The most recent work explores the idea of the intertextuality that exists all around us, on every surface of the modern visual environment and principally with that which is always available to us on the city streets, mostly unobserved but always present and it’s historical and continuing communication. It raises questions as to where this dialogue originates from and to where it extends.
Intertextuality as a term was first introduced by the semiotician Julia Kristeva in the late sixties, meaning amongst other things that a literary work is not simply the product of a single author, but is created through its relationship to other texts and to the structures of language. Kristeva proposed that all signifying systems are constituted by the manner in which they transform earlier signifying systems.
If Intertextuality is the shaping of a text’s meaning by another text, then the visual environment that we are constantly exposed to must be shaped by what has come before, what is surrounding and the constant change, addition, subtraction and redaction by street artist, tagger, workman, political activist, advertiser and of course, weather. It’s also shaped by the journey we make as, mostly unconsciously, we are imprinted by what is in our surroundings. If a text is constituted only in the moment of its reading then the visual environment is constituted literally in the moment of it’s experience.
Our response to a poster that suddenly appears is informed by what we have previously seen in that location even if we never recall seeing anything there before. It immediately becomes a palimpsest, perhaps unscraped, but ready to be transformed by the first rip, the first tag, the next addition. As soon as it appears it begins a process of constant iteration and transformation.
After many years of photographing city streets I first began to be aware of this phenomenon of intertextuality and how it applied to our environment when I walked through the streets of Exarchia in Athens. The walls there form a mosaic of street art, advertising, political posters and random signs, transformed by a constant process of change from one moment to the next in some eternal and unknown continuum of meaning. And of course I realised that my experience of it was informed by all the city streets I had ever walked before and even by everything I had ever experienced, anywhere and anytime.
When creating a piece of collage on paper, canvas, board or by photograph, a new iteration and meaning inevitably and deliberately evolves. As the painter Roger Hilton observed, “The role of a picture is no longer regarded as a vehicle for images or even as an arrangement of shapes. It has become an instrument, a kind of catalyst, for the activation of space… Ideally they should provoke harmony where none existed before.” So they do and the intertextuality continues.
Satan’s Whiskers is a cocktail bar in Bethnal Green in London’s east end. The exterior had a thick layer of degrading posters that looked like it had built up for years. They’ve recently been cleaned up.