ALONE AGAIN, NATURALLY
By MICHAEL PERKINS
TAGGING, OR MARKING A BUILDING WITH GRAFFITI, seems to me one of the strangest bids for immortality that an artist can undertake. It’s obviously, on one level, a plea not to be ignored: I was here. But since so much of the information in its various signatures and symbols are rigidly encoded, it’s only a testament to some people for some vague stretch of time. Soon, like the grass reclaims the battlefield, rust and amnesia efface the artist just as surely as if he had never passed this way.
When infrastructures rot and fail, they either collapse in catastrophe (like a fallen bridge) or needless suffering (like a municipal water system), and, as their pieces are hauled away, every cultural element tied up in their daily use, especially signs or writing, are taken away as well. Hardly a lasting tribute to the tag’s creators. Other times, the rot just stands, useless and unmourned amidst other changes in our daily world, still emblazoned with the phantom scrawlings of earlier poets who now cannot rely on either memory or context to make their work persist in meaning.
The strange legend on this disintegrating trestle bridge in Ventura, California was explained to me by a local as a reference to a heinous crime that occurred in the area. She didn’t seem to recall the precise details nor the time frame, although I assume it does not pre-date the invention of aerosol spray paint. Point is, even though the bridge has the year of its erection, 1909, stamped into it at the back and front, the span’s name, to everyone who passes until it plunges into the river, will be “the ‘Baby Girl’ bridge”. Unfair to the anonymous scribe who sought to freeze a horrific event in time, but eventually a moot point.
I wanted to shoot the bridge because of the textures of its deterioration, but then I realized that, eventually, I was also making what would, eventually, become the lone record of a message that someone, somewhere, thought important enough to stamp onto the trestle’s oxidized remains. Maybe, in some way, I think it’s important as well. Artists hate the idea of other artists dissolving into history. We come into the world by ourselves, and, after mingling with the world, we all end up, as the song goes, alone again. Naturally.