Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Foo was here

It was scratched or scrawled somewhere on pretty much every stall in the women’s toilets of the Menzies Building and most of those in the Union Building when I was at uni in the late 70’s. A version of Aussie activist Irina Dunn’s classic catchphrase : A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
Yes, American feminist Gloria Steinem often gets the credit, but she popularised it, she didn’t create it —and I think I probably had one of these badges but this one is from the collection at Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia. 
Somewhere nearby you would almost invariably find:

My mum made me a lesbian and I will be forever grateful

 Then someone else would have added:

If I buy her the wool, will she make me one too?

It was graffiti. Yes, it was the illegal defacing of university property. Vandalism. But in 1976 it was bloody funny.  And it was designed to provoke discussion. I can remember being excited by the way the world — the universe — opened up to me when I started univers-ity. Provocative ideas. Rebellion. Protest. Feminism was queen, the anti-nuclear movement was alive and well, and we were there because we wanted to get an education… not a job. 

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Excuse me for a minute while I just climb down off this high-horse and clamber up onto my soapbox.

Tagging. That’s what’s been bugging me. I know it’s been a “thang” for… like… everrr… but I still don’t get it. Why leave your signature everywhere? What’s the point of defacing property with a symbol that is your own personal version of :

Aussie soldiers started graffiting Foo wherever they went in WW1, a weird tradition picked up by the Brits and Americans (who felt the need to change his name to Kilroy — Really? Kilroy? What’s wrong with Foo?) and then carried on into WW2. So, although there seems to be no definitive explanation of who Foo was and why it mattered that people knew he’d been there, it doesn’t take a great leap of logic or faith to imagine that these were largely untravelled and inexperienced young soldiers in a foreign country, so they  could very well have seen Foo as a kind of visual indicator to civilians of the spread of advancing allied forces.

But what's the logic behind tagging a train, a fence, a street sign, a building, an advertising billboard or even someone’s car with your personal logo? What purpose does it serve? It doesn’t raise awareness of an issue or create discussion for social change. It doesn’t engage viewers, nor does it qualify as street art. Tagging cannot be compared to this:

So here’s what I’ve been wondering… 
is graffiti tagging just a selfie in a spray can?



  1. I've always thought a lot of the tagging is about proving what a brave legend you are, since most of it seems to be in dangerous places (trains, bridges) or on private property.
    'Selfie in a spray can' is probably quite apt because tags are actually uglier and more stupid than a duck-face selfie.

  2. I love that - 'selfie in a spray can!' I also do not get why tagging is so popular. Usually it is pretty ugly and uninspiring, and just a dangerous way of showing off!

    1. thnx... and uninspiring is the perfect word to describe tags....
      ( is it Wednesday Word day?)

  3. I love that phrase "Selfie in a spray can"! College days were so much fun - the sudden freedom after regimental school days (I attended a Christian girls school) was very liberating. The sheer thought of missing a class freaked us out :) I remember how three of us used to meet at the bus stop every day and carve something on the tree by the side of the road. Almost a decade later, when I went back, I was thrilled to see the tree and the "artwork" we'd done. Now the tree has gone - but I recall feeling a great sense of happiness back then!

    Putting out smart and rather witty comebacks without worrying about what others might think was also exciting. Our favorite medium was charcoal on wall. :)

    I totally get what you are saying, though! :) The fab thing is - I am still in touch with many of my classmates!

    1. Oh I don't have any mates left from uni days... I was a bit of a wild loner... if such a thing exists...
      I never carved on a tree... but I defaced a desk or two just a little...

  4. well, you should coin that phrase - selfie in a spray can - I don't get it either, but some graffiti street art is truly amazing - and those artists enliven often depressed parts of the city landscape.

    1. ... glad you like the phrase... maybe I should take out a copyright... And I ,too, love good street art.