Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment – Day 4 – Silent Voices

This is Day 4 of a 5 Day Experiment that i am sharing around ‘Cultural Graffiti’. You can jump in here, or revisit the first post from Monday. Some voices are always loud, whilst others are silent, or silenced. Consider why, and how, voices are silenced.

Here are some examples of how your voice can be taken away:

    • You can be told to be silent
    • You may exist within a dominant societal narrative where you have no voice
    • You may exist under strict rules and strong consequence
    • You may be uncertain what is allowed, so you play it safe
    • You may have been penalised before, so you play it safe now
    • You may have seen others penalised or persecuted, so you have learnt to be silent by proxy
    • You may believe that an issue is not YOUR issue, so you ignore it
    • You may lack access to spaces where you can speak safely
    • You may lack the tools or technologies to tell your story
    • You may feel that you lack authenticity or permission to tell a story
    • You may not be clear exactly what the story is
    • You may be too angry to tell a story
    • You may be too passive to have a voice
    • Someone may have stolen your voice
    • You may find yourself painted into a corner where you are characterised as a troublemaker

Activity

There are two parts to this activity:

    1. Look around your own Organisation: how are voices silenced?
    2. How can you help someone to find their voice?
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Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment – Day 3 – Sanctioned Subversion

Today may be the hardest day of this 5 Day Experiment, because i want you to create a sanctioned space for subversion. You may feel that you can complete this activity, or it may daunt you: it’s fine not to complete it, but i would encourage you to spend time reflecting on why that is, and the consequences for your own, and your Organisation’s, ability to change.

Formal voices are easy to hear – protest voices that exist in hidden spaces are safe to shout – but change will likely be seeded in the Edge-Land spaces.

Sanctioned Subversion is a term to describe a specific type of space that we may create: it’s a space to hear the graffiti voices, the voices of protest, commentary, or dissent, but it’s sanctioned, so that it is safe. This is the hard trade off: are you brave enough to listen?

There are a range of techniques that you can use to allow for ‘Sanctioned Subversion’: i will describe two of them here, and you can decide which one to try.

Poster Spaces

Poster Spaces are incomplete posters, or posters that invite themselves to be defaced. You could draw half a picture, or make a statement surrounded by white space, and invite people to add to it, or deface it.

Last time i did this activity, it was working with an NHS group, who drew posters with provocative statements about a formal change programme, and left them in staff spaces, for people to add to.

Interestingly, engagement varied: some were left untouched, but others proliferated comments.

The factors that related to this were how visible the poster was, but most importantly, the presence of a second handwriting, a second voice, almost always triggered many more. It seems as though the first commentator takes the greatest risk (think back to our conversations about ‘aggregation and amplification’ in the first 5 Day Experiment on Storytelling).

In a safer way, you can make a poster (which may simply be a statement), and share it with a defined group, not a fully public one.

Structured Dissent

Structured Dissent is a similar activity, in that we are asking for different voices, but it’s safer because it is carried out by email, and we give people defined roles to play.

So you may start by making a statement, and you ask people to add to it in a defined way. For example:

  • Take this statement and add a voice that agrees
  • Take this statement and add a voice that dismisses
  • Take this statement and add a voice that comments upon it
  • Take this statement and add a voice that tries to kill the conversation
  • Take this statement and add a voice that tries to amplify it
  • Take this statement and agree strongly
  • Take this statement and add humour

Your Activity

Create a space for Sanctioned Subversion, either using one of the approaches described above, or make up your own.

Examples to inspire you:

The following are simple ideas, but again, feel free to make up your own. Create a poster (even a simple A4 sheet, printed) with the invitation “graffiti this poster”. Examples could be:

  • “Change is always good”,
  • “What we do today is not enough”
  • “We are at the peak of our potential”
  • “More new ideas are always better”
  • “Different generations think differently”
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Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment – Day 2 – Curation

Throughout this week i am sharing my latest ‘5 Day Experiment’, a structured way to explore a topic within your own Organisation. This one is about ‘Cultural Graffiti’. Feel free to share your results in the comments, on Twitter, or in any other space.

For most of us, the role we have within an Organisation, the status we have in our society, or some specific expertise or unique knowledge, gives us a voice. But this is not true for everyone: people lack a voice either because they do not carry that privilege, because they lack knowledge or skill in a specific channel, or because their voice is taken away from them.

Graffiti exists as a claimed voice: when nobody will give you power, you can claim it for yourself, and it’s found everywhere.

You can find graffiti in every society: i’ve even found it in Singapore and Saudi Arabia, where voices of dissent can tend to be more silent or silenced. You just have to know where the Edge-Land spaces are.

In Singapore, graffiti exists in spaces like Arab Street, which is home to a nascent skateboard community. It tends to take the form of stickers, or larger sanctioned murals. But you can also find it scrawled in pen under bridges, or similarly dark and hidden spaces.

In Bristol, UK, graffiti is largely sanctioned, and there is an annual festival, whilst in spaces like New York, historically, graffiti was forbidden and outlawed in an ongoing public war, where the authorities pledged to paint it out within 24 hours.

