One of my ancestors.
Stickers, aufkleber, street art, political posters, des affiches, ephemera
I’m making a sticker zine for the Re-Writing the Streets traveling exhibition. I used to make a lot of zines with students when I taught bookbinding and a course on artists’ books. Back then we used old-fashioned copier machines, scissors, and glue sticks. Now I’m using Photoshop software and trying to learn a little InDesign, and it’s a lot more complicated. It will look good when it’s done, though. A friend of mine at school is helping with graphic design, too, thankfully. Of the over 800 stickers in the show, I’ve selected about 250 for a 28-page zine. I’ll probably have to narrow it down further, however, in order to make sure there’s enough room for text and photographs. Here is one of the pages I finished today listing some of the artists in the show. Back to scissors and glue sticks!
I haven’t had much time to post on Stickerkitty lately, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping busy with other things. I heard recently from SLU professor of modern languages, Marina Llorenta, that she’d like to repeat the assignment we created in 2012 to have her students conduct research on political stickers from Spain for her course on “Literature, Film, and Popular Culture in Contemporary Spain,” a project that later turned into an SLU art gallery exhibition called Pegatinas Políticas, which you can read about here. To prepare for the upcoming assignment this fall 2014 semester, I have been keeping an eye out for any sources from which I could acquire new Spanish stickers for her students to analyze. Last November, I contacted close to 30 Spanish political and grassroots organizations via their Facebook Web sites without much response. One group, the Popular Unity Movement Against Crisis, sent me 19 fantastic digital image files but didn’t send any physical items. Marina and I agreed we wanted the students to study the actual paper or vinyl stickers in real life, however, so my searching continued.
I’ve had much better luck finding Spanish stickers this spring. I contacted another SLU professor of modern languages, Steven White, who is currently in Madrid directing the SLU off-campus study program. He made contact with someone via eBay.es to help acquire a set of Spanish stickers dating from the late 1970s to present day (click here to view 31 stickers). A few of the 1970s stickers depict Adolfo Suárez, the first democratically elected prime minister of Spain after General Francisco Franco’s 41-year dictatorship. Suárez just passed away in March of 2014, and Steven thought perhaps that’s why these stickers appeared so recently on the market.
There are several Catalan independence movement stickers in the group, and from the same dealer we also acquired a set of eight historical stickers by the Direccion General de Juventud y Promocion Sociocultural that promoted the new Spanish Constitution of 1978. The sticker, Viva La Constitucion, La Soberania De España Reside En El Pueblo, means “Long Live The Constitution, The Sovereignty Of The People Living In Spain.”
Steven, a poet himself, is friends with the Spanish poet and sociologist Jorge Riechmann who helped contribute several stickers relating to current environmental issues. The sticker from Ecologistas En Acción (“Ecologists in Action”) states, Si No Reducen Las Emisiones, No Nos Representan,or “If You Do Not Reduce Emissions, Do Not Represent Us.” A total of 47 new stickers from Steven White and Jorge Riechmann can be viewed here.
Other stickers that have come in during the past couple of weeks represent various political parties and organizations, such as the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (National Confederation of Labor), the Izquierda Anticapitalista (Anti-Capitalist Left), the Liga Estudantil Galega (Galician Students’ League), the Galiza Nova (the New Galicia), the Partido Comunista del Pueblo Castellano (Communist Party of the Castillian People? or Peoples of Spain?), and the Esquerda Unida (United Left). One can get a pretty good lesson in the range of Spanish political parties and Spanish autonomous communities by studying these stickers. Os Nosos Dereitos Non Se Recortan from the Esquerda Unida sticker below is Galician for “Our Rights Are Not Cut.”
And my sticker pal, Oli Baudach at Hatch Kingdom, is originally from Barcelona. He was there recently and sent me a bunch of new Catalan stickers. The one below depicts the Catalan donkey, a symbol often used in reaction to the Spanish symbol of the Osborne bull, superimposed on top of the red and yellow striped Senyera flag with a blue star, or Estelada blava of the Catalan independence movement.
All told and with the help of friends and others, there are now 139 new stickers from all over Spain dating from the 1970s to present day for Marina’s students to analyze and write about. I will fine-tune the assignment for the fall of 2014. Last time, we had the students write short essays of about 500 words each per sticker, as well as even shorter versions of about 150 words each that would be used as description fields or metadata for the Street Art Graphics digital archive. For some reason, the students often wrote two separate, unrelated pieces. Typically, they did a fine job contextualizing the historical and cultural content of the stickers, but not such a good job describing what was being depicted in each sticker and what those depictions signified. In that regard, some of the basic information for each sticker was missing. Cataloguing can be a challenge; one needs to identify the visual and textual elements, describe their significance, and outline the larger issues that are pointed to in each sticker.
As a side note, I recently discovered the Centro de Recuperación de Pegatinas, an Aragon-based center that has catalogued and archived over 40,000 Spanish stickers. They did posts on Adolfo Suárez, the miners’ march of 2012, and an exhibition of stickers related to Picasso’s Guernica painting, all of which feature stickers in my collection.
