graffiti in Constant 2015

lop a work of his choice, and
to make the development process available in some way.
He decided to use a part of his fee as prize-money for
The GML-Recorder Challenge, inviting makers to propose an Open Source device ‘that can unobtrusively record
graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s normal practice in the city’. In three interviews that took place in
Brussels and Paris within a period of one and a half years,
we spoke about the collaborative powers of the GMLstandard, about contact points between hacker and graffiti
cultures and the granularity of gesture.
Based on conversations between Evan Roth (ER), Femke
Snelting (FS), Peter Westenberg (PW), Michele Walther
(MW), Stéphanie Villayphiou (SV), John Haltiwanger (JH)
and momo3010.
Brussels, July 2010

So what should we talk about?

Can you explain what GML stands for?

GML stands for Graffiti Markup Language 1 . It is a very simple fileformat designed for amateur programmers. It is a way to store graffiti
motion data. I started working with graffiti writers, combining graffiti
and technology back in New York, in 2003. In graduate school, my thesis


Graffiti Markup Language (.gml) is a universal, XML based, open file format designed to
store graffiti motion data (x and y coordinates and time). The format is designed to maximize
readability and ease of implementation, even for hobbyist programmers, artists and graffiti


Tying the story to data

was on graffiti analysis, and writing software that could capture their
gestures, to archive motion data from graffiti writers. Back than I was
saving the data in an x-y-time array, I was calling them .graph files and I
sensed there was something interesting about the data, the visualization
of motion data but I had never opened up the project at that time.
About a y

n conversation with a
friend of mine named Theo 2 , who also collaborated with me on the
L.A.S.E.R. Tag project 3 , he brought up the .graph file again and how
we could bring back the file format as a way to connect all these different applications. Graffiti Analysis 4 , L.A.S.E.R. Tag, EyeWriter 5 ... so I
worked with Theo Watson, Chris Sugrue 6 and Jamie Wilkinson 7 and
other people to develop Graffiti Markup Language. It is a simple set of
guidelines, basically an .xml file format that saves x-y-time data but does
it in a way that is very specifically related to graffiti so there’s a drip tag
and there’s tags related to the size of the brush and to how many strokes
you have: is it one stroke or two strokes or three strokes.
The main idea is: How do you archive the motion of graffiti and not just
the way graffiti looks. There are a lot of people photographing graffiti,
making documentaries etc. but there hasn’t been a way to archive graffiti
in ways of code yet.

What do you mean, ‘archive in terms of code’?

There hasn’t been a programmatic way to archive graffiti. So this
is like taking a gesture and trying to boil it down to a set of coordinate
points that people can either upload or download. It is a sort of midpoint
between writers and hackers. Graffiti writers can download the software
and have how-to guides for how to do this, they can digitize their tags



Theo Watson
In its simplest form, L.A.S.E.R. Tag is a camera and laptop setup, tracking a green laser
point across the face of a building and generating graphics based on the laser’s position which
then get projected back onto the same building with a high power projector.
Graffiti Analysis is a digital graffiti blackbook designed for documenting more than just ink.
The EyeWriter is a low-cast eyetracking system originally designed for paralyzed graffiti artist
TEMPT. The EyeWriter system uses inexpensive cameras and Open Source computer vision
software to track the wearer’s eye movements.
Chris Sugrue
Jamie Wilkinson



three parts: the GML-standard, software to record and
play and than there is the data itself – all of it is ‘open’ in some way. Could
you go through each of them and talk about how they produce uploads and

Right. It starts with Graffiti Analysis. It is software written in C++
using OpenFrameworks, an Open Source platform designed by artists for
visual applications. Right now you can download the recorder app and
from that you can generate your own .gml files. And from there you can

beginning that was the
only Open Source side of the project. Programmers could also make new
applications based on the software, which also happened.
Last night we met Stéphane Buellet 9 who is developing a calligraphy
analysis project and he used Graffiti Analysis as a starting point. I find it
exciting when that happens but more often people take the file-format as
a starting point, and use it as a jumping-off point for making their own
Second was the database. We had this file-format that we l

nd you can upload
files; people have made image renderers, there are people that have made
Flash players, SVG players. Golan Levin has developed an application
that converts a .gml file into an auto-CAD format. The 000000book site
is basically where graffiti writers connect to developers.
In the middle between Graffiti Analysis and database is the Graffiti Markup
Language, that I think will have its own place on the web. But sometimes


9 Pronounced: ‘Black Book’: ‘A black book is a graffiti artist’s
sketchbook. Often used to sketch out and plan potential graffiti, and to collect tags from
other writers. It is a writer’s most valuable property, containing all or a majority of the
person’s sketches and pieces. A writer’s sketchbook is carefully guarded from the police and
other authorities, as it can be used as material evidence in a graffiti vandalism case and link a
writer to previous illicit works.’
Wikipedia. Glossary of graffiti — wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, 2014. [Online; accessed 5.8.2014]

Stéphane Buellet, Camera Linea


Tying the story to data

I see it as one project. One of my interests is in archiving graffiti and all
of these things are ways of doing that. It is interesting how these three
things work together. In terms of an OS development model it has been
producing results I haven’t seen when I just released source code.

