At the Corner of Art & Crime

 

Graffiti has had a long history in Seattle and in the world.  The term was originally used to refer to inscriptions and drawings found in ancient ruins.  The earliest forms of graffiti date back to around 30,000 B.C. in the form of cave drawings.

In the early 1990s, graffiti became closely aligned with Hip Hop culture and along with its evolution. It has since become an artform, a means of public expression.

“Graffiti is vandalism without permission,” says the Seattle Police Department’s website. “Graffiti is any marking placed on public or private property without the owner’s permission.  Stickers are also illegal.”

The City of Seattle’s Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs had a budget of almost $7.4 million last year.  In 1973, Seattle became one of the first cities in the country to adopt a percent-for-art ordinance.  According to their website, for nearly 40 years, the program has specified that “1% of eligible city capital improvement project funds be set aside for the commission, purchase and installation of artworks in a variety of settings.”  This includes more than 380 permanent works and 2,800 portable works.

The city has also created the Youth Arts program which funds arts projects and education for local teens.  This last year, the program awarded out a total of $175,000 to 34 separate youth-oriented organizations.  According to their website, they estimate that the “funded projects engaged more than 5,400 youth in about 42,400 hours of arts training throughout the city.”

For a city with such an open embrace of the arts, it is interesting that it is so strict on one single artform.  In 2011, University District resident Russell Johanson was fined $2,000 for refusing to remove graffiti from his own property.

“I would like to expose the absurdity of the code,” said Johanson in an October 2011 Seattle Post-Intelligencer article, “It’s not anybody’s business but mine.  This comes perilously close to the government saying, ‘We get to tell you what color to paint your house. We tell you how to dress, what to do.’”

The City of Seattle’s graffiti ordinance requires property owners to remove graffiti once someone has made a complaint.  However, owners can take advantage of a loophole by stating that the graffiti is authorized to be on their property.  This little loophole has led to what is possibly Seattle’s most famous graffiti installation, the Tubs building.  This abandoned hot tub business stands tall on the 50th and Roosevelt, just a few blocks from Johanson.

For years, citizens in the neighborhood have complained, but the city is caught in a legal bind and cannot do anything about it.  The owner says that he actually likes the graffiti there.  This has led to its evolution into a well-known ‘freewall’.  Locally, a few others have followed, like those in Georgetown and SoDo.

“There’s some artwork in the Seattle Art Museum I consider garbage, worse than graffiti.”  said Johanson in the Seattle PI article, “Therefore, if I call the hotline and I consider that graffiti, they have to send a letter to the Seattle Art Museum and say you’ve got X days to paint this out…The problem is the impossibility of defining what art is.”

“Some of it can be really tasteful,” said Aviation High School sophomore Emilio Anselmo, “A lot of people think it’s something it really isn’t.  It is another artform, that’s what I think.  And the people who pull it off really well deserve all the respect and credit.”

With only a few safe places for graffiti and such a stern view on it from the city, the future of the art is in question.  The Seattle Police Department even has an online report form and Hotline to report graffiti.  Some would argue that to erase the ‘vandalism’ aspect of the art, all we need are more dedicated places like the Tubs building for the artists to work.  Others would argue that this encourages vandalism and the defacing of property in the public eye.

“And I think that if they get more light,” Anselmo, “like good publicity on them, and they do more and more artworks that are either charged or that carry a meaning besides just having a piece of art somewhere, then I feel it can turn into something really good.”

The City of Seattle has commissioned many different pieces of street art over the years.  One great example is along the SoDo train line.  There are numbers of beautiful commissioned murals created by local artists and local youth.

“There’s a building in New York,” said Anselmo, “ it was right next to the 7-Line and it was completely covered in graffiti.  Graffiti artists were invited to tag the building and leave their own personal mark.  It was this big mural of all different sorts of styles and all different sorts of cultures.  It was kind of a mecca of all these different people getting together and sharing their ideas of what they saw as art.”

Just like Anselmo said, a mural is defined as any artwork created upon a wall.  The only difference between a mural and a painting is the surface on which is created.  Following this, all graffiti is, by definition, a mural.  Those along the SoDo train line are shining examples to the beauty and creativity that graffiti can bring.

“I don’t think it encourages vandalism.  Of course there are going to be some bad painters that are painting for the glory of it,” said Anselmo, “I think that those artists, those graffiti artists who are doing it for the art of it itself, they’re really dedicated to it and I think it inspires something completely opposite of vandalism.”

Graffiti always has been, and maybe always will be, a struggling artform.  For those artists out there, they have very limited options, trapped by definition.  This leaves the future of the art in question.

Music: Where Science And Art Converge

The awe-inspiring 2Pac hologram form Coachella 2012

Music has always been an amalgamation of science and the arts. Music without an artist’s passion is simply the science of physics and acoustics;music without science is simply nonexistent.  But recently, artists have been taking this marriage to a completely different level.

