Written communication has been present in the world, first with drawings and now it includes letters, symbols and characters. It is often found in the art of bathroom graffiti, if I daresay call it art. The people who write on the wall of the bathroom have some dire need to share “if it’s brown flush it down” on the wall and perhaps contribute to the needless writings of today’s society from social platforms in a non-Internet environment. Through analyzing the juvenile and ephemeral uses of text in bathroom graffiti in a Cincinnati college, I have synthesized my own phrases that echo the style and themes of graffiti I have documented. Viewers are engaged with my work by having to examine the image carefully to first read the statement and question it’s meaning and importance.
My work started with capturing bathroom graffiti within the School of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP) because I am intrigued by why people write certain phrases and why they write it in the bathroom. If they really have something to say, then why write it in sharpie on a bathroom wall where only students and faculty stumble upon it before it is painted over or removed? Why do they write anonymously if they really want a response? The overarching theme of most writings are not significant or life changing and can be seen as juvenile, petty writings. But yet, there is something that makes me look forward to new scribbles and I am intrigued by who these people are. By discussing my photo documentation work with others, I often hear that they have seen the writing in person or know who made the writing. This allows for the viewers of my documentation to have a stronger bond to the actual existence of the writing in some cases, simply because they have viewed it in person. After compiling a book of DAAP bathroom photos I wanted to know where else this could go. This source documentation is informing a new body of work, which entails the creation of phrases that I have pulled from my own writings that are compilations of my everyday life.
Using screen-printing, which I have recently learned, I plan to layer brick imagery over the phrases to partially disguise them. Screen-printing includes the following steps. In a dark room, set up with the proper lighting in order to see without exposing the emulsion, coat the screen using emulsion. This includes a coating trough filled with emulsion, which is pulled the length of the screen for even, thin distribution. Let dry for at least 20 minutes. To expose the screen, have an image ready on a transparency, which will be laid flat on top of the emulsion-coated screen and exposed to light. A transparency can be made by manually writing in dark ink, such as a Sharpie, on a clear sheet of acetate or it could be an image printed from the computer with black ink onto clear acetate. The parts of the transparency that are still clear (not part of your image) will harden the emulsion; “[The] exposed areas of photo emulsion undergo a chemical change called crosslinking, which makes the emulsion water resistant during development” (Adam, Robertson 129). And the parts of the transparency that are black (part of your image) will not harden. The next step is to rinse the screen thoroughly so that the non-hardened emulsion will wash out and when it comes time to print, it will allow the ink through the screen in the desired shape to produce an image. While printing, in short, you pull ink across the screen with a squeegee, lift the screen up from the material you are printing on, so as not to further put more ink on it, and flood the screen. Flooding the screen means you push ink back into the screen with the squeegee, and not onto the printing surface, in order to keep small bits of ink from drying in the screen and thus acting like hardened emulsion. This step is essential to keeping your image crisp and clean.
As my work currently exists I have been developing phrases to be screen-printed in my own handwriting that mimic a graffiti style similar to some of the aesthetics of the writing found in my documentation. Some of these phrases include, “DEATH PROJECT IN PROCESS TOMORROW. WILL COMPLETE DENTAL WORK WHILE UNDER.”, “THE BODY IS AN ART MATERIAL WITHOUT BEING DEXTER. P4 WILL BE ABOUT ABSTRACTION” and “COVER INSIDE OF COVERS. ADD BOOKMARK. BUY MORE FOOD-PRESCRIPTION CARD.” These phrases will then be printed on top of with a brick texture in order to force the viewer to examine the work closely to see what is under the brick. At first glance it will seem as if it is just a brick wall, but after further investigation the viewer will be able to read the phrases. People expect instant gratification and to have meaningful expressions put into words to form certain feelings about life and specific situations. For example, people often put images containing quotes online that they consider to be life inspiring. But who is to say that these quotes are important or rich in content? Some of these quotes include phrases that have been made up on the spot by the person who posted the image. My phrases echo what can be found in the bathrooms at DAAP, which is for the most part, nothing important. They are a compilation of phrases pulled out of context from the journal where I keep notes and a schedule of events, sketch, or just put down whatever comes to mind.
Christopher Wool is an artist who uses text heavily and an example of his work with bold black lettering on white background is Untitled, 1996, enamel on aluminum, 274,3 cm x 182,9 cm which reads:
In Christopher Wool, which discusses the meaning of text in his work, it states, “[The paintings] were also interpreted by some as an attempt to illustrate the limitations…of the communication of language…Wool underlin[ed] the failure of language as an effective, objective medium of communication” (Wool 201). This idea that language has failed us becomes true within my art because the words truly are meaningless and pulled out of context in order to achieve that effect. Again, this links to the idea that people put meaningful and life fulfilling quotes online that are supposed to change one’s outlook on life. How are these words really being seen by others and are they effective at all?
Another art source that uses text, from anonymous senders, is PostSecret. As they state on their online source, “PostSecret is an ongoing community are project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a postcard” (PostSecret). Rather than finding text by stumbling upon it on their own, PostSecret invites collaboration and welcomes submissions to use as the artwork itself. In this context, many who are viewers of the work are able to identify with the submissions and are therefore comforted that they are not alone. This is opposite of what my work is about because it shouldn’t allow for much room of viewers connecting with the phrases.
A third artist, Lesley Dill, is an American contemporary artist living and working in Brooklyn, New York. Working in sculpture, photography and performance, using a variety of media and techniques, she explores themes of language, the body and transformational experience through the use of words. In an interview, she says, “I don’t feel that I use text in my work, I feel that I use words. Words to me are heated, intimate things…The act of speaking is a very personal, intimate thing” (Richards 152). Again, opposing my work, her words are meant to resonate with a viewer in order to make them feel certain emotions based on what the phrase is.
I’m currently investigating relevant ideas in today’s society because of the large use of the Internet and social platforms people contribute to. Popular websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram often have a spew of information from people, often without having a second thought about the content. This same idea rings true when reading the messages scribbled inside the bathrooms in DAAP. When taking these same phrases, or ones that are very similar, and then screen-printing them, they garnish a different amount of attention and beg to be examined, interpreted and analyzed based on their medium. There’s more strength and respect in something that is screen-printed several times, maybe mass-produced, than something scribbled on the wall of a bathroom. My words demand more attention because of the medium they are in.
Through this process I have been learning more about digital photography, the screen-printing process as a whole and other artists who have made work similar to mine. It’s okay to have work that is similar to other artists, because it’s inevitable, but it’s important to know how my work is different and similar to other artists. This will help me set my work apart from what others have and still are investigating. I’m going to continue researching and trying to understand the reasons for people to write in public places that are semi-private and what drives them to do so. The next step for me might include an anonymous survey to my peers to shed light onto this topic and further inform my work and the psychological aspects of it.
 Quote pulled from a photo documentation of the bathroom wall.
 Discussion has risen in critiques during Photography 1 and Special 2D studio with Adjunct Professor Riley Harmon and Assistant Professor Jennifer Ustick along with fellow classmates.
Adam, Robert, and Carol Robertson. Screenprinting: The Complete Water-based
System. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003. Print.
“PostSecret”. PostSecret. Web. 1 February, 2014.
Richards, Judith Olch. Inside the Studio: Two Decades of Talks with Artists in
New York. New York: Independent Curators International (ICI), 2004.
Wool, Christopher, and Marga Paz. Christopher Wool. Valencia: IVAM, 2006.