Stage-set projection for Fierce by Elph/16k Design
the writing on the wall
After some legendary theatrical successes, Grid Iron is back with an explosion of music and visual theatre about graffiti artists. Steve Cramer finds out about this mould-breaking company’s take on the artform.
dvertising is vandalism.” So reads a spray painted message on lidinburgh‘s Leith Walk underneath a mighty hoarding. As the automatic slats of the board rotate. transrnuting one grotesque consumer message into another. the buy. buy. buy ideology is undermined by this implacable judgement. We might ask which is the real vandalism. In a world where so many of our primal urges. and so many ideological impulses. are buried under a bland mass media message. or rendered taboo by social expectations. graffiti remains a means by which we can express repressed impulses. often in private. and laden with fear of discovery. Public lavatory walls are places
where wish fulfilment is laid bare by the expression of
the repressed desires of multifarious sexualities. be it through boasts. offers or observations: taboo humour is indulged in. So the next time you see a condom machine with ‘Thc chewing gum in this dispenser tastes pish' scrawled on it. think of the secrecy and anonymity with which even this mild witticisrn was shared.
But it‘s in the world of the graffiti artist that this discourse reaches its most heightened state. There is a slang. along with taglines. which is as secret a language as pilari in the 19th century. And that's why (irid Iron. Scotland's brilliant young theatre company. specialising in its own distinctive brand of physicalin and visual splendour. has actually provided a glossary in its programme for its much awaited new piece.
In this. a play for people aged l5 and over. a teenage boy with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder finds a means of expressing himself through his art. overcoming the narrow world created for him by his medication. He also linds love with a girl from his scheme. and friendship with a wannabe hard man. As they mount a grafliti campaign throughout the city. they come to the attention of local casuals who are intent on making life as difficult for this little team as the authorities are. But most of all it‘s about the world of the graffiti artist. opening tip the secret to a big audience. and giving another perspective. just like the sprayed message on the boarding.
Writer .lustin Young has produced his script alter 18 months of research among young graffiti artists in Scotland. and is keenly aware of the contradictions of a society that seeks to curb the self expression of these young people. '(irafliti is an invisible part of urban
16 THE LIST 7?: Arr '3 Ma, 200.1
‘THE WHOLE JOY OF IT IS THE ILLEGALITY'
culture. If you live in a city it’s all around you. There‘s this enormous web of cornrnunication.’ he says. ‘lt’s like being in a club or society: there is a very specialised language in graffiti. it's not just random.‘
And part of this culture is its illegality. so there are paradoxes inherent in attempts by local councils to create a form of legitimised graffiti. ‘This is the work of a generation marginalised by the media and ignored by society. ()ne of the ways they‘ve learned to light back is to create millions of pounds worth of damage through expressing themselves. A structure. a legalised graffiti system. has got to be a very positive thing. but. in part. it misses the point. (irafliti artists are always talking about the times they were nearly caught by the police. There’s also a danger to it in places like railway yards that is part of the fun.~ says Young.
(‘o-artistic director Judith l)ocherty. who has produced ever (irid lron production since its inception nearly a decade ago. points out the importance of music to this piece. which throbs with the beats of contemporary urban sounds. ‘At the start we were calling it urban opera. but we don‘t want that word. "opera". to get in anyone's way. It emerges from the rntrsic of these kids. though. It's fully scored with hip hop. rap and R848. It’s like a mix of Bombirv of Iirrors‘. Bounce and 8 Mile. .
She also pleads for some sanity in our attitude to graffiti. ‘The people who are doing these beautiful things don’t all want to be seen as a menace or a nuisance. There are real contradictions in our attitudes. It just seems bonkers that on the same day that the (‘ity of lidinburgh council gave us a grant towards research and community workshops to instigate this piece. they also spent 1:40.000 on that grafl‘rti-r‘ernm‘ing gunge. because they saw it as a social menace.‘
This will be a new departure for (irid lron on many levels. Ben Harrison. who‘s directed every (irid lron premier up until now. is taking a back seat for this one. with young director Janey Abbot taking the reigns. It‘s also the first time. aside from the ill-starred Variety. that these site specific specialists have worked within a building. But for a company that has picked up more awards than you can shake a stick at. this represents a chance to make great theatre in a comfortable space.
Fierce is at the Traverse Theatre on Fri 7 & Sat 8 May.
Derrn, like Mak One, is an artist who has a paint colour - a turquoise blue - named after him. He’s also a long-time writer on the Edinburgh scene.
‘I first saw graffiti art in Glasgow about ‘83. and the same fOr Edinburgh. AS with every council in the world. graffiti art is viewed as a plague on the image of the city. They should try to be more accommodating to it — graffiti art is planned and executed with creativity: vandalism usually is mindless.
With a wider accessibility via web. video and publications. it is much easier to check other writers‘ work and discuss techniques. Before. if a piece had been painted in one city. it w0uld be virtually impossible to view it unless in photograph. Most pieces have a short life and get covered Quite Quickly.
In a Culture in which everywhere you look there rs communication and ads trying to capture your attention. I can compete against the corporations. As Andy Warhol said. "famous for 15 minutes".'
Elph of the Many Styles Crew is currently working on designs for Grid lron’s Fierce but still pursues his first love of street grafﬁti art.
‘I started in 1989. lwas about 12. When I first started we used to paint in Drylaw and there were two massive railway tunnels —- they were really dark so we brightened them up a bit. There’s still a crew of us — the Many Styles Crew — usually we do separate pieces and then join the backgrounds. The idea of graffiti is to be an individual. that everyone should have their own style and go as far as they can.
I like the idea that you can travel through it. You can meet folks from all aoross the world — its massive now and I think it's pretty amazing. It really is a movement — there are millions of people who do it and it's revolutionary when you think it's been around for such a short time.
Glasgow got Sty/e Wars [the documentary on New York graffiti] in 1984 when it first came out in the cinema. It was a real inspiration.‘