Archive for England

A Street Art Sensation

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 3, 2010 by jganolik

Before last spring, anyone who walked down Oxford Street in London and happened to glance down Newman Street would see a 23-foot high mural that spelled out, “One Nation Under CCTV,” in dripping white lettering. Below the words, and perched atop a painted ladder would have been a red hooded boy holding a paint roller, and at the foot of the ladder, a policeman would have stood with a camera held out toward the boy, accompanied by his ferocious canine. Unfortunately, the Westminster council voted to paint over the piece of street art.

“I take the view that this is graffiti and if you condone this then what is the difference between this and all the other graffiti you see scrawled across the city?” said Mr. Davis, chairman of the council’s sub-planning committee, “If you condone this, then you condone graffiti all over London.”

Art critics criticized the council decision, claiming that the mural was valid, vibrant, and interesting, and should remain untouched. In the end, those critics’ efforts did not make a difference.

The artist of the piece calls himself, Banksy, and works in a medium of stencil and spray paint. His works have appeared on the streets of London, Bristol, and New Orleans, among other locations.

So why did the decision to remove a piece of London graffiti have such a profound affect upon me, a resident of a small suburban town in New Jersey? It did because I studied abroad in England for the entirety of my junior year of college, the first month of which was spent in London, and during that month, I organized a walking tour that visited a handful of existing Banksy pieces in the city. The “One Nation Under CCTV” work was the first stop of our tour.

In the shadow of the painting, my three fellow walking tour leaders and I explained to the rest of our study abroad program about the workings of CCTV, a system of cameras that record the goings-on in public places across the United Kingdom. Banksy created a great deal of graffiti that criticized the CCTV system, another of which we visited later in the tour. That piece featured the words, “What are you looking at?” painted below a broken CCTV camera in an underground walkway, right near the Marble Arch tube stop.

I view the research process for the walking tour as my England initiation. My group and I navigated the Underground for hours on end and took long, often fruitless walks down London streets in search of the Banksy pieces the government had not yet painted over. While the other student groups kept their research concentrated in the West End, we challenged our comfort zones and traveled into poorer, most Eastern areas of the city.

The tour also sparked my interest in the world of street art. I found it fascinating that these simple spray paint and stencil creations have the ability to evoke such a spectrum of emotions in their viewers, and how their locations outside of museum walls facilitate these reactions.

“Some people want to make the world a better place,” Banksy once said. “I just want to make the world a better-looking place. If you don’t like it, you can paint over it!” Unfortunately, “paint over it,” is what the government often does.

In June of last year, a few days before I boarded my plane home, I took one last walk down Oxford Street. On instinct, I glanced toward the spot where the CCTV piece once was, and my eyes fell on a blank wall. I heaved a sigh of disappointment. This was visible evidence that London had changed since my arrival, nine months prior. But then again, so had I.

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Sunday, Bloody Sunday

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 26, 2009 by jganolik

As a part of my undergraduate program, I spent the last academic year in England studying at an English university, and I returned to the states this past June. I experienced a little bit of culture shock when I first got back, mainly in the form of being taken aback when someone would talk to me in the line at the grocery store, or wondering why there were no packages of Digestives (the best biscuit ever) down the cookie aisle of the grocery store. I was able to adjust quickly however, and my mourning period for the digestive was cut short by the realization that you can actually purchase them at specialty stores, like Wegman’s. phew!

That is I thought I was able to adjust quickly, but not until I got back to college in America did I realize that there was a whole separate realm of culture shock that I was yet to face. And here I am, staring it in the face.

The Sunday.

In England these days didn’t hold any weight at all, especially since during my second semester at the University of East Anglia I had no class on Mondays or Fridays. Sunday was just another day of the week whose night would probably be spent at the campus pub, hanging out with friends, or finding some tv show or movie online to watch. I did the latter a lot, thanks to the bbc iplayer, megavideo, etc.

Anyway, my point is that there was no rush to do homework on Sundays. In fact there wasn’t really a great deal of work to do any day of the week, since the workload of most classes consisted of either two papers or one paper and one exam. So one week was incredibly busy, while the rest were completely devoid of homework. It’s therefore strange that these 100 pages of readings have suddenly materialized in front of me and necessitate my attention. The whole idea of the weekend offering a break from the overwhelming week schedule has become alien to me, because the week schedule was never overwhelming. All in all I am enjoying this packed schedule as my mind finally feels perpetually stimulated again, but I think it’s going to take a few of these bloody Sundays before I’ve conquered culture shock for good.

But for now…

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