The Writing on The Wall

“Armageddon is nearly upon us and the streets will fl ow with the blood of the non-believers.” Too long for a state motto and not quite the vacation theme I was looking for, but it’s somehow appropriate to the location. I had just read that quote written on the restroom wall. I’m visiting some good friends here in Charleston, South Caroline for the holidays and we’re at a local bar filling up our bladders with some alcoholic beverages, talking about the same things everyone else talks about, but with different inflections. I grab my camera and go back to the restroom to shoot off a couple flicks of the graffiti I had just seen, because that’s what I do on vacation. Or as a French poet put it “the muddy road entices”.

The sentiments expressed in restrooms by authors and artists cover a wide range of mimetic culture and social commentary, from rain manlike rants to thin layers of emotional residue celebrating the beauty of our imperfections. The motivations of restroom graffiti are a bit different than street graffiti; most, if not all restroom pieces go unsigned. The dynamic is in the content of the piece, not in the signature. The attraction for me is in documenting the ritual of these anonymous moments where words and images are strung together like prayer beads in ceremony. We exist between transient moments, between the thoughts and offerings scrawled on these wailing walls. The artists hope that these words and images that spackle the walls across time might connect us all to who we are, and what we love, believe, and fear. As a form of communication it’s not beyond human comprehension that these moments somehow allow one a sense of freedom to express oneself without the baggage our identity requires. Can we escape who we are or what we believe ourselves to be?

As I make an adjustment on my lens and take a couple shots, I write down the date, time and location. I turn to Kathy whom I met a few moments ago. She just walked out of the women’s restroom when I asked her any pieces of graffiti lingered inside. Amazed, with a perforated smile she asked “Why?”

I explained my on-going project of documenting restroom graffiti, and how I was specifically looking for some choice specimens in Charleston. She told me she never pays attention to the scrib-blings on the bathroom walls but for the first time she had written something in response to a piece a moment ago in the women’s restroom. I asked her what made her do it, what moved her? She took me inside the restroom. It read: “I’m so alone” with a drawing of a frowning smiley face icon. Her response next to it read: “Awe…We are all united by our existential isolation.”

Jedi mysticism indeed.

I arrive back home in LA, a new year for some, another year for most. I unpack my camera and start to download the images. I make my way to the roof of my apartment. It’s that place that everyone goes to take account of life’s accumulated moments. As I look out over the city a familiar sound, sirens, sing and a helicopter chirps with a spot light chasing someone looking for an exit off the 101 freeway. I wonder if we’re all trying to find our next exit.

“While I breathe, I hope.” Hmmm… that wasn’t in the brochure.

By: Mark Ferem

cover mar 2006

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