Writing the Memory of the City – Thomas Wiczak

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Thomas Wiczak is one of the co-publishers of the book “Writing the Memory of the City”. He was involved in important group actions in Berlin and activities like Jazzstylecorner or the Outsides exhibition. During the work on his book he decided to no longer work on the streets and write his name. His text describes trains of thought instead, no trains of metal. His article describes the cessation as an existential part of writing.

What is the book trying to show, what is “Writing the Memory…” about?

The book does not focus on graffiti in Berlin nor does it glorify it. The focus lies on reflection; less tags, more text. Why should a book serve our visual consumption as the city already does? And who said our book was about graffiti in the first place? It is trying to demonstrate graffiti as a source of creativity, what it can lead to if a writer starts to see beyond his own horizon. In my opinion a discussion about the definition of graffiti is a waste of time. Our work points out different artistic positions – or the search thereof – rooted in graffiti.

How did you end up working with Markus Mai? Why the two of you as publishers?

We met during the founding of Jazzstylecorner e.V. about three years ago. We knew the same people. We observed each other during our work so I knew what it meant when he asked me in October 2006 to work with him. The result is now available in English and German edition.

Why was the book not published by Gestalten Verlag like its forerunner “Writing”?

That fact alone is nearly symbolical. The focus of the book and the ideas of the publisher were very different concerning the picture/text relation. We had connections to Dokument-Förlag in Sweden and the success of “Writing” was a good reference. We had a very clear conception of the book and its creation and we knew that the less compromises we would have to make the better the result.

What were the criteria for the selection of articles? Why mainly Berlin guys?

A Berlin anthology was inevitable but we wanted to go further. It was not necessary to become national or even international, we wanted to make a book on city writing. A writer crawls and climbs the same way in Berlin as he does in Dortmund or Paris. The geographical proximity to our protagonists was important so we could communicate face to face. We also tried to head in the same direction as older Berlin group projects. Mare 139 and Skki were exemplary ambassadors of European and American writing culture, specifically of historically important Paris and NY.

Your article is the only one without pictures. Why? Did you deliberately want to distance yourself from the conception that a graffiti book has to have pictures in it?

While working on the book I began to distance myself from graffiti as an activist which consequently led to the fact that I was not going to present any images. This aspect of questioning graffiti, the atmosphere of ceasing activism seems to me a very grateful topic in the book. I wanted to put graffiti in a different, more personal context. The text/image relation was a deliberate decision. There are far too many pictures in other graffiti or street art books. Lokiss says that graffiti is activism. This seems to be true due to the unbalanced action/reflection relation in graffiti culture. The exchange of thoughts and opinions takes place in the work itself or on the street in small groups. Documents of these reflections are rare.

What is the invisible city – regarding graffiti?

The invisible city is the one moving behind – or in front of the visible city. What would a city look like if every project – in the making or imaginary – was visible? This question is part of the image of the invisible city, like Christian Schellenberger’s sentence: “It is always about accumulation, congestion and discharge of energy”. “There is a line leading from the visible world of the written letter to the invisible inner world”, says Bus 126. Mathias Wemke describes a bond to certain places. This bond, this power of attraction that seems to lie within one self is not visible. The love letter from Daniel Tagno to COST is a further insight into this city.

How important are the non commercial aspects of graffiti to you?

Fifteen years ago this was a minor problem. Nobody thought it possible that pieces would be ripped from walls and sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. To me this is a remarkable development. These days every writer is part of a well functioning economical system, if he notices it or not. Herein new relation constructs consequently and necessarily evolved. Fact is that you need support in order to organize projects.

Why do writers want to establish themselves in the art scene?

I do not know. I guess it is a question of fame. But art is too big an area to limit it to repulsive scenarios in galleries and museums. The question is, how do you profit as an artist considering that you already exhibit publicly without any rules and limitations in the streets? I also question the direction: From out- to indoors? The absurdity about movies like Stylewars is still the fact that involved writers appear in the film. This seems to demonstrate a desire to contact the audience, the city. Otherwise graffiti and street art are an accepted part of the whole thing for quite some time now.

Does graffiti have to deal with capitalism?

Do you have to deal with anything? I think it is important to choose and take a position. Taking a position is more valuable than hundreds of pieces on trains or walls. In my opinion reflection, consciousness and sovereignty of writing could be better nourished. Jazzstylecorner was an example. Our book is an attempt and a contribution to do so.

What are your upcoming projects? What are you working on now? Where do you want to go as an artist with a writer’s past?

I am not going anywhere with my writer’s past. I am not denying it of course but it is a closed chapter. What is left of it are views of the city, the preparedness to cross the tracks more readily than others. In few words: we will see. The text in the book shows that I am not really interested in visual results. I am not excluding it but I have been focusing on audible results for a long time now. Music has always influenced my life as a writer. This has manifested itself through the last ten years in improvisation. You shall hear of me when the time is right.


Interview: Bianca Ludewig 2007/2008
Fotos/Bilder: Thomas Wiczak, Nick, Skki, Spair, Matthias Wermke, Wilhelm Klotzek, Akim, Bus 126, Konrad Mühe

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