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

Advertisements