How do you do that, develop a standard for graffiti?

We started by looking at Graffiti Analysis and L.A.S.E.R. Tag, the
apps that were using graffiti motion data. From those two projects I had a
lot of experience of meeting graffiti writers as a userbase. When you meet
with them, they tell you right away what pieces of the software they think
are missing. So from talking with them we developed a lot of features
that now are in GML like brushes, drips, line-thickness. Some people

and than everything should verbally make sense so it is Begin stroke.
End stroke. Anyone with basic programming skills should be able to
figure out what’s going on.

Did you have any moment where you had to decide: this does not belong
to graffiti or: this might be more for calligraphy tracking?

The only thing that has to be in there is the format in x-y time
scenario with some information on drawing and not drawing, everything
else is bonus. So if you load an .xml file structured like tha

about this standard as a way to define a discipline?

(laughs) I think in the beginning it was a very functional conversation.
We were having apps running this data and I don’t think we were thinking


Tying the story to data

of defining graffiti when we were writing the format. But looking back,
it is interesting to think about it.
Graffiti has a lot of privacy issues related to it too, right? So we did
discuss about what it would mean to start recording geo-located data.
There are different interests in graffiti. There is an interest in visuals and
in deconstructing characters. Another group is interested in it, because
it is a sport and more of a performance art. For this type of interest, it
is more important to know exactly where and when it happened beca

m an illegal
action, and wanted to tie it back to someone, than it starts to be like
a surveillance camera. What happens when someone is caught with a
laptop with all this data?

Your desire to archive, is it also about producing new work?

I see graffiti writers as hackers. They use the city in the same way
as hackers are using computer systems. They are finding ways of using
a system to make it do things that it wasn’t intended to do. I am not
sure graffiti writers see it this way, but I am in this position where I have
friends that are hackers, playing around with digital structures online.
Other friends are into graffiti writing and to me those two camps are
doing the most interesting things right now, but these are two communities that hardly overlap. One of the interests I have is making these
two groups of people hang out more. I was physically the person bridging these two groups; I was the nerd person meeting the graffiti writers
talking to them about software and having this database.
Now it is not about my personal collection anymore, it is making a handshake between two communities; making them run off with each other
and having fun as opposed to me having to be th

e time to make

Is GML about the distribution of signature? I mean: The gestures of
a specific person can now be reproduced by a larger community. How does
that work?


This is an interesting conversation we should have with the graffiti
writers. A tag might be something they have been writing for more than
25 years and that will be very personal to them and the way they write
this is because they’ve written it a million times. So at the one hand it


Tying the story to data

is super-personal, but on the other hand a lot of graffiti writers have no
problem sharing this data. To them it is just another tag. They feel like,
I have written this tag a billion times and so when you want to keep one of
them, it is no big deal.
I don’t think the conversation has gotten as involved as

rs hoping that everyone
plays nice and things go well and so far that is what has been happening.
But you are dealing with people that are uploading something that is super
personal to them and I’d be curious to see what happens in the future.
The graffiti taxonomy project that I have been doing involves a lot of
photos of graffiti. It is a visual studies based on characters, I am shooting
thousands of photos of graffiti and I don’t have an opportunity to meet
with all these writers to ask them if it is OK. So I get e-mails from writers
once in a while saying Hey, you used a photograph of one of my tags and
usually it is them feeling out where my intentions are and

ommercial or pure public domain.
Does that make sense?


Tying the story to data

Well, yes but if you look at the objects that people share, we’re much
closer to code than to a video file?



Functionally it is code. But would a graffiti writer know what GPL

I am interested in the apprentice-system you were talking about earlier.
Like a young writer learning from someone else they admire. The GML
notation of x-y-time might help someone to learn as well. But would you
ever really copy someone else’s tag?

One of the reasons I think graffiti writing has this history of apprenticeship is because you don’t really have a chance to learn otherwise. You
don’t turn on the TV and see someone else doing it. You only see how it
is being written if you see other people actually do it. That was one of the
original reasons I started doing graffiti research because, having met with
graffiti writers. I thought: it is a dance, it is as much about motion as
it is about how the final image is constructed. You can come to a much
better understanding about how it is made as opposed to just seeing a
photograph of it.


If you want to learn from the person writing, you would need to see
more than just the trace of a pen?

Someones tag might look completely different if they had six seconds
to make it, they make different decisions. In the first version of the
Graffiti Analysis project, I had one camera recorder tracking the pen and
another camera behind the hand and another so you could see the full
body. But there was something about tracking just the pen tip that I
liked. It is an easier point of entry for deali

rds there will be something like: Rooftop.
Brooklyn. Arrested.
The most interesting part is often the stories that people tell afterward
anyway. So it is an interesting idea, how to tie the story to the data.
It is a design problem too. Historically graffiti has been documented
many times by outsiders. The movie Style Wars 10 is a good example of


Style Wars. Tony Silver, 1983.


Tying the story to data

this epic documentary that was made by outsiders that became insiders.
Also, the people that have been documenting most of the graffiti are not
necessarily graffiti writers.
Graffiti has a history with documentarians entering into their community and playing a role but sharing the stories is something writers do
internally, not as much to outsiders. How do you figure out a way to get
graffiti writers to document their stories into the .gml files themselves,
or is it going to take outsiders? How does the format facilitate that?

