Graffiti Research Lab: Bridging the Canonical and the Criminal
Keough, Jessica Catherine
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Evan Roth and James Powderly created the Graffiti Research Lab, or GRL, in New York City in 2005. Both men, whose backgrounds are not in art-making at all, joined forces with two specific goals in mind: to create tools for traditional graffitists--tools that would lead to new graffiti forms and methods--and to initiate the reconsideration of graffiti amongst urban populations. Graffiti--which began appearing in its modern-day form in major cities across the United States in the late 1960s--was, and still is, viewed as vandalism by the public and the art world and disregarded as an art form. From the outset, GRL's mission was to combat the many negative opinions and misinterpretations of graffiti. GRL did so by perpetuating graffiti's proliferation--assisting graffitists in"getting up" and avoiding arrest--and by developing alternative forms of graffiti that encouraged greater public participation and understanding. Inadvertently, in the process of creating tools for graffiti artists, GRL's designs evolved into works of art in their own right and the members of GRL transitioned from"graffiti engineers" to artists.The work of the Graffiti Research Lab avoided inheritance of the public's negative reception of graffiti by fostering aesthetic and thematic associations, whether intentionally or unintentionally, between GRL pieces and canonical public artworks. It was these connections between GRL and these other, more accepted art genres--like performance art, light art and projection art--that also caused a reevaluation of traditional graffiti. This reassessment finally allowed for the artworks of graffitists, and of GRL, to be incorporated into major art institutions without compromise to their visual or contextual values. Graffiti's essential qualities or themes, which GRL later adapted for its works, were motion, interactivity, ephemerality, and reclamation of urban environments. Since GRL's work retained these qualities as they exhibited in esteemed art spaces, graffiti proper was finally able to be situated within the art world as well. GRL made slight modifications to graffiti, but triggered monumental shifts in its valuation by creating a dialogue between the artistic qualities of graffiti and the characteristics of numerous canonical art forms.