internet: Facebook statuses, 4Chan (and related) forums, etc. Taken as a whole, the myriad collections of such comments on all manner of topics across the web present a revealing view into the state of mind of a mass segment of our internet-infused culture. I view them as a sort of collaborative folk art, combining to create a humorously absurd, abstract tale of the frivolity and often intellectually stunted nature of many of the internet’s denizens. These negative aspects abound, certainly, yet a keen sense of highly developed and succinct comedy appropriate to its environment is perhaps just as frequently displayed, if one has the correct mind to interpret it.

While one need not look far to read multitudes of such commentary in their natural habitats, Capra’s published collection recognizes that this incidental output from our society deserves more than a cursory glance as we wander through these very spaces on our own missions. Presenting these small blips of text on paper as a uniquely modern form of automatic poetry or literature imbues them with the strength of cultural documentation, a strength which allows them to outlive their inherently unstable environment where all might be lost when a video is removed or a thread deleted. I have myself thought on many occasions that similar things should be published, and I am glad to see it done here in this small booklet.