Activity

Your challenge today is to find a piece of graffiti, hunt it out, and analyse it, according to this structure. Ideally find a real piece of graffiti, but you can hunt it out online if that works more easily for you.

Story – what story does the graffiti tell? By reading it, or looking at it, can you see what the story is. You may feel that some of the following are relevant ways to describe it:

  • Story of protest
  • Story of opposition
  • Story of support
  • Story of love
  • Story of hate
  • Story of hope
  • Story of one person
  • Story of a community
  • Story for change
  • Story for stasis, to keep things the same

Voice – what type of voice is used? is this voice permitted, or claimed, anonymous, or owned? Is this voice one of irony, celebration, protest, or joy?

Purpose – what is the purpose of this story? To celebrate, drive change, add comment, vent frustration, to infuriate, or placate?

Context – does the context of the story relate to the story itself? For example, Banksy typically posts graffiti in a context that is relevant to the story itself. A political statement painted on the side of a parliament building is different from the same story drawn in your bedroom.

Supporting Resources

You can read some of my own Graffiti Stories here. Remember, these are not definitive, but rather are my own interpretations, through my own lens. Yours may be different:

https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2018/12/03/graffiti-story-1/

https://julianstodd.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/graffiti-story-2/

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Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment – Day 1 – Spaces

The ‘5 Day Experiment’ format is a call to action: a structured exploration of a topic, based in daily activities that just take a few minutes. In this 5 Day Experiment we will explore Cultural Graffiti, the voices that are shared in the semi formal Edge-Land spaces of an Organisation. Feel free to take part by sharing your responses in the comments, or by #WorkingOutLoud on Twitter.

Graffiti is a claimed voice in forgotten spaces: nobody has to give it to you, rather you can pick it up for yourself, and conquer the territory to use it within.

Whilst formal stories inhabit prominent and permitted spaces, graffiti, by contrast, tends to exist on the edges of society: the industrial estates, the back door of the restaurant, the alleyway.

These spaces can be known as ‘Edge-Lands’, or ‘Liminal Spaces’, on the fringes of society, neither fully formal urban performance spaces, nor totally unclaimed wilderness ones. Often unowned and unloved, but necessary and controlled by some form or law and order.

Another way to look at them is as inter-tidal: there is the sea, and there is the land, but between the two is an area that is constantly swept clean, the canvas is cleared. This is the space of graffiti.

We can take this idea and use it to understand how stories are shared, in a range of communities, within our own Organisations, which are made up of a broad range of spaces, from our fully formal ‘performance’ ones, to the edge-land spaces of social technology, or the canteen or bar.

Activity

In this activity, we will map these Edge-Land spaces: our aim is to create a view of the Social Organisation, and to chart where the Cultural Graffiti may be found, or encouraged.

I have created a framework to support you in doing this. Choose a space, and then map it against this template.

  • Visibility – how visible is the space? Is it an open space, or a closed one? Can anyone join, or is it by invite only? Is it mainstream, or peripheral? Is it a destination space, or a glimpse through a window?
  • Transience – how permanent is the space? Does it last forever, or wash away with the tide? Can you withdraw a conversation that has been had, or can someone else silence it? Is it like a conversation that floats away on the breeze and is gone forever, or is it carved in stone, for eternity?
  • Consequence – what forms of consequence exist? Are you breaking a rule, or simply social convention? Do formal rules apply, or social ones? Does a conversation here count as a ‘work’ one, or is it a social opinion on the side? Is this space formal, or fully social?
  • Ownership – do you own what you write, or does someone else? Is it attributable, or anonymous? Can you silence others, or does everyone own the space?

Find and document two examples. You can use the ‘Learning Postcard’ i shared above, or draw your own space to respond. Here’s an example that i have completed to illustrate how it works:

A WhatsApp Conversation

  • Visibility – it’s only visible to those who are invited to a group, unless it’s screenshot, when the message may carry beyond that.
  • Transience – it’s transient, in a stream, and you can delete your own messages (but not those of others). But it can also be captured by screenshot and carried out of the space.
  • Consequence – it’s a social space, so should be clear of formal consequence, but there is no written rule.
  • Ownership – it’s owned by you, or by the community, but not by the Organisation.
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The Distant View Is Just A Dream

We can easily invest our belief in a future state: we look through the telescope at green fields and soaring mountains. The water in the river looks sweet, and the forest is verdant. But it’s a dream, a myth. A future state we may all want, but we live in the world today.

Promised future states may be monumental and bold, but perhaps the easiest way we can live in paradise is to build it out of the conflict and petty rivalry that we live within today. We can build it through kindness, with humility. We can do it one conversation at a time, and by giving more away than we seek to gain.

Perhaps our paradise will not be perfect, but who wants to live in a perfect world? There is nothing that we cannot change, if we are willing to take the smallest of steps to do so.

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Cultural Graffiti: A 5 Day Experiment

I had a great response to the format of the 5 Day Experiment i recently shared around ‘Storytelling in Social Leadership’. It was the first in a series of these practical activities, and today i am sharing the structure of the next one, which explores Cultural Graffiti.

Graffiti represents a claimed voice, one that can be taken when all