Mediamatic Off-Line Vol. 11#1 Dirk Van Weelden 1 Jan 2003

Playground ZEDZbeton 3.0

Maurer United Architects

And a name appears in the void, or in the infinite darkness stored in digital machines to be more precise.

It is the holy grail of graffiti art: a tag (the true one, for the name chosen and designed by the maker/perpetrator) rendering the city superfluous, for it has itself become a building. Light does not come from lamps or suns, but from within. The softly glowing walls of letters make the space visible and practicable.

In the MaurerUnited video loop you can see how the ZEDZ tag is a building for roughly five minutes. ZEDZ style lends itself to this. His letters have no ornamentations and references to fantasy or space travel. They are simple robust characters, each approximates to a square and side by side they form a block. ZEDZ contributions to the city always have that grey-white colour, as far as I know, and are preferably as large as possible. They work by far the best if observed from a car or a train. They compete with the buildings, viaducts and walls that they are sprayed on. They completely fill the surface of the wall or roof, until they alter and replace the appearance of the building content. The building or wall appears to be erected from concrete letters.

Proper names are special words. A name is a sign that does not refer to anything. Other words (messy, eyelash or scrub for instance) suggest a meaning. They do something, they are the means of transport we use to drive each other’s thinking across the world according to grammar’s traffic regulations. Sentences thus formed conjure up pictures, situations, moods, images and interpretations. Names can be moved through the world (as sound or writing) but they do nothing. They are not means of transport, but sites. A proper name is a cross roads where a multiplicity of roads and worlds meet each other and cross.

If SPRING is on a building, the building becomes a random surface with a message referring to something else besides the building. If ZEDZ is there then the observer’s thoughts remain where they are: at this constructed content at this place, in this light, now, from this angle of vision. Then the letters behave like a building. Buildings are characters as well as three-dimensional objects; they are the graffiti of people writing with steel and concrete instead of spray paint.

It is not easy to obtain an image of the ZEDZ building in the Maurer video. This is not a civilised architect presentation, in the course of which the future client and consumer weightlessly floats through the design to a facile tune. As soon as the forbidding structure appears in the picture, a heavily armed bionic soldier appears with a raucous cry. He points an improbably big machine gun at the consumer and fires. After our death we look over the shoulder of an absent, unknown player involved in a shoot-em-up with more of such roaring monster warriors. Although panels of rules and menus make the spectator think that this is an interactive environment, he can only look on at how the robotic predators slaughter each other in the interior of the ZEDZ building. The imagery is correspondingly speedy and purposive. Blood spatters audibly, high up against the wall, and then breaks in shards like glass on the ground and disappears. It is a multi-user environment within which ZEDZ and his friends (JP and Nicole among them) hunt and shoot down each other. It is timeless larking about to a catchy, gritty jingle with a cunningly simple bass line.

The utmost that a graffiti artist can achieve in the city is for his tags and pieces to emanate architectural power, defining the experience of an urban environment along with its buildings. Or: become sites. In the Maurer video ZEDZ has succeeded in going one step further, making a built up area of his real name. The difference between building with steel and concrete and building with paint and letters remains. There is no pure, detached view of space. Observation and experience of space is completely managed and disrupted by the game action and its attendant imagery. This barbaric slaughter is a ludicrous exaggeration of course, but it does beg the question whether this reflects what we always do: allowing dealings and communication within a space influence our experience of the space. Is a built-up area perceptible without action and life? And is not the city in many ways a game, where you are far from free to navigate and your experience of the environment is formed and coloured by what you are hunting and what is hunting you?

Transformation and distortion of the space takes place before the viewer’s eyes, within the site that the ZEDZ name has become. This is a result of the battle occurring within the name. The ZEDZ tag thus renders visible the essence of the graffiti artist’s view of the city: there is no neutral space, space is a variable, treacherous terrain. City spaces are determined just as much by names, actions, life, violence silent and explicit as by the dimensions, design and materials of planners and developers. The city is far more virtual than we think.

Translation Helen-Anne Ross