Maite Fernández Pérez’s short film Graffiti Area (2014)

(This blog entry is an expansion of end note #5 of my chapter, “Representations of Graffiti and the City in the Novel El francotirador paciente: Readings of the Emergent Urban Body in Madrid” found in Graffiti and Street Art: Reading, Writing and Representing the City. Ed. Konstantinos Avramidis and Myrto Tsilimpounidi. London and New York: Routledge, 2017. 250-63.)

The short film opens with two graffiti artists running, presumably, from the police.[i] After turning a corner, they stop to catch their breath. One admonishes the other, and a heated exchange ensues:

A: Are you crazy?

B: We have to get out of this!

A: Yeah? Why do you say that?

B: Look around!

A: How could this happen?[ii]

The viewer at this point does not know to what they are referring. What is it that they need to get out of? What is around them to look at that will explain their situation? The action then cuts to the events that led up to the opening scene.

One of the graffiti artists is spray-painting a life-sized beast all in black on a concrete wall supporting a highway overpass while the other is waiting and watching from a few feet away. The beast appears to ooze white paint where its eyes should be. The perspective then shifts from that of a third-person observing the two graffiti artists to that of the monster peering out through the paint, face-to-face with its maker. Incredulous, the graffiti artist paints over the whites of the eyes, and touches the paint as if to make sure that it is just that—paint. As he does this, the camera takes on the perspective of the monster once again. Black paint drips down the frame through which both beast and spectator views. Aggravated, the monster bleeds white paint to form its eyes once again. In an act of defiance, the graffiti artist doubles his efforts by holding an aerosol can in both hands and wildly blackens the white eyes. Infuriated, the two-dimensional beast slides down the wall, and moves along the street in an effort to reach its maker. Shocked and frightened, the two graffiti artists start to run. The action then cuts to the opening scene once again. At the corner, the one graffiti artist laments to the other, “we will never get out!” To which the other responds, “that’s what you think. Look at this.” He points to several aerosol cans leaking bright colored paint strewn on the street and to the reaction of the black beast. The colors clearly irritate it and slow it down. The graffiti artists start to run again until they find themselves surrounded by buildings covered with brilliant colors oscillating with life. They are trapped, for behind them is the black monster. The graffiti artist who did not create the beast touches the wall with the colored urban art. As he does this, the building releases more paint. It covers the graffiti artist’s hand as if it were reaching out to him. The screen darkens and in the last scene, the viewer sees the one graffiti artist incorporated into the artwork on the side of the building looking out at the other who responds, “are you happy now?”

The graffiti artist who paints the black beast has an antagonistic relationship with the city. The monster is that part of himself that he hates. It is the part of his subjectivity produced by a capitalist system that is widening the divide between the rich and the poor, fueling political corruption, criminalizing everyday life, restricting access to public space in the city and culture on the Internet, and invading privacy through constant surveillance. His graffiti is at once a product of his subjectivity and a reaction against it. There is both a connection and a separation between artist and art, between artist and built environment. This is visualized through the point of view of the capitalist monster. Both beast and viewer look out at the graffiti artist as he stares back at us. The screen becomes the monster’s eyes and the surface of the building. Such a framing emphasizes the graffiti artist’s alienation and, at the same time, establishes an identification between spectator, beast, and built environment. Cities are a reflection of who we are and our values. Both we and our cities have become monsters that establish relations of production and consumption that are oftentimes exploitative and violent. This current situation of heightened capitalist exploitation is what the graffiti artists need to get out of in the opening scene, and the built environment around them is what they look at that explains their predicament.

The monster’s negative reaction to the bright-colored paint suggests that creativity can be used to slow down the market system and counter capitalism.When the graffiti artist who did not create the beast touches the wall with the colored urban art, and fuses himself with it, Fernández Pérez restores the transformative potential of the emergent urban body. The notion of the body as merely physical is replaced with one of the body as a network of constantly recombining links between the exterior world and imagination. His relationship to the city, unlike that of his friend, is constructive instead of destructive which is to say that he becomes a co-producer of the city. The fact that only one, and not both, of the graffiti artists reconnects with the transformative power of creativity indicates that the antagonistic way of relating to the city still exists. However, in Graffiti Area, both monster and friend are neutralized, albeit temporarily, and this creates a feeling that the future is hopeful and the ability to imagine a better city still intact.

[i] The video was chosen as one of the four winners of the Bombay Sapphire Imagination Series Film Competition for 2013. The applicants had to use their imagination to interpret the same short film script written by Geoffrey Fletcher, Oscar winner for his screenplay for Precious.

[ii] The actors speak in Spanish. Subtitles appear in English.

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