Tagging & Teenagers

Happy has been happily tagging, recently I have been seeing them everywhere. Ha Ha’s huge tags are still visible, years later, along the Upfield line, as is Dulux. These are not just some kids but some of Melbourne’s most artistic street artists. Happy is well known for his colourful paste-ups, Ha Ha is exhibiting his stencil art in galleries and Dulux is another notable stencil artist.

The fact is that you can’t separate the acceptable artistic street art from the tagging. This is not simply my opinion (based on my observations) but a conclusion that criminologist Alison Young emphasised at a forum on street art (2008).

Personal identity must be expressed; marked in a way meaningful to the individual. Marking identity is as old as handprints painted on cave walls and as contemporary as tags. Tagging is, in part, a response to a lack of other forms of recognition.

Initiation rites marking the transition from childhood to adult have been mostly lost in contemporary society (and perhaps replaced with other rituals). Matthew Lunn in Street Art Uncut (2006) states that the average tagger is 15 years old. Young men in particular are regarded as an uncontrollable element in society as there are no initiation rites to control the young men. The rituals that have replaced initiation rites have been reinvented by the alienated youth – rock’n’roll, punk, hip-hop, street art – “ the realm of protracted danger, pollution and taboo.” [Dana Tiffany “Jarry’s inner Circle and the Public Debate of Pere Ubu” “Event” Art & Art Events ed. Stephen C. Foster (1988)]

The impact of the creativity of alienated teenagers on the history of modern culture is underrated. It is easy to forget reading art history that Alfred Jarry, Tristan Tzara, Percy Shelley, Mary Shelley, Sid Vicious and many other artists all did their best work before they were 21.

Finally, how is tagging related to Duchamp’s signature? The artist’s signature has been important in art as a method of identification and authentication since the 16th Century. But in the modern world it has taken on new significance and the signature of the artist has become both a brand name and a logo. Duchamp’s use of his signature to make readymade objects art pushed the significance of the artist’s signature still further. The names of some artists are now more famous than their art. Blockbuster art exhibitions use the signatures of famous artists as logos for the exhibition. Tagging becomes the next logical step in this history.

About Mark Holsworth

Writer, independent researcher and artist, Mark Holsworth is the author of the book Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

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