Do you think the availability of a project like GML can have an impact
on the way graffiti is learned? If data becomes available in a community
that operates traditionally through apprenticeships and person-to-person
sharing, what does it do?

I am interested in Open Source culture being influenced by graffiti,
and I am interested in Open Source culture influencing graffiti as well.
On a big picture I would love it if the graffiti community got interested
in these ideas and had more of a skill-sharing-knowledge-base.
KATSU 11 , someone I worked with in New York, has acquireda lot of
knowledge about how to make tools for graffiti and he initially wasn’t
so much into sharing them, because graffiti writers tend to save that
knowledge for themselves so that their tags are always bigger and better (laughs). Talking to him I think I convinced him to write tutorials on
how to make some of these tools. On the street art side there is Mark
Jenkins 12

as this technique of making 3D objects that exist within
the city and we had a lot of conversations too.
There are many ways tech circles and Open Source circles can come together with people that are making things outside, with their hands. I
think graffiti can learn from that. In the end people would be making
more things outside which would be a good thing.

In a way typography has a similar culture of apprenticeship. Some
people enjoy spreading knowledge, and others resist in the name of quality

Interesting. I think the work I am doing is such a tangent! In general,
for something that is decidedly against the rules, the culture of writing
graffiti often has a rigid structure. To people in that community what


Mark Jenkins tapesculptures


Tying the story to data

I do is a blip on their radar. I am honored when I get to meet graffiti
writers and they are interested in what I am doing but I don’t think it
will change anything in what is in some ways a very strict system.
And I don’t want that either. I like the fact that they found a way to make
spraypaint and markers change the way each city in the world looks. They
have the tools they need. Digital projectors will not change that. Graffiti
writers still like to see their names projected at big scales in new ways but
it is not something they really need (laughs).

And the other way around? How does graffiti have an influence on
Open Source communities?

For the people on the technology side, it is an easy jump. To think
about hacking software systems and than about making things outside.
I see that with the Free Art and Technology Group 13 that I hel


It is really about the idea of hacking. The first assignment in the
class is not to make anything, but simply to identify systems in the city.
What are elements that repeat. Trying to find which ones you can slip
into. It has been happening in graffiti forever. Graffiti in New York in
the eighties was to me a hack, a way to have giant paintings circulating in
the city ... There is a lot of room to explore there.

Your experience with the Blender community 14 did not sound like an
easy bridge?


Recently I released a piece of software that translates a .gml file and
translates it into a .stl file, which is a common 3D format. So you can
basically take a graffiti gesture and import it into software like Blender.
I used Blender because I wanted to highlight this tool, because I want
these communities to talk to each other.
So I was taking a tag that was created in the streets of Vienna and pulling
it into Blen

line showed screenshots from Blender and it ended
up on one of the bigger community sites. I only saw it when my cousin,
who is a big Blender user, e-mailed me the thread. There is about a hundred dedicated Blender users discussing the legitimacy of graffiti in art
and how their tools are used 15 ; pretty interesting but also pretty conservative.

Why do you think the Blender community responded in that way?

It doesn’t surprise me that much. Graffiti is hard to accept, especially
when we are talking about tags. So the only reason we might be slightly
surprised by hearing people in the Open Source community react that
way, is because intellectual property doesn’t translate always to physical
property. Writing your name on someone’s door is something people universally don’t like. I understand. For me the connection makes sense but
just because you make Open Source doesn’t mean you’ll be interested in
graffiti or street art or vice versa. I think if I went to a Blender conference
and gave a talk where I explained sort of where I see these things overlap,
I could make a better case than the three minute video they reacted to.

What about Gesture Markup Language instead of Graffiti Markup

Essentially GML records x-y-time data. If you talk about what it
functionally does, it is probably more related to gesture than it is to graffiti. There is nothing at the core specifically related to graffiti. I am
interested in branding it in relation to graffiti and to get people to talk
about Open Source where it is traditionally not talked about. To me
that is interesting. It is a way to get people excited about open data, and
popularizing ideas about Open Source.


Would you be OK if it would get more popular in non-graffiti circles?

I am super excited when I see it used in bizarre places. I’ll keep using
it for graffiti, but someone e-mailed me that they were upset that it only
tracks one point. There hasn’t been a need to track multiple tags at once.
They wanted to use it to track juggling, but how to track multiple balls
in the air? I keep calling it Graffiti Markup Language because I think it
is a good story.



Tying the story to data


What’s the licence on GML?

We haven’t really entered into that. Why would you need

ilar to large, legal, commercial, global standardization practices. Related, how can GML connect to other standard practices?
Could it be RDF compliant?



Gesture recognition to help out the police?

Or maps of places that are in need of some graffiti? How to link GML
to other types of data?

It is hard for me to imagine something. But one thing is interesting
for example, how GML is used in the EyeWriter project. It has not
so much to do with gesture, but more with how you would draft in a

his eyes and it is uploaded to the 000000book site automatically. That
allowed another artist called Benjamin Gaulon 16 who I now know, but
didn’t know at the time, to use it with his Print Ball project. He took the
tag data from a paralyzed graffiti writer in Los Angeles and painted it on
a wall in Dublin. Eye-movement translated into a paint-ball gun ... that
is the kind of collaboration that I hope GML can be the middle-point
for. If that happens, things can start to extrapolate on either end.

