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BA may be new to street art, but she understands where bombing—the writing of one’s name on a public surface—comes from: An art form of the voiceless, it’s about proclaiming your existence to a world that has failed to notice you. In her case, “failed to notice” might mean something closer to “didn’t see you before my SUV right-hooked you on your bike.” But while BA has cannily adopted an art form that’s historically belonged to marginalized people and placed it in the streets’ margins, for the most part she’s not proclaiming her existence to the right-hookers. She’s talking to the right-hookees.

If BA is caught, the punishments are real. According to the D.C. Code, BA could face as many as 10 years in prison and fines up to $5,000 if she’s found guilty of damages totalling more than $1,000.

But anyone who can tag frequently well-lit streets for months without consequence must enjoy some kind of privilege. BA knows it. “People look over with curiosity,” she says of the times she is spotted. “Either people are so complacent they’re not even observant of what’s going on, or they could care less because I’m a young white girl.”

Sometimes other bikers double-take when they see BA tagging, but the reaction is receptive. Once, a rider biked by her while she was spraying at 14th and V. “He, like, circled back, looked at the ground, got closer, looked up and said, ‘Whoa, you’re the one. You’re the one!’ He started screaming it in the intersection, and I was like, ‘Dude, keep it quiet.’ And he was like, ‘You’re the one.’ It made me feel like Batman or something.”


Several D.C. government officials interviewed for this story say the Metropolitan Police Department rarely pursues street artists who aren’t generating numerous complaints—like Borf, the teenage tagger whose works briefly captivated Washingtonians until his arrest in 2005—or spraying gang-related messages or names. Likewise, the Department of Public Works, which “doesn’t necessarily tolerate” street art on public property like the bases of lamp posts, prioritizes cleaning up material that’s gang-related, offensive, or has inspired a complaint, according to spokeswoman Linda Grant. To Grant’s knowledge, no one has complained to DPW about the bike-lane stencils.

“I’d say that the messages are positive and pretty unobtrusive. They don’t distract from people using the street safely,” emails Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s director of policy, planning, and sustainability administration, when asked about the bike-lane stencils. “We generally don’t want people to do things like this, because if we did have to remove the stencils it’s a cost to the agency and taxpayers, which means other needed work may not get done. But this isn’t really the same as defacing a sign or creating a large mural in the street because of the size and the fact that the messages are positive.”

BA says she’s worried about being caught—mostly because of what it could cost her financially—but believes she could gather support among bike enthusiasts and galvanize momentum for better biking infrastructure and bicyclist behavior.

Maybe she shouldn’t worry. On the night I watched BA and her friends tag 15th Street, M. wondered out loud if I was going to portray the crew as reckless, entitled white kids. They certainly have tagging down to something like a science, but over time, they got remarkably looser. At several points, they left three or four stencils next to one another, spending several traffic-light cycles at a single intersection. They greeted passersby, spraycans in hand.

And why not be reckless, when the odds of being caught appear to be so low? The most remarkable thing about writing on a well-lit street while being white, 20-something, and bike-bound is how little suspicion you arouse—from cops cruising by, from security guards, from anyone. I had to wonder if the kids who once made the above-ground stretch of the Red Line heading toward Silver Spring a graffiti destination ever had it so easy. BA and her compatriots may borrow graffiti’s customs, but they don’t live in its world.

Even Borf’s sentence was light compared to the maximum punishment—while he was ordered to pay $12,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to tagging a Howard University building, he served only a month in jail. BA is hardly Borf on a bike, at least in terms of any damage she’s doing; if city officials say they’re barely bothered by her stencils, would a judge really treat her as a menace? That she’s tagging public property with well-meaning messages, not painting private buildings with pseudo-anarchic axioms, seems to have helped her cause, at least among local officials.

From a street artist’s perspective, there’s another advantage to BA’s method. Because streets are public property, tags there tend to last much longer than tags on walls, which are often removed quickly, says Cory Stowers, an amateur graffiti historian who runs Art Under Pressure, a skate and paint shop in Petworth. And while street-bound street art isn’t a common approach, it does have a long tradition: Kids have been painting their names on the pavement as long as they’ve been painting them on the side of subway cars.

BA’s stencils aren’t alone on D.C.’s streets. There are the Toynbee Tiles, with their esoteric messages, that can be found on city streets across the Western Hemisphere, plus the Stikman robots that inhabit crosswalks across the United States. Fine artists like Steed Taylor have created sanctioned, gallery-supported “road tattoos.” There’s an artist in Bowie who creates Pac-Man figures, some which are placed so that they appear to be eating lines on the road. That guy uses a heavy-duty adhesive that reacts to heat in order to become permanent, Stowers says. Corporate viral marketers will sometimes stamp hashtags on D.C. roads and sidewalks using materials that fade to nothing in four or five months.

Creating street art that’s actually on the street is a bit more technically difficult than using a wall, Stowers says—you have to hold the can a different way, for starters—but it has the appeal of being less competitive. “Not too many people do it, and it’s a great way to attract attention,” he says. “Going onto the ground is an excellent canvas for folks putting their message out.”


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Source : http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/article/13044887/stencil-pusher

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