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Untitled Exhibition
Sharp Building
37 S. Wabash Ave.

The Writing on the Wall

Got something you desperately want to show or say to the SAIC community? You could approach the galleries, but you'd be limited by their time schedule, burdened by their lengthy, annoying bureaucratic forms and possibly rejected altogether. You could submit something to this newspaper, but again there are deadlines and an editorial code. Never fear, there is a place where you can be heard today by the school community without having to follow any rules. There is space on campus without openings, closings, snobby curators, snobby collectors, snobby art students - er - forget that last one. There is space for students to engage in dialogue on every floor of every SAIC building. In the Sharp building this space is freshly painted and it's calling for you. Oh, but one potential con: most people will be considering what you have to say with their pants down.

It's probably clear that these near-utopian spaces are actually the SAIC restrooms - the spaces on campus where open, uncensored, and often ridiculous and trivial, dialogue is probably most active. Graffiti is usually deliciously rampant on our stall walls; they are often overflowing with drawings, stickers, calls to political action and literal dialogue. (Surely everyone has noticed at least a few instances of this last example: someone writes something, someone else comments on it, inviting a third comment, etc.; it can go on forever.)

Here, handwriting and ink color replace personality; capital letters and gratuitous exclamation points are stand-ins for vocal tone and enthusiasm.

The anonymity that the bathroom grants to the graffiti artist makes for an interesting opportunity. You can be crude, silly, obscure, insulting or militant without having to own up to it. Or you can be earnest, political, or helpful. It's interesting and almost painful to consider, for instance, the complete sincerity with which the following was written on one stall wall: "Stop this racist war! The innocent civilians of Afghanistan have no responsibility for Sept. 11 - they are also suffering under the Taliban. Get involved!" (Sharp 7th floor women's)

It's absurd, in a way. Is the restroom the place for such dialogue? Maybe not, but then again why not?

Another benefit of anonymity - there are no taboo subjects for bathroom graffiti. Sex, of course, is a popular topic. One male student's "autobiographical" poetic narrative ends with him providing a "smarty art chick" with some "home tutoring." (Sharp 3rd floor) The last stall in the Sharp 4th floor men's is covered with explicit drawings, including exaggerated, cartoon-dog-tail-shaped penises that are captioned: "Who thinks girls draw dicks in their stalls?" The answer? None. At least at the time of this writing, the urge has yet to strike any females in Sharp.

Not to say women don't write about sex. A stall on the Sharp 4th floor boasts the virtues of lesbian sex over heterosexual sex. One lament in the Sharp 3rd floor women's about having to pee during class is transformed into a several-step sex joke. Other comments seem to breach the ironic: some women's rooms display misogynist, expletive-packed statements you might be more accustomed to hearing a man yell in some rap-rock song. The die-hard feminists, bless their hearts, take this quite seriously. The best example, on the Sharp 2nd floor last year, has unfortunately been painted over. Instead, enjoy this same room's solemn, heartfelt feminist dialogue complete with recommended further reading ("see Guerilla Girls"). You might have to get on your knees to appreciate it though, since it's located entirely on one stall's toilet paper dispenser.

Men, on the other hand, are apparently more preoccupied with marking their personal territory in the restroom (using pens and pencils, of course). Tags and nicknames abound, especially in the men's rooms of Sharp's 12th and 13th floors.

The best graffiti is either smart and thoughtful, like the sly, rhetorical question scrawled atop one mirror: "Ain't I a fluctuating identity?" (Sharp 9th floor women's) - or surreal and oblique, like the ubiquitous "broom." Surely you've seen her inexplicable, lower-case, black-markered statements characterized by random quotation marks: i am the "mop"; the number "eight"; i am the "broom"; "please do"; "yes." (Sharp 9th floor women's) Or consider the lonely, worried boy compelled to take the time to write on a Sharp wall, "I should be in the Columbus building." (Sharp 13th floor men's)

One topic addressed by both sexes is graffiti itself. The recent repainting of Sharp's bathrooms has led many writers to comment on their practice and how it is being policed. The 11th floor women's restroom exhibits the most retorts to this fix-up.

"Your stupid gray paint does no good, no good at all!" exclaims the back of a door, while another student chides the school: "Use our tuition $ to pay for gray paint to cover our art." Another remark, "I wish these stalls were repainted less often," is underscored by another note, "SAIC has the best bathroom writing/drawing." (Sharp 4th floor women's) Well, look on the bright side - they're giving you a brand new, irresistible blank canvas. As one student penned with enthusiasm, "It's so clean!! ... We gotta!!"

Illustration by Rebecca Kramer

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