EMPT and do completely different things which made
TEMPT a collaborator with them in a way. The software allowed him to
share his work in a format that allowed other people to work with him.
The wish-list came out of the fact that I was working on a graffiti related
project that had a lot of use but not a lot of innovation. Not so many
people were using it in ways I wasn’t expecting, which is something you
always hope of course. By saying: Here’s the things I really would like to
happen, things start

d to happen. I have been surprised how that drove
momentum. Something similar I hope will happen to the work we will
do together in the next months too!


What are you planning to do?

We are planning to make a dedicated community page for the graffiti
markup language which is one of the three points of the triangle. The
second step would be a new addition to the wish-list, a challenge with a
prize associated to it which seems funny. The project I’d like to concentrate on is making the data collection easier so that graffiti writers can be
more active in the upload sense. Taking the NASA development model:
Can you get into orbit on this budget?

How is that different from the way you record graffiti motion at the

If I go out with a graffiti writer, I’m stuck standing with a laptop and
a camera facing the wall and then the graffiti writer needs to have a really
bright light attached to the writing device which is a bit counter-intuitive
when you are trying to do something without being seen (laughs). It
could be infrared by the way, that could be the first step but then securit

would still pick it up. The design I am focusing momentum on is
a system that’s easier. A system that can work without me there, without
having to have a laptop there. The whole idea is that it would be a natural
way to get good data, to document graffiti without a red-head holding a
laptop following you around the whole time!


Tying the story to data

Paris, December 2010

How is it to be the sole jury member?

I tried to get another jury-member on there actually. Do you know
Limor Fried?

uch left.
Actually, Golan 21 had an idea for an iPhone app that he wants to make
but I am not sure it solves it.


Why don’t you think his app will solve it?

He is really interested in making something where you do not need
to meet with the graffiti writer. His idea was that if you could take a
photo of it on the wall, and then with your finger you guide it for how it


Kyle McDonald
Michael Auger
Golan Levin


Tying t

in motion
data. But it is faked data.

That it is really interesting!

Yes it is and I would love it if he would make it but I am not going to
let him win with it (laughs). I understand why he wants to do it; especially
if you are not inside the graffiti community, your only experience is what
you see on the wall and you don’t know who these people are and it is
going to be almost impossible to ever get data for those tags. If you don’t
have access to that community you are never going to get the

ing at each other,
fighting each other ...
For me, the fact that there is prize money makes something that is already
ridiculous in itself even more funny. To have prize money for such a small
community of people that are interested in coding and in graffiti. I’m not
seriously thinking that we can spur development with this kind of money.
To use the EyeWriter as an example, we’ve had money infusions from
awards mostly and we had to think about how we could use that money
to get from point A to point

a tangent but depending on how someone solves
the GML challenge ... I was discussing this with Mike (the person that is
developing the sensor based version). He was thinking that if you would
turn on his system, and leave it on for a whole night of graffiti writing,
you would have the gestural data plus the GPS data. You could make
a .gml file that is tracking you down the street, and zoom in when you
start making the tag. Also you would get much more information on
3D movement, like tilt and when the p

, rather than to project?

In part because it stays new, I’ve been doing those projections for a
while now and I know what happens at these events. For a while it was
very new, we just did it with friends, to project on the Brooklyn bridge


Graffiti Analysis: Belo Horizonte, Brazil 2010


Tying the story to data

for example. Now it has turned into these events where everyone knows
in advance, instead of just showing up at at a certain time ate a set corner.
It has lost a lot of its magic and power.
Michele and I have done so many of these projections and we sort of
know what to expect from it, what questions people will ask. When I
meet with graffiti writers, that almost always feels new to me. When we
went to Brazil, we intentionally tried to not project anything but to spend
as much time as possible with writers. Going out with graffiti writers to
me always feels right.

FS Is the documentation an excuse to be taken along, or is the act of
documenting itself interesting to you?

To me documentation is interesting. I don’t know where all of this
is going right now, I am just trying

d a button where you are getting
true and false statements for what is drawing and what is not drawing;
you can just tell by the sound:
tfffpt ... tfffpt.


You can hear the space, and also the surface.

I got started doing this because I love graffiti and this is a way to
get closer to it again. Like getting back out to the streets and having
very personal relationships to the graffiti writers and talking to them,
and having them give feedback. I think that is how the whole challenge
started. It didn’t start because I was projecting, but because I was out on
the street and testing the capture, having graffiti writers nearby when it
is happening. It feels like things are progressing that way.

Are you thinking of other ways of capturing? You talk about capturing
movement, but do you also archive other elements? Do you take notes,
pictures? What happens


In the back of my head I am thinking this will become a longer documentary. I like to experiment with documentation, whether that is in
code or with video. I do think that there is this interesting connection
between documentation and graffiti and how these two things overlap.
I am always thinking about documentation. The graffiti writer that was
in Vienna 26 showed me a video that was amazing. It was him and a
friend going out on a sunny day at 15:30 in the afternoon with two head
mounted cameras, bombing an entire train and you hear the birds singing
and you only experience

am fighting to get GML back to the streets somehow, it has a
natural tendency to get closer to the browser, to the screen, and my job
is to get it back to the street. It is so sexy and fun and flashy and that is
important too. My job is to keep the graffiti influence on it as large as the
other part.


