I recently learned that a street vandal/artist named Borf, was recently given a sentence of one month in DC jail and a $12,000 fine for his acts of vandalism. Some in the community think the sentencing is too harsh and a sign of fascism. Others think it is not quite enough.
The Washington Post published an article on the youth within the past year shortly after he was apprehended. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2005/07/13/AR2005071302448.html
With a great bit of unbias, they depicted him as a kid who has a basic understanding of some conflicting political models and chooses to go with some mediocre form of anarchy: spray-painting the image of a friend who committed suicide a couple of years back. The last couple of years he has made his mark on the DC area with his stenciled spray-paintings and Basquiat-like sayings. While Borf thinks �Borf is good for your liver,� having seen a number of his ramblings and the copycat marks of wannabes, at best I can argue that Borf is a lazy excuse of a bored, rich brat that thinks he can solve global problems with a can of spray-paint and random tags.
Were his stencils interesting? Yes. Was he a good kick in the ass for DC? Perhaps. Not so much for his politics but more for the brilliant and playful eye-sores he composed on buildings, street signs, and the like. The image, after all, was engaging and stimulating more so than his silly little phrases and slogans. Does he deserve to go to jail for damaging property? Yes.
A bigger issue ensues, however. There is a grey area within some street art. For example, the playful meter pops of Storker, who transformed several DC parking meters into lollipops with colored, transparent tape. Inventive! And bit of a nuisance if you were an individual trying to put some coin into your meter for a couple hours of parking. Did he have permission to do this? It�s hard to say; nothing indicates whether local authorities had given him permission to pursue this project. Certainly a bit more genius than the pseudo-Marxist ranting of a teenage brat who thinks everything is so unfair (like all other teenage brats). Would this guy deserve to go to jail for the inconvenience from clear-taping a parking meter? No. Perhaps a small fine since nothing would be damaged, just sticky.
What becomes the spur in this argument is if the Borf decision has the potential to produce a precedent, which all non-commissioned public artists should consider before engaging in their work. I appreciate the humor of plastering the word �bush� or �the war� below the �STOP� of a stop sign. But art and message has a limitation. This is an obstruction of a functional piece of information. And though the red octagon has worked it�s way into the semiological lexicon as a signal to stop in our culture/country, its obstruction in any form is problematic. The thought of spending a night in county for a cause is commendable. But it depends on the cause. I would not want that cause to be transforming a parking meter into a lollipop, even if executed on a Sunday when quarters are not necessary. Nor would I want to cozy up to some guy on a misdemeanor charge of public intox because I was lamenting the death of a friend by commemorating his life-taking-act by tagging a mailbox with a crude saying that has no relevance to the dead friend.