The streets of Chicago are a huge body of interacting expressions. Architecture provides the backbone, but city government, corporations, neighborhood entities and individuals compete to fill out the flesh. I’m most interested in this contestation over defining the aesthetics of space. Corporations construct billboards only to have them covered by the names of graffiti writers. The city installs stop signs which quickly have political stickers added to them. Real estate companies board up buildings which are quickly covered by corporate advertisements. Politically-minded citizens scrawl commentary on the ads. Street artists wheatpaste on top of the commentary. City workers buff the whole business with brown paint. And then the cycle starts all over again.
The city of Chicago spends upwards of $10 million on graffiti abatement, yet more kids are writing their names in spray paint than ever before. In our society official public expression is regulated and controlled by those with money and power, but it’s no surprise that everyone else has something to say as well. And that something is almost inevitably more interesting.