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“Writing – Urban Culture and Beyond” is not only a great tribute to street culture but also to graphic design and architectural style. Graffiti which was long ignored and belittled for its proximity to comic culture has been borrowed by various fields such as fashion, packaging, graphic designers, and has become a fundamental aspect of the modern city.

The book points out the hidden pull of graffiti and makes us aware of the beauty and aesthetic it can contain, but also presents us the wide range where Writing has become an invaluable influence and inspiration in. The content of “Writing” spans from “Tags” beginning in the 70s when it was graded at the same level as vandalism, over to intricate architectural artworks, and ends up with 3D rendering of tags and portable wall-spraying machines when writing is digitized. Compiled by Berlin activists and designers Markus Mai and Arthur Remke and published by Die Gestalten Verlag, it shows the history of urban art and looking at the book is a possibility to see writings with the eyes of others.

Masa, Caracas Venezuela 2003

“In the “old” days, tags , (which a the writer’s signature), used to define the borders of gangland territories. By the time Writing culture was exported to less gang-dominated areas, it lost its original meaning and was used more to express individual style and less to convey (legible) information. “(M. Mai) A distinctive style, the personal interpretation of the Latin alphabet, the rounding, all this and more makes out a tag. Tags can be emotive, making the people ask questions like “Who is the person behind it?”

From top to bottom, left to right: Drama, Milk, Bas Two, Inca, Bas Two, Yok One, Milk – Berlin 2000-2003

The writing on top saying “Drama”. This throw-up was found in Berlin 2003. A throw-up is closer to a picture than a tag is. A throw-up is not always meant as a signature but through the style and personal attributes it still conveys information to identify and recognize the writer.

Dez 78 Berlin 2003

As a rule, it takes years of fine-tuning until “signature” becomes real art and to create a “signature” at which people don’t pass by without noticing. Good tags can be seen as an “expression of the writers personality”, each with an individual hand style.

Bek, Caracas Venezuela 2002

“Space has always been an issue in Writing, so it is a logical consequence if you start with traditional writings and then go over to 3D-objects or architecture. Writers tried to simulate space in their work, giving it a third dimension. From the construction of a 3D tag to building objects is only a small step.” (M. Mai) The combination of writing and architectural elements is a possibility to “design the space”.

Poe – Jazzstyle Corner at Glaswerk, Berlin 2002

To the question if it is essential that creators of 3D-objects and architectural buildings have gathered experiences in writings first Mr. Mai says it is not, but certainly helpful. “Even the construction of a tag demands quite a bit of structural thinking. This definitely helps when it comes to thinking in three dimensions.” Writers are changing from beyond two dimensions. The originality of the draft in 2D is decisive to the quality of the final work, the 3D object So both 2D and 3D are taking a benefit from each other.

Point,Prague 2002

The artwork above is from Jan Kalab from the former Czechoslovakia. He did a lot of 3D Graffiti objects he installed in the public space and streets. Almost every writer is starting with an aerosol “tagging” the walls and streets during night. It seems to be common to change the field later on going over to 3D and architectural objects. Mr. Mai is explaining: “Writing has always been reflecting and commenting on urban surroundings. Architecture creates urban spaces and Writing comments and reflects these spaces. Writings picks up and predicts architectural styles.”

Colin Ardley – “Above And Below Horizon” 1994

This work above is called “Above and Below Horizon” in 1994 from Colin Ardley. His works involve the intricate assembly of plain and painted lengths of wood, and deals with the constructive tradition of wall sculpture that both articulates and reconfigures the space around it.

Pfadfinderei Allstars – Working Without My Computer, Berlin 2002

This work has been created by Berlin’s Designbuerau Pfadfinderei, a Berlin based design Bureau. “This work was originally developed for the magazine Backjumps. They were told “you’re allowed to use everything except your computer!” and then the Pfadfinderei Crew created this work with that in mind.” as Mr. Mai explains.

Hektor – Work Set

This machine is called Hector and is a collaboration project between Jurg Lehni and Uli Franke from Zurich. It is the first wall-spraying machine worldwide and they are currently not planning to produce and sell others. Hektor is vector orientated and still uses a spray-can. We are living in a world not to imagine without computers and encroachments in more and more realms. But as Mr. Mai says “As in all disciplines, there is no machine that can totally replace or copy the movement of the human hand.”

Kraze – Pips:lab, Amsterdamm 2002

“Pips:lab”, a collective from Amsterdam is showing Light animations. In font of a multiple camera set-up they spray with an empty spray can with a light bulb attached to it. By placing in sequence, they achieve this striking effect.

By and by writing gained more and more of importance. So asking Mr. Mai if he thinks writings is too ubiquitous nowadays, he replies: “There is definitely an information overflow. In many ways classical graffiti does not stand out anymore as everything is literally covered with it. Little wonder then that street art is breaking up the traditional ways graffiti was handled by working with characters, posters and stencils as well as interacting with urban messages.”

Although writing appears in almost every field, there is always a spot to create something new and to improve in any field that is already existing. The book shows the highlights of the “informational overflow” so it is definitely worth a look at it.

Writing – Urban Caligraphy and Beyond
By Arthur Remke, Markus Mai
Editor: R. Klanten
Pages: 192 pages
Size: 24 x 28 cm
Features: full colour, softcover, incl. free CDR
Released: July 2003
USA/CAN: September 2003
Price: US 45.00/Euro 39.90/UK 26.99
ISBN: 3-89955-003-X
Published by Die Gestalten Verlag

*This book “Writing – Urban Caligraphy and Beyond” can be purchased on

Text: Michiko Ikeda

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