Is any of this reflected in the standard itself?

I haven’t looked at the standard for a while now.

I was thinking again about live coding and notation. Simon Yuill 27
describes notation as a

it would encourage people to go outside more often? By picking XML
I am defining where the thing heads in a way. I think I am OK in the
role of fighting that tendency. It is not just a problem in GML but with a
lot of work I have been doing with graffiti and technology and even way
back with Graffiti Analysis, before GRL (Graffiti Research Lab), the idea
was always to keep the research very close to the people doing graffiti. I
was intentionally working with people bombing a lot and not with graffiti
celebrities. I wanted to work with who’s tag was on my mailbox, who’s
tag do I see a million times when I walk down the street. Since then
a lot has happened, like with more popular projects such as L.A.S.E.R.
Tag, and it goes almost always further away from graffiti. Maybe that is
a function of technology. Technology, or the way it is now, will always
drift towards entertainment uses, commercial uses.

Do you think a standard can be subversive? You chose XML because it
is accessible to amateur programmers. But it is also a very formal standard,
and so the interface between graffiti writers and hackers is written in the
language of bureaucracy.

ER (laughs) I thought that there was something funny with that. People
that know XML and the web, they get the joke that something so rigid
and standardized is connected to writing yo

with François Chastanet who wrote a
book 29 about tagging in Los Angeles. He explains that the Gothic lettering
is inspired by administrative papers!

I am wondering whether you’re thinking about the standard itself as
a space for hacking?

Graffiti is somehow coded in-itself. Do you mean it would be interesting
to think how GML could be coded in a way for graffiti writers, not for
There would be more space for that when more people start to program at
a younger age? When it is more common knowledge. If I would start to do


Interview with François Chastanet
François Chastanet, Cholo writing: Latino gang graffiti in Los Angeles. Dokument, 2009


Tying the story to data

that now, I would quickly lose my small user-base. I love that idea though;
the way XML is programmed fits very much to the way you program for the
web. But what if it was playing more with language, starting from graffiti
which is very coded?
When I was in college, I was always thinking about how to visualize
motion in print. I was looking for ways people had developed languages
for different ways of writing.

Maybe you could look at the Chinese methods for teaching writing,
because the order of the strokes is really important. If you make the stroke
from bottom to top, and not from top to bottom, it is wrong.

A friend in Hong Kong, MC Yan, loves the Graffiti Analysis project
because it shows the order in which he is writing and he likes to play
with that. So he writes words in different order than people are used to
and so it changes the meaning. People can not only watch the final result,
but also the order which is an interesting part of the writing process. The
brush, the angle, direction: depicting motion!
In the beginning of the Graffiti Analysis Research project I was very
against projection, because I felt that was totally against the idea of graffiti. I was presenting all of these print ideas and the output would be
pasted back into the city because I was against making an impermanent
representation of the data. In the end Zach said, you are just fighting this
because you have a motion project and you want to project motion and
then I said alright, I’ll do a test. And the tests were so exciting that I felt
OK with it.

In what way does GML bridge the gap between digital drawing and
hand writing? Could you see a sort of computer-aided graffiti? Could you
see computation enter graffiti?

Yeah. When you are in a controlled environment, in a studio, it is
easy but the outdoors part always trips me up. That is why the design
constraints get interesting, playing in real time with what someone is
writing. I think graffiti writers would be into that too. How to develop
a style that is unique enough to stand out in an existing canon is already
hard enough. This could give someone an edge.

I think the next challenge I’d like to run is about recreating the data

to the city, give it a
reason? I am thinking of ways to get an edge back to the project. The
GML-challenge is already a step into that direction; it is not about the
prettiest screensaver. To ask people to design something that is tying back
to what graffiti is, which is in a way a crime.
I think fixing the data capture is the right place to start, the next one could
be about making marks in the city. Like: the first person to recreate this
GML-tag on the roof of this building, that would be fun. The fir

e. That would get us back to the question of how
we leave marks on the surface of the city.
When you capture data of an individual writer in a certain standard,
it ends up as typography?

That’s another trend that happens when designers look at graffiti, and
I’ve fallen into this too sometimes, you want to be able to make fonts out of
it. People have done this actually; there’s a project in New York where they
met with pretty influential graffiti writers and asked them to write in boxes,
the whole alphabet, and I think there’s something interesting there.
The alphabet that you saw the robot write was drawn by TEMPT with the
EyeWriter and what he did was a little bit smarter than other attempts by
graffiti writers to make fonts. He intentionally picked a specific style, the
Cholo style, and the format is very tall, vertically oriented, angled. That
style is less about letter connections and pen-flow. What graffiti has developed into, and especially tags, is very much about how it is written and
the order of the letters. When TEMPT picked this style he made a smart
decision that a lot of people miss when you make a font, you miss all the
motions and the connections.

What if a programmer could put this data in a font, and generate
alternating connections?

