ATTEMPTING A CONVERSATION
IN / WITH THE CITY
In early December 2018 I laid a brick in the ground as an homage to my favourite Gothenburg street tag, Sorg. Before I knew its meaning I had been amazed by its ubiquity but irritated by its seeming egocentricity. I remember asking a classmate "who the hell does this Jorg guy think he is?" I was not prepared for her response. She explained that the word Sorg (not Jorg) means sorrow or grief in Swedish. My heart dropped. How had I been so mean? I marvelled at how transformative a translation can be, as I hurtled from cynical to empathetic in a single heart beat.
At the beginning of my master's project I was researching the value of translation, within the context of visual communication when I realised that I had a need to respond to the Sorg tag. I wondered how I could get the attention or direct a message specifically to its author(s) without knowing or trying to find out who they are. I decided to faithfully redraw the tag, cut it in acrylic and set it in a block of concrete that could be placed in the ground, on the city street.
It was my assumption that concrete was more permanent than the ink or paint that the taggers were using. It was also my assumption that should they find this brick, they would be able to read this gesture as an homage; a way of seeking to preserve a tag that I value.
MAKING AN HOMAGE
In an attempt to indirectly communicate with the tagger(s) I decided to appropriate their tag. I wanted to reformat it, in a respectful way. To me, the tag was a valuable asset to the city that is often removed by city cleaners/graffiti removers and property owners. I thought that if I reformatted it into a concrete brick and place it in the city it would be a way for me to say I hear you and I appreciate this tag.
After several attempts, I made a brick with the Sorg tag on its surface. I was determined to find a loose brick or even a missing brick somewhere along the city streets. After hours of walking around the city I managed to find a missing brick at Stigbergstorget. It was really important to me that I wasn’t damaging the city but rather adding to an empty space.
If you look closely at the stills from the film below you’ll see that I carved a circle out of the base of the brick. On my first attempt to lay the brick, I discovered why there was a brick missing at this spot. Just below the surface of dirt was an old metal pole sticking up, so my brick couldn’t sit into the space properly. After six hours of carving by hand, I was ready for my second attempt.
As you can see in the image above, the brick cracked almost immediately. I discovered that people were driving up onto the brick to parallel park and there was nothing I could do about that. It was an important realisation that it belonged to the street now and would change or be destroyed by itself.
TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT?
The following Sorg. tag is up there as one of my favourites. The playfulness with the surface really pleased and surprised me. In my opinion it gives a deeper glimpse into the personality behind this tag. I was glad I happened to pass it, since it didn’t last very long at all. I reflected on how if I hadn’t walked by it on the right day I would have missed it. The quality of site specific and short-lived graphic expression embedded in the Sorg. tags is very intriguing to me.
As you can see in first case study below, a lot of the Sorg tags tend to last impeccably for months, maybe years. The dates of each photograph are listed for comparison; to consider the deterioration and or survival of the tags. These images were taken along the street where I live in November 2018 and March 2019.
DURATION CASE STUDY 1:
TITLE: SORG. tags
MATERIAL: White ink pen, black permanent marker, spray paint.
SURFACEE: Steel electrical boxes, plastic boxes, walls and bins.
LOCATION: Majorna, Gothenburg.
DURATION: Some are ongoing, others have been removed.
As I demonstrated earlier my response of acknowledgment materialised in the form of concrete. I had made grand assumptions about the meaning of the words temporary, in relation to the Sorg tag materials.
My assumptions about the permanence of materials was also incorrect. The slide show below documents the deterioration of my brick within five months.
This realisation inspired the work I created in the second semester of my final year. I decided to allow the brick to play itself out on the street and to move on to addressing materials and my assumptions about their capabilities as potential means for communication.
DURATION CASE STUDY 2:
TITLE: An homage to SORG.
MATERIAL: Acrylic laser-cut letterforms (copied from the real tag).
LOCATION: Stigbergstorget, Gothenburg.
DURATION: Ongoing but deteriorating.
After trying to communicate with a stranger in an indirect way using unexpected materials in the first semester, I decided to spend my second semester embarking on a material investigation that used the city street as a substrate and its materials as my media but removed the limitations of a target audience. An important aim for the next phase was to limit the amount of materials down to those that are physical and can be found on the city street. Using stones, streetlight, sunshine, soil, sand, water and snow I would tag the city and test the removability and lifespan of my tags.
A key motivation is to leave no lasting mark on the city's walls or pavements but only mark them for a moment in time. This means that there is a chance nobody will see or notice the tags. I will use this potential problem as a strategy to discover what I can learn when I am not afraid to fail. Stylistically, I want to remain anonymous but make my tags look like they neither belonged to graffiti culture nor a commercial or corporate source.
*It’s important to note that the word Sorg has a deep cultural connection with the city of Gothenburg. As my afore-mentioned classmate went on to explain, the word Sorg is famously part of the lyrics to a Gothenburg song by Håkan Hellström, Känn ingen sorg för mig Göteborg (Don't feel sorry for me Gothenburg).