 

These applications of technology, much like music itself, cross many borders.  Artists of all different genres are finding ways to use science and technology to change the experience of live music.  Artists from Tech N9ne to deadmau5, Daft Punk, Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre and Bjork have all found ways to use technology to revolutionize their performances.

In some recent performances, Bjork has been using what are referred to as “Singing Tesla coils.”  These are a form of plasma speakers, a kind of massless speaker, a device that propagates sounds without a speaker cone.  The electricity produced from the Tesla coils is so powerful that create sound waves.

The world-renowned DJ’ing duo, Daft Punk, have built a massive pyramid that they have been using in their stage shows.  The entire front of it is covered in LEDs that move in time with their music.  Forming beautiful images and trippy graphics, the pyramid changes the experience completely.  They’re able to create anything; it works just like a giant tv screen.  If we take a look behind their pyramid, we see all of the intricate wiring and electronics that went into it.  It almost looks like they were building a bomb back there.

If you have ever seen any of his performances, deadmau5’s costume head is like nothing else.  The Canadian-born DJ’s helmet works like a screen.  Completely covered in LEDs, it can project crazy visuals, and gives it a real Mickey Mouse on LSD look and feel; it fits his music perfectly.  Lines, swirls, shapes, pictures that move—it’s a miracle he can even see what he’s doing.  The crazy helmet combined with his dynamic stage lighting gives a great visual appeal to his performances.

 

Then there is Tech N9ne.  The number one independent rapper in the world has taken things to the next level.  His concerts are just as much visual as they are auditory.  Being at one of his concerts, it makes you feel like you’re in the middle of one his music videos.  He has a stage presence like no other.  From his distinct outfits to the designs of his face paint, to all of his stage props and lighting, there is nothing else that compares.

Tech N9ne, along with several touring artists, is in the process of breaking a world record as you read these very pages.  On his Hostile Takeover Tour 2012, Tech N9ne will be performing 90 shows in 99 days all across the country.  This is will set the record for the longest Hip Hop tour in history.  The tour will be coming to Seattle at the Showbox SoDo on May 5.

“When I was there it was insanity. Everyone was chanting and singing along before the mosh pit broke out,” said senior Hayden Brown commenting on the last Tech N9ne concert he attended.  “Then it went to the next level.”

This is the kind of reaction that fans have at these concerts.  Taking it to the next level is a kind of a theme with Tech.  Like in one of his concerts, just as the announcer introduced him to the pitch-black room, the lights came on and he literally busted through a wall and started rapping.  Lighting, stage props, he’s got it all.

 

These artists have been using technology to improve upon their live shows.  But there is one group whose shows are completely dependent upon their technology.  Electronic group ArcAttack made a buzz in Dallas when they auditioned on America’s Got Talent in 2010.  Like Bjork, they use Tesla coils.  But they have taken it to a whole new extreme.  They have multiple coils in use at the same time, and even have a guitarist who controls them, playing in a makeshift Faraday cage, basically a metal suit that kept him from getting electrocuted.

And just last Sunday in one of the most dynamic performances of all time, a legend was resurrected.  At Coachella 2012, Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg did the unthinkable.  Stage dark, the beat comes on.  Easily recognizable as 2Pac’s classic, “Hail Mary”.  And then all of a sudden… he appeared.  An eerily realistic hologram of the West-coast rap legend appeared on stage.  Addressing the crowd directly, they went wild.

Under the direction of Dr. Dre, they brought back one rap’s greats.  This performance bridged the gap between generations, and opened up the opportunity for a completely new form of live entertainment.

Music always has been a dynamic art; evolving from global influences.  Influenced by politics, culture, art, and of course, technology.  But not only is music influenced by these sources, music itself has just as much of an effect on them.

These artists have truly shown that music is where science and art meet.  Or, in the words of Shakespeare, “If music be the food of physics, play on.”

What the HELL Were They Thinking?

Sponsored by Planet Express

The U.S. Hipstorical Society has consolidated every ridiculous artifact imaginable into one single venue.  

As soon as I walked through the doors of the convention hall, I knew I was in a different world.  There were people dressed up in clothes made of cotton, wool, and polyester.  These people looked like walking, talking antiques.  Vests, fedoras, and glasses with no lenses!  It looked as if this place was a refuge for the clinically insane.  

Whilst attempting to avoid all eye contact, I found myself deep in the middle of their “Hipster Culture” wing.  And as I turned to my left, much to my horror, I saw their “music.”

Looking through their music section was a thing of nightmares.  I had the distinct misfortune of being introduced to the ancient art of “Pop Music.”  It’s a thing of blasphemy to even call this… this noise music!  And these so-called artists had some of the most ridiculous names I have ever heard.  Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Ke$ha.  These are not the names of respectable women.  These women made music just for the money, just to get it played.  They were devoid of any message or emotion, but for some reason…that’s why everybody loved them. Amazingly, some of these artists are still performing—we’ll be forced to hear this nonsense at the next Oscars.

I can’t begin to think where we’d be now if it wasn’t for that Renaissance Period a couple decades ago.  Seriously, can you imagine… music with words?