ER That kind of stuff is interesting. It would help graffiti writers to design
tags maybe?
To get my feet wet, I designed a tag once, and it was so not-fun to write!
I was thinking about a tag that would look different and that would fit


Tying the story to data

into corners, I was interested in designi

s eyes, he ended up writing in the same way
as he would have written with his hands. When he saw the video with the
robot, it freaked him out because he was like: That’s how my hand moved
when I did that tag!


Tying the story to data

The Graffiti Markup Field Recorder

An easily reproducible DIY device that can unobtrusively record graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s normal practice in the city. 30
Project Description and Design Requirements:

The GML Field Recorder Challenge is a DIY hardware and software solution for unobtrusively recording graffiti motion data during a graffiti writer’s
normal practice in the city. The winning project will be an easy to follow
instruction set that can be reproduced by graffiti writers and amateur technologists. The goal is to create a device that will document a night of graffiti
bombing into an easily retrievable series of Graffiti Markup Language (.gml)
files while not interfering with the normal process of writing graffiti. The
solution should be easy to produce, lightweight, cheap, secure, and require
little to no setup and calibration. The winning design solution will include
the following requirements listed below:
Material costs for the field device must not exceed



Tying the story to data

Computers and equipment outside of the 300

can be used

for non-field activities (such as downloading and manipulating data captured in-field), but at the time of
capture a graffiti writer should have no more than 300
worth of equipment on him or herself.

I was trying to think of how the challenge could be gamed ... I did not
want to get into a situation where we were getting stressed out because some
smart hacker found a hole in the brief, and bought a next generation iPhone
that somehow just worked. I didn’t want to force people to buy expensive
equipment. This line was more about covering our own ass.

The graffiti writer must be able to activate the recording function alone (i.e., without assistance from anyone else).

Are you going to be out of work soon?

Thinking selfishly, I screw up on documentation a lot because I have
too many hats. When I’m going

thing illegal.


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Any setup and/or calibration should be limited to 10
seconds or less.

This came out of me dealing with the current system. It feels wrong
that it takes ten to fifteen minutes to get it running. Graffiti is not meant
to be that way. This speaks to the problem of the documentation infringing on the writing process, which ideally wouldn’t happen. The longer
the set-up takes, the more it is going to influence the actual writing. It is
supposed to be a


All hardware should be able to be easily concealed within
a coat with large pockets.

A hack to get around that would have been to design a jacket with ten
gallon pockets!
I put it there again, to make the device not be intrusive. A big part of graffiti
writing is about gaining entry and you limit where you can go depending on
how much equipment you have. How bulky it is, what walls you can get up,
what holes you can get through.

The winning solution should be discrete and not draw
any added attention to the act of graffiti writing.
ER It’s part of the same issue, but this one also came out from me going
out and trying to capture with a system where it requires you to attach
a flashlight to a graffiti implement. I didn’t want anyone solving the
problem and then, Step one is: ‘Attach a police siren to a spraypaint can’


Tying the story to data

The resulting solution should be able to record at least
10 unique GML tags of approxima

tely 10 seconds each in
length in one session without the need for connecting
to or using additional equipment.

I wasn’t thinking this was going to be an issue in terms of memorystorage, but maybe in terms of memory management. I did not want the
graffiti writer to behave as if he was on vacation with a camera that could take
only three photos. I wanted to make sure they were not making decisions
on what they were writing based and how much memory they had.

All data recorded using the field r

cure and non-incriminating fashion.

(laughs) If I had to do that one again, I would have put that in Bonus
category actually. That’s a difficult question to ask. What does secure
mean? It seems a bit unfair, because it doesn’t fit in to the way graffiti is
currently documented. There’s not a lot of graffiti writers that currently
are shooting encrypted photos and videos, right?
But whatever bizarre format comes out from the sensor will help. I don’t
think that the NYPD will have time or make the effort to parse it. They’d
just have a file with a bun

ave some protection in the event
that the device falls into the wrong hands.

This again should probably have been a bonus item. Wouldn’t it be
awesome if you could go home and log in and flip a one to a zero and the
evidence goes up in smoke?
One graffiti writer friend told me: If the police comes, just smash the camera
as hard as you can! It’s a silly idea, but it shows that they are thinking
about it.


Edible SD cards?

That would be a good idea!

Data should be able to be captured

for tools that do not exist yet?

That was kind of what I was thinking there. Markers are about direct
contact, spraypaint is in free space. If it works in those two situations, you
should theoretically be able to tie it to anything, even outside of graffiti. If
it was too much about spraypaint, it would be harder for someone to strap
it to a skateboard.


Tying the story to data

System should be able to record writing on various surfaces and materials.

It is something you can easily forge

en you go out in the city than you realize that brick is a really weird
surface. Or even writing on glass, or on metal or on other reflecting
surfaces that could screw up your reading. It is there as a reminder for
people that are not thinking about graffiti that much. The street and the
studio are so different.

Data should be captured at 30 points per second minimum.

I was assuming that lots of people were going to use cameras, and
I wanted to make sure they were taking enough data points. Wit

Muharrem is going to run into trouble. His solution
interferes. Not that much if you are just working in front of your body
space. But the way most writers write is that they are shuffling their feet
a lot, moving down the wall. Should it have said: Graffiti writer should
retain access to feet functionality? This point should be at the top almost.

