One of the most beautiful books I own is Christian P. Acker’s Flip the Script: A Guidebook for Aspiring Vandals & Typographers. The book sits right in the groove between tagging and typography. A tag is the foundational, stylistic display of a graffiti writer’s name. It is the gymnast’s handstand, the chef’s fried egg, the poet’s haiku. Simplicity and constraint reveal mastery. Flip the Script illustrates different regional styles of tagging across the country through writers’ own words and markings. It is at once oral history, art manual, and underground almanac: the most meticulously researched and presented book I own.
I used to live in Philadelphia, so I’m far from impartial on this one, but the section on Philly handstyles of tagging is the most riveting. Sure, Philly tags have their own distinct characteristics, just like other cities. Tags that stand up as high as the writer can reach is one characteristic in Philly – like these from the outskirts of Chinatown in 2011:
But Philly handstyles aren’t only a style of writing. There is also a style upon that style known as the wicked (or wicket, depending on how you hear the word spoken).
Writers NICE and LIQUID did a 2011 piece about wickeds in The Infamous, a graffiti lifestyle magazine. They tried to break it down to the uninitiated like this:
In simplest terms, wickeds are like a local accent. You can study them, you can can even learn how to do them, but without living in the city of Philadelphia and starting from scratch, most likely you’ll never be able to duplicate one, and a local will be able to spot a fake or forced wicked from a mile away.
This comparison between the written and spoken word couldn’t be any sweeter. Later, they note the wicked-as-accent can only exist on a Philly handstyle; it cannot exist on a handstyle that originates from another region. It’s “a non-transferable craft” – like a stylistic chemical that only reacts with letters written in the 215 area code.
Here is writer CURVE talking through and beautifully writing some Philly handsyles. And a bit more gritty, here’s the well-known clip from Infamy where ENEM rips through his tag in various Philly handstyles about 30 seconds in.
A short tour through my favorite public bathroom in Detroit:
Reading: I returned to and finished Ezekiel J. Dixon-Roman’s Inheriting Possibility this week, which is one of the most original takes on quantification going today. But toward the end he hit on what has been nagging me about what some call post-human and more-than-human approaches – often seen through using “assemblage” language:
Through assemblage theory, race, gender, sexuality, class, and dis/ability are thought of not as identities or characteristics of the human but as events that consist of relations and connections, that intra-lace the material ontologies of the body with discursive formations, and are imbricated in the material flow of events (p. 171)
This stance is, of course, right in some ways: race, gender, etc. are not essential “things” we have, but I’m not quite sure (at least right now) what analytical clarity we get by considering them events, relations, connections, etc.
Writing: The worst kind: synthesizing small chunks of commonly-known scholarship because you know a reviewer is going to ask about it, regardless of how unrelated it is to your argument. This is the kind of social science writing that slowly kills one’s soul.
Listening: Lots and lots of Floating Points who, I’ve learned, is a neurologist in “real” life.
Community: Whenever I run into kids around town that I have been at some iteration of Yaktown Sounds, there’s always one question I ask them: “What do you remember most about what we did together?” Sometimes the answer is about one hilarious incident, other times it’s about another guest from the community that came in. But most times, this is the answer: “When we got to play with the turntables.” I’m telling you, the stainless steel, rotating platters, simple design – you never forget your first time touching Technics 1200s. I made a quick trip this week through the local community center where I used to run beats/DJing sessions, and wouldn’t you know it, that was the answer I got after asking the question.