I happened to stumble across images of someone called a ‘DJ.’  Now no one is entirely sure what this mysterious cult did.  Some speculate that they acted like some sort high priest of music, acting like conductor of digital music.  All of the pictures showed them with these weird circles over their ears, while they prayed or preached from their digital alter.

Then it was on to the political section, where I found a voting ballot, circa 2000.  Voting!  Can you believe we ever had such a thing?  It’s as if people used to think this was a democracy or something.  

The second I stepped foot into their war section, I felt like I was in an ancient slaughterhouse.  They had pictures of people fighting in the wars, people!  Not their avatars, not their clones, not even robots, actual human beings.  The weapons they were using were crude, even by Saturn’s backwater standards.  

 

But then I walked into their so-called “technology” section, and straight into the Stone Age.  I mean it. We’re talking cars that ran on… gasoline.  Petroleum gasoline.  I can’t believe that we used to literally burn such a valuable resource.  In a market like today’s, that stuff is gold.  They might as well have just thrown their money right into the gas tank.

I also discovered these ridiculous antiques called “televisions.”  Apparently, not too many have even heard of such a thing.  I guess it’s like an ancient version of Parlor Walls.  But they had to watch it on this tiny little screen, and in 2D.  I feel bad for the kids who had to grow up with such shoddy entertainment systems.

At the end of the convention, I was able to talk with the 3rd Degree Master Hipster, Elron Hubbard.  

“The purpose of this convention was to educate individuals about a completely reasonable way of living,” said Hubbard. He continued, “Us hipsters believe that we need to get back to our roots, back to the good old days.”

I can assure you, there was nothing good about the old days.  These Hipsters, these people (using the term lightly), are fundamentally misled on what they consider “life.”  I’d rather live as a hologram than as a Hipster.  I’m sorry, but I just can’t sip the Kool-Aid.

Exploring The Catacombs of SeaTac

Deep within a major international airport lies a world unseen.

Within in the food court of SeaTac International Airport is a pair of double doors with a simple sign on it; “Authorized Personnel Only.”  Curiously, there is no lock on these doors, and no security officers present.  Just a single bubble cam in the corner.  Through these doors is a massive freight elevator.  Underneath the ticketing level lay two more full levels unseen to most.  One for storage for the companies as well as a loading dock.

Boasting a 45,000 lb weight capacity, the massive elevator will take you down to these levels.  On the very bottom level is the where the supplies for the franchises are kept.  The sign on this door is a little more daunting; “WARNING Restricted Area Authorized Personnel Only…Subject to Arrest and Prosecution”.

There is also a mezzanine level just above the ticketing level.  An unlocked door leading to a pair of stairs.  Up on this level are the offices for many of the franchises operating at the airport.  There is also a huge Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Credentials Office, where all crew and employees get certified.  But here comes the weird part.  Not far from the Credentials Office is a full auditorium with theater seating.  There is also a large glass-walled chapel up on this level.  The door to the mezzanine level is before any security checkpoints.  That means that people can literally walk in from the streets and have access to any of these places.

Behind the scenes of the airport are major operations invisible to the public.  The airport itself is a hugely complex economic entity.  Thousands of employees of dozens professions work at the airport every single day.  With millions of patrons every single day, the airport requires these thousands of employees to keep things running smoothly.

As with any entity this large, comes this brings some serious economic complexity.  And as a system funded by public money, it raises the question of necessity.  Certain aspects of the airport are obvious, the qualities that define it as a transportation hub.  But others are not so clear, like a full auditorium and chapel.  It would not be surprising to hear of patrons having problems with this situation.  In a hurting economy, everyone’s wallets are tight.  One begins to wonder to what other areas that money could have been delegated.

These concerns begin to arise in people once they realize just how complex the airport really is.  “I think that it’s a complete waste of tax money,” said Max Wienke, a Junior at Aviation High School, “it’s not necessary.”

The complexity continues with the business side of the airport.  Along with being a transportation hub, it is also a hub center for business.  Very rarely do you have so many different people moving through a single location.  Max Heigh is the owner of Deli, a local clothing store in downtown Seattle.  He and his family also own three different restaurant locations at SeaTac.  There is one Great American Bagel and Bakery location in the A-Concourse, another in the D-Concourse, and Bigfoot Wine and Spirits in North Satellite.

There is a hierarchy amongst employees at the airport, different positions carry different levels of security clearance.  “As an employer, the TSA provided very specific guidelines for us to follow,” said Heigh.  As a subsidiary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), they carry serious powers of prosecution.

As an employee, they had a relatively rigorous registration process.  I had to provide proof of birth and identity as well as get fingerprinted.  It was a requirement that I sign a form releasing my information from the Social Security Admistration (SSA) to the DHS.

SeaTac’s groundbreaking was on 2 January, 1943.  All this information begs the question, did they have the vision for this complexity almost seven decades in the past?  It’s hard to believe that the initial million dollars dedicated to the project has grown and evolved into the multimillion dollar entity that we see today.

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