Yesterday while biking around Prenzlauer Berg and heading toward Wedding, I came across another rash of mysterious directional stickers on sign poles along Eberswalderstraße.
This was after finding directional stickers last spring further south along Stresemannstraße and turning onto Zimmerstraße. The stickers are typically orange (or faded orange) with an arrow or arrows pointing straight ahead or turning left or right.
A couple of times, there would be a blue triangle nearby pointing in the same direction, as if the streets are telling us something.
I also found two orange arrows last year by Marianneplatz on Bethaniendamm. On all three occasions, I photographed the directional stickers using my Canon SX 280 HS camera with built-in GPS unit, so you can see pictures and their locations on this Flickr map.
This morning, I looked at the photos I took yesterday. I didn’t see it at the time, but that blue triangle appears again on a few sign poles, too.
Weird! Three separate locations in the city, but what’s in common?
This semester, I asked one of my students, Rebecca Clayman ’17, to do research and write descriptions for a series of four Egyptian stickers from the Arab Spring protests for the Street Art Graphics digital archive (scroll down and click on “Egypt”). Since neither of us reads or speaks Arabic, Rebecca interviewed Gisele El Khoury, the director of St. Lawrence University’s Language Resource Center and Arabic professor. Dating from the beginning of the uprisings in 2011, the stickers are in bright bold colors: blue (“electoral process”), purple (“freedom”), green (“democracy”), and red (“social justice”). Gisele provided the Arabic script and English translations for each sticker, and Arline Wolfe, the library’s arts metadata technician, provided subject headings using her standard set of controlled vocabularies (U.S. Library of Congress, etc.). Here is one example of the team effort:
“The Arab Spring revolution in Egypt fought against the thirty-year regime of President Hosni Mubarak through anti-government and pro-democracy protests. Inspired by the successful revolution in Tunisia weeks beforehand, the Egyptian protests began in January 2011. This sticker, written in Egyptian colloquial Arabic, is one in a series of four with colorful political messages. The empowering slogan at the top of each sticker من دلوقتي حاعرف حقي means ‘Starting this moment, I know my right.’ In the center, the phrase العملية الانتخابية translates to the ‘electoral process.’ At the bottom, the text يعني صوتي أنا يعيّن رئيس الجمهورية means ‘my voice (vote) will decide the president of the republic’.”
During subsequent discussions with Gisele, she showed me an amazing interactive timeline related to the Arab Spring dating between December 19, 2011, and December 17, 2012. Produced by the Guardian, The path of protest outlines “protest/government response to protest,” “political move,” “regime change,” and “international/external response” for hundreds of different events spanning 17 countries with links to full articles in the Guardian for each event.
In the fall of 2014, Gisele will be teaching a three-week course unit on the “Arab Spring through Graffiti,” and she and I are talking about various mapping techniques for our respective street art projects.
Special thanks to Rebecca, Gisele, and Arline for their work on this series of stickers.
Below are the notes I sent to the Weaving the Streets & People’s Archives team members today, focusing on the People’s Archive component of the project.
“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.”
- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
“The archivist, even more than the historian and the political scientist, tends to be scrupulous about his neutrality, and to see his job as a technical job, free from the nasty world of political interest: a job of collecting, sorting, preserving, making available, the records of the society. But I will stick by what I have said about other scholars, and argue that the archivist, in subtle ways, tends to perpetuate the political and economic status quo simply by going about his ordinary business. His supposed neutrality is, in other words, a fake. If so, the rebellion of the archivist against his normal role is not, as so many scholars fear, the politicizing of a neutral craft, but the humanizing of an inevitably political craft. Scholarship in society is inescapably political. Our choice is not between being political or not. Our choice is to follow the politics of the going order, that is, to do our job within the priorities and directions set by the dominant forces of society, or else to promote those human values of peace, equality, and justice, which our present society denies.”
- Howard Zinn, “Secrecy, Archives, and the Public Interest”
Let me begin with something John Collins has used to describe the Weave blog, which is the act of weaving together “texts” and “contexts.” In Latin, the word textus means “1. construct with elaborate care; 2. plait (together); and 3. weave.” Likewise, in Latin, contextus means “1. compose, connect, link, combine; 2. make, join, form; and 3. weave, entwine, braid, twist together.”
In literary theory and cultural studies, “texts” are any sort of phenomena that signify meaning, such as written publications, visual works of art, music, videos, oral interviews, etc. as well as clothing styles, architectural design, community-based murals, solidarity gatherings, etc. Coming from a printmaking perspective, I myself tend to focus on hand-held physical texts or “artifacts,” such as street art stickers, political posters, flyers, leaflets, and photographs of these items (though in some cases, these physical artifacts are ephemeral by design).
Texts tell stories. It’s up to you to figure out what those stories are. One of the goals of WSPA is to identify the texts that you think are important and tell the stories surrounding those texts. That’s the Weaving the Streets blogging component of our project, the contextualization.
