Framing Temporality: Montreal Graffiti in Photography

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


The chapter concerns the use of space over time and "brings together questions that often elude discussions on public art: the legitimacy of graffiti as public art, its insistent materiality, and the role of photography in documenting ephemeral artistic practices. [The discussion opens] with an exploration of the long-standing love affair between photographers and graffiti, a discussion that culminates in the examination of the work of Montreal graffiti artist OMEN, whose work the author photographed over several months. She argues that graffiti art, even though it might seem generic in nature, is topo-sensitive (a term borrowed from Umberto Eco, meaning that the sign is partially determined by the place where it isn generated or located.) Yet, to visibly last, it must be detached from its material substrate and transported into a less substantial, less rooted medium. For her, the photograph of a graffito becomes even more exciting when it engages with time [...] when it documents the slow transformation of a site through visual alterations on this site. For Chmielewska, the process of obliteration of a signature piece by OMEN, now only preserved in photographs, contains an important clue to the relationship between graffiti and their context. The process of layering inscriptions through subsequent acts of graffiti, she argues, constitutes a visual archeology that may tell us more about the relationship of the markings to their context than a single static image of a completed piece ever could. (From Introduction: Off Base by A. Gérin, 17-18)
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationPublic Art in Canada
Subtitle of host publicationCritical Perspectives
EditorsAnnie Gérin, James S. McLean
Place of PublicationToronto
PublisherUniversity of Toronto Press
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)978-0-8020-9568-8
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2009


  • Graffiti
  • Montreal
  • Street art
  • photography


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