To me it feels strange, your emphasis on the tool blending into the
background. You could also see Muharrem’s solution as an enhancing device,
turning th

not in the specs, is that he is


Tying the story to data

logging strokes, like up and down. When you watch him using it, you
can see a little light going from red to green when the fingers goes on
and off the spraypaint can. When you watch graffiti, it is too small of a
movement to even notice but when you are seeing that, it adds another
level of understanding of how they are writing.

All motion data should be saved using the current GML
standard 31 .


All aspects of the winning design should be able to be
reproduced by graffiti writers and amateur technologists.

It wouldn’t be exciting if only ten people can make this thing. This
tool should not be just for people that can make NASA qualified soldering
connections. Ideally it should not have any soldering. I always thoug


A lot of paint stops working in rain too.
I think what you get from this brief though is that the whole impetus for
this project is about me trying to steer the ship that clearly wants to go
into another direction, back to my interest in what graffiti is rather than
anything that people might find aesthetically pleasing. It is not about
graffiti influenced visuals’.



Tying the story to data

All software must be released Open Source.

All hard-

ware must include clear DIY instructions/tutorials.


media must be released under a

motes collaboration (such as a Free Art License or
Creative Commons ShareAlike License).

I didn’t want it to be too specific, but there had to be some effort into
making it open.

The recording must be an unobtrusive process, allowing the graffiti writer to concentrate solely on the act
of writing (not on recording).

The act of recording should

not interfere with the act of graffiti writing.

I’ve been through situations where the process gets so confusing that
you can’t keep your head straight and juggle all the variables. Your eyes
and ears are supposed to tell you about who’s coming around the corner.
Is there traffic c

ld just
love it. You could get really interesting data about a whole night of writing.
You could see a bigger story than just that of a single tag. How long did it
take to gain entry? How long were they hiding in the bushes? These things
get back to graffiti as a performance art rather than a form of visual art.


Tying the story to data

Paris, November 2011
Last time we had contact we discussed how to invite Muharrem to
Brussels 32 . But now on the day of the deadline, it seems there are new

nny that two of the candidates for the prize are both mouse hacks.
One is hacking a mechanical mouse and the other an optical mouse.


It goes from drawing on a screen, to drawing on a wall?
And back again!

Yes. When I first was working on graffiti related software, the whole
reason I was building Graffiti Analysis as a capture application was beER



By early October 2011 no winning design-solution had been entered, besides a proposal from
Muharem Yildirim that came more than halfway. We decided to use the prize money to fly
Muharrem from Phoeni

and document his project in a worksession as
part of the Verbindingen/Jonctions 13 meetingdays.
Joshua Noble


Tying the story to data

cause I did not want to hand graffiti writers a mouse (laughter). I had
done all this research into graffiti and started to be embedded in the
community and I knew enough about the community that if you were
going to ask them to take part in something that was already weird, you
could not give them a mouse and expect any respect on the other end
of that con

experiment, I am not sure how clever it was. To
take a piece of culture that a lot of people don’t even look at, or look at
it and think it is trash, to invest all this time and research and software
expertise into it makes people think about the graffiti practice and what
it actually is. The cash prize does something similar. It attaches weight
to something that most people don’t even care about. Even having the
name of an organization like Constant attached to it is showing that I am
really seriou

pecific effects and ‘looks’ that I have a
personal attachment to, I don’t release


Tying the story to data

My focus has been on tags, this one portion of graffiti. I do think
there could be cool uses for more involved pieces. It would be great if
someone else would come in and do that, because it is a part of graffiti that
I haven’t studied that much. I would not even be able to write a specssheet for it; it requires a lot of different things when you paint these
super-involved murals, when you have an hour or more time on your
hands a lot more things come into



Z-axis becomes important?

Yes, and your distance from the wall, a lot of other things my brain
isn’t wrestling with. I think tags are always fundamental, even if they are
painting murals that take three days to paint, somewhere in their graffiti
education they start with the tags. You’re still going to be judged by the
community based on how you sign your name on the blackbook.
Graffiti is funny because it is almost conservative in terms of how a successful graffiti writer is viewed and it is reflected in how graffiti is in
some way similar in the world. In some way it is a let down, to travel
from Brooklyn to Paris to Brussels and it looks all the same but I think it
stems from the fact that the community is so tight-knit. But at the end
of the day it comes back

a tag, every letter looks the way it does because that’s how it needs to be
drawn, because it needs to be connected to this other letter. There’s a
lot of respect for writers that do oneliners, and even if your tag has more
than one line, a good graffiti writer has often a one line version. If you
don’t have to pick up the pen it is a really economical stroke.


It is almost like hacking the limitations of gesture.

It is a very specific design requirement. How to write a name that is

stays up for a longer time a ‘burner’. I
was connecting that to an archival practice of ephemera. It is a self-agreed


Tying the story to data

upon archival process, and it means that the piece will not be touched, even
for years.