The People’s Archive will also document the creative ways ordinary people make use of public space to express themselves. The archive is intended to be a varied repository of selected texts that we gather to share with others. It will consist of physical artifacts, as I described above, that will be scanned, catalogued, and added to the gallery’s Street Art Graphics digital archive (http://www.stlawu.edu/gallery/digitalcollections/streetartgraphics.php). Take a look at some of the entries to get a sense of the cataloguing that’s been done. It’s a work-in-progress, so some items are more thoroughly catalogued than others. Non-physical artifacts, such as “born digital” documentary photographs, video or sound-based interviews, etc., will also be catalogued as texts and will reside on the WSPA group blog (http://weavenews.org/content/weaving-streets). In some cases, physical artifacts will appear in both the Street Art Graphics digital archive and the WSPA group blog.
For each physical artifact or born digital item, you will be asked to identify:
Cataloguing information is known as “metadata,” or data about data. Each artifact or born digital item will be catalogued using the fields listed above. In addition, subject fields for each item will be populated by a university librarian. Subject fields are tricky and need to follow certain guidelines determined by the Library of Congress and others. That way, our work will fit into the larger body of knowledge for use by diverse audiences.
Alums can mail physical artifacts to me at the gallery, and students in the field can do the same or bring them back to campus next fall. The gallery will scan each item and use your metadata to add to the digital archive and/or group blog. John and I will leave it up to you to decide how many artifacts or born digital items you’d like to incorporate into your research, but we’re imagining somewhere between four to six. This work is known as digital curation, which is like selecting artworks for an exhibition, for example. Each of you will be curating your own show, so to speak. You’ll want to choose your four to six items carefully so that they tell the story you want to share with others. That is your role as an archivist/activist.
I write about street art stickers on my research blog called Stickerkitty, and for your reference I have listed four links below to posts that weave together texts and contexts. You’ll see how I often come across some unknown thing I find on the streets and then work to uncover the story behind it.
A few other references to archivism and activism are listed below.
Lile, Grace. “Archives for Change: Activist Archives, Archival Activism.” http://blog.witness.org/2010/09/archives-for-change-activist-archives-archival-activism/.
“Occupy Wall Street from the Streets to the Archives” (New York Times, May 2, 2012). http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/occupy-wall-street-from-the-streets-to-the-archives/.
See also Ben McCorkle’s “Annotated Obama Poster” for his analysis of the visual rhetoric behind the Obama HOPE poster at http://people.cohums.ohio-state.edu/mccorkle12/work2.html.
I recently found a great pro-labor political sticker about capitalism and the economy that looks very much like an I.W.W. stickerette due to its size, medium, and message. It states “Forward to Recovery – Increased Activity – Price Rise – Employment.” We see “Business” dressed as a fat cat in a fancy suit and pinstripe pants racing forward while being dragged down by the heavy anchor of “Low Wages.” The artist’s name is difficult to decipher; the signature looks like “Terry Costello,” but I can’t find anything similar online or in any of my I.W.W.-related books and articles. The reason I think the sticker comes from the I.W.W., however, is because it’s glued onto an envelope dated September 30, 1933.
The envelope was addressed to Kenneth N. Rinker, 417 W. First St., Greensburg, Indiana, and it cost three cents at the time to send through the mail. There is no return address on the front or back of the envelope. The envelope was sealed when I acquired it. I opened it only to find a blank sheet of white paper….
I thought I might find mention of the “Costello” artist in Franklin Rosement’s “A Short Treatise on Wobbly Cartoons” in the newer 1988 edition of Rebel Voices: An IWW Anthology by Joyce L. Kornbluh. I also checked “Wobbly” – 80 Years of Rebel Art, a catalogue that accompanied an exhibition at the Labor Archives and Research Center in San Francisco in 1987. No luck. I learned about many other I.W.W. artists, though, and discovered a few other sources to check later, including “The Iconographics of American Labor,” a chapter in From the Knights of Labor to the New World Order: Essays on Labor and Culture by Paul Buhle, and Images of American Radicalism by Paul Buhle and Edmund Sullivan. (As a side note, in the late 1960s Paul Buhle founded the S.D.S. journal Radical America, which features a story about the I.W.W. in Volume 1, Number 2, and even mentions stickerettes! I have a theory that S.D.S. stickers were inspired by stickerettes, which I plan to write about in the near future…. I need to connect the dots, and Franklin Rosemont and Paul Buhle are two key figures with interests in both the I.W.W. and S.D.S.)
Anyway, back to the mysterious envelope. The little NRA sticker on the lower right states “NRA Member – U.S. – We Do Our Part” and shows a blue eagle clutching a gear, symbolizing industry, and lightning, symbolizing power. You can read more about the NRA blue eagle logo here.
I have other NRA stickers in the Street Art Graphics digital archive, but they aren’t from the National Rifle Association. The early NRA stickers, which Arline Wolfe catalogued last year, were, as she wrote, “from the National Recovery Administration, a U.S. government agency established by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to stimulate business recovery through fair-practice codes during the Great Depression. The NRA was an essential element in the National Industrial Recovery Act (June 1933), which authorized the President to institute industry-wide codes intended to eliminate unfair trade practices, reduce unemployment, establish minimum wages and maximum hours, and guarantee the right of labour to bargain collectively, according to www.britannica.com.” The Social Welfare History Project Web site also describes the NRA here.