Bill Hulet Editor

Here's the thing. A lot of important local issues are really complex. And to understand them we need more than "sound bites" and knee-jerk ideology. The Guelph Back-Grounder is a place where people can read the background information that explains why things are the way they are, and, the complex issues that people have to negotiate if they want to make Guelph a better city. No anger, just the facts.


Monday, April 16, 2018

Old Tyme Nostalgia Bonus Post

I've been sick with the flu lately and I've gotten behind in researching my next post, which is going to have to take a lot of work before it sees print. I hope to get something out by the end of April, but I might not be able to until May. So in the interim I thought I'd put in something I did ten years ago. I had just bought a camera and by way of learning how to make the transition between film and pixels, I did a bit of a photo essay on political graffiti in Guelph. I was also interested in learning how to use my photos in a blogging platform, so I quickly hammered out another blog that never really went anywhere after the first post.  (I've been blogging a very, very long time. "The Guelph-Back-Grounder" is my third venture. The first one was about Green political theory (no longer extant) and the second I still do on the philosophy of Daoism (available here.) 

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Guelph Political Street Art

I've been wandering around my neighbourhood taking photos of the artwork that seems to be making political statements. This first image was stuck on a electrical controls box outside of a fire station. It is a very good piece of artwork, even though I don't agree with its message. It looks like whomever made it up was influenced by the sort of art that was made between the World Wars in Germany. It implies that the world is burning, the police serve the moneyed class, and, that women are arising as a powerful force in the world. It also pushes the agenda of muscular, violent activism. I see a lot of this sort of thing being pushed by young people who are enamoured with "Radical Chic". As someone who has been involved in politcs for many years, has friends in government and who often deals with the police where I work, I am saddened by the shallow analysis that underlies the message. But having said that, it is still a very powerful piece of art.

This second piece is what I believe is called a "tag". The point is that a person develops a specific signature and then spreads them around the city. I often see them where I work, at the university library. This particular one was behind the Movie Shack next to the Speed River. As near as I can tell, the point of a "tag" to assert some sort of individuality in a world where people feel increasingly that they are simply numbers.

Here's another "tag". As you can see, some of the people doing this work really are artists. But there's a worm in this apple, however. In the search for self-actualization, the "tagger" culture ends up fighting for a very limited amount of space. As a result, no matter how good a "tag" is, it will inevitably end up covered up by other tags.

This "gallery" of tag art is a pedestrian underpass that goes under the railway tracks next to the Greyhound Bus Station. Unfortunately, it is a hangout for drug addicts and alcoholics, which means that it smells of urine and most folks (including myself) routinely avoid it and walk over the tracks instead. (In fact, I've often thought it would be an interesting piece of performance art to install a sign over the entrance that says "Abandon All Hope Ye Who Enter Here".) I suppose that this says something about the world of the people who feel the need to "tag" in the first place.

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Looking at this old blog post it struck me once again how much we lose when we no longer have a local newspaper. The pedestrian underpass in this picture no longer exists. Perhaps a future archaeologist might dig up this forgotten collection of graffiti, but it's gone now. And if you pay attention to modern construction, you might notice that a new transparent silicon paint covers almost all public buildings. Spray paint is easily removed from it, and this means that the golden age of graffiti (if there ever was one) is now over. I'm ambivalent about this, as most of this stuff isn't really any good and it just looks juvenile. But as I show in this post, there was an element to it that did get people (at least me) thinking. That's part of the reason why I decided to repost this blog. Certainly I got a fair amount of positive feedback for it, even if the blog never went anywhere.

Oh. I need to post another plea for support too. I have been sick and my next story is pretty labour intensive. But I'm also putting more effort into marketing my writing---both this blog and my books. I've never been very good at the "business" side of writing, mainly because it got in the way of the actual art. But it is something that I've decided it is something I have to do, so I'm now putting time and effort into it. And one part of this is "the ask". So here I am, asking for people to subscribe through Patreon, toss something in the tip jar, or, buy a book. I suppose it all comes down to whether or not I think what I do is important and worthwhile. I've come to the conclusion it is, hence the ask---which invites the question "What do you think?"  


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This piece is sprayed on a unused sign out back of the old post office on Wyndham Street and faces out onto the Baker St. parking lot. I'm pretty sure that the face is meant to be that of our past mayor, Kate Quarrie. As such it goes beyond the realm of vague statements against authority in general and makes a specific point about a local politician. I suspect that this makes it a very rare thing in the land of political graffiti.


I had this image emailed to me by someone. It is supposed to be near the image above it, but haven't gotten out to look at it yet. Like the first photo on this post, it is is quite striking from an artistic point of view. I especially like the way her hair is extended by the drips that run down the wall. Unfortunately, I find the caption that goes with it ("capitalism kills") a bit of a non-sequitur. Is the woman supposed to be in mourning? (Hardly, from the expression on her face and the pink hearts.) Perhaps the slogan has nothing at all to do with the image and it is just an artifact of the competition for space that I pointed out with the taggers. Perhaps a different artist was offended by the image of an individual not obsessed with politics and wanted the viewer brought back to "reality".


Here's a sign overtop a boarded-up shop on Alice St. From the looks of it, I can't make up my mind whether the message was put up by angry neighbours who don't like what goes on there; or an ironic owner who is annoyed with their assumptions. I lived on Alice St. for years, just a couple houses down from this location, and at that time the neighbourhood was pretty "live and let live"----as long as your behaviour didn't cause problems for anyone else.

I may be pushing the meaning of the phrase "Political Comments", but I think that this image and the one the follows are making a statement about the modern world. I feel a sense of sadness for a forgotten age in the images of the old-fashioned soldier and the knight. One of the biggest battles that people fight in Guelph is to preserve our built heritage for future generations. Perhaps the artist is simply trying to get people to feel like their actions are being watched by previous generations---the noble kights of old or the fallen soldiers who lie in "Flander's fields".

The WWI soldier is on the retaining wall of Gordon St. in between Waterloo Ave and the Albion Hotel, opposit from the Church of Our Lady. The knight is on a wooden electrical access box on the side of the "Bits and Bikes" shop on Gordon St.














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