ER Graffiti has an interesting relationship to archiving. On the one hand,
many graffiti writers think: Now that tag’s done, but I’ve got another
million of them. While others do not want people painting over them,
the city or other graffiti writers. Also if a tag has been up there for a few
years, it acquires more reverence and it is even worse when it is painted
But I think that GML is different, it is really more similar to a photo of
the tag. It is not trying to be the actual t

n intimate thing. In that sense it is strange to have
an open data repository and to be so reluctant to use it in a way that is
looking at anyone too specifically.
The sculpture I’ve been working on is an average from a workshop; sixteen different graffiti writers merged into one. I don’t want to take advantage of any one writer. But this has nothing to do with the licence,
it is totally a different topic. If someone uploads to the 000000book site,
legally anyone should be able to do anything that th

both parties have been happy, like when Yamaguchi
Takahiro used some GML data from KATSU and piped it into Google
Maps, so he was showing these big KATSU tags all over the earth which
was a nice web-based implementation. I think he was doing what a graffiti writer does naturally: Get out there and make the tag bigger but in
different ways. He is not taking KATSU-data from the database without
shining light back on him.

GML seems very inspired by the practice of Free Software, but at the
same time it

.. in which way ... from who. For me the excitement with open
licences is that you can do things without asking permission. So, usage
can develop even if it is not already prescribed by the culture. How would
someone like me, pretty far removed from graffiti culture ever know what I
am entitled to do?

I have my reasons for which I would and would not use certain pieces
of data in certain contexts, but I like the fact that it is open for people
that might use it for other things, even if I would not push

hat it means to
public domain a piece, that would be great. I would love that. Then you
could use it without having to worry about all the morality issues and
people’s feelings. It would be more free.
I think it would be good to do a workshop with graffiti writers where
beyond capturing data, you reserve an hour after the workshop to talk to
everybody about what it would mean to add an open licence. I’ve done
workshops with graffiti writers and I talked to everyone: Look, I am
going to upload this tag up to this place where everyone can download them
after the workshop, cool? And they go cool. But still, even then, do I really
feel comfortable that they understand what they’ve

nto? Even if
someone has chosen a ShareAlike licence, I would be nervous I think.
Maybe I am putting too much weight on it. People outside Free Software
are already used to attaching Creative Commons licences to their videos.
Maybe I am too close to graffiti. I still hold the tag as primal!

It is interesting to be worried about copyright on something that is
illegal, things you can not publicly claim ownership of.

Would you agree that standards are a normalizing practice, that in a
way GML is part of a legalizing process?


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For that to happen, a larger community would have to get involved. It
would need to be Gesture Markup Language, and a community other than
graffiti writers would need to get involved.


Would you be interested in legalizing graffiti?
No. That’s why I stopped doing projections.

Not legal forms of graffiti, but more like the vision of KRS-One of
the Hip Hop city, 36 where graffiti would obviously be legal. Does that
fundamentally change the nature of graffiti?

To me it is just not graffiti anymore. It is just painting. It changes what
it is. For me, its power stems from it being illegal. The motion happens
because it is illegal.

In a sense, but there is also the calligraphic aspect of it. In Brooklyn,
a lot of the building owners say: yeah, throw it up and those are some
of the craziest pieces I know of, not from a tag-standpoint, but more as
complex graffiti visuals.

I am always for de-criminalization. I don’t think anyone should go to
jail over a piece of paint that you could cover over in 5 seconds. And that
KRS-One city you mentioned would be cool to see.

It is his Temple of Hip Hop, the ide

ds and then become objects of pondering in multinational boardrooms. So I was hoping to open you up to riff on that:
zooming out, GML is a handshake point between these two cultures, but
GML is a specific thing within this larger world of F/LOSS and graffiti


KRS-One Master Teacher. AN INTRODUCTION TO HIP HOP .!temple-of-hip-hop/c177q


Tying the story to data

in the larger world of hiphop. What other types of contact points might
there be? Do you see any similarities and differences?

For me, even beyond technology and beyond graffiti it all boils down to
this idea of the hack that is really a phenomenon that has been going on
forever. It’s taking this system that has some sort of rigidity and repeating
elements and flipping it into doing something else. I see this in Hip Hop,
of course. The whole idea of sampling, the whole idea of turning a playback
device into a musical instrument, the idea of touching the record: all of
these things are hacks. We could go into a million examples of how graffiti
is like hacker culture.
In terms of that handshake moment between the two communities, I think
that is about realizing that its not about the code and in some sense its not
about the spraypaint. There’s this empowering idea of individual small acto

huge differences in those communities too. One of them is this idea of the hustler from Hip Hop: the
idea of hustling doesn’t have anything to do with the economy of giftgiving. The idea that Jay-Z has popularized in Hip Hop and that rap music
and graffiti have at their core has to do with work ethic, but there’s also a
kind of braggadocio about making it yourself and attaining value yourself
and it definitely comes back to making money in the end. The idea of being
‘self-made’ in a way is empowe

ually a typeface, which is defined
through the strange material and construction work going on on site. We
use holes in the facade that are in fact handles of beer crates as connector
points to create a modular font that is somewhere between Pixacao graffiti
and Cuneiform script. It is actually a play on our long fascination with
engineered typefaces such as DIN 1451; mixing universal application with
specific materials, styles and uses – this all links back to our interest in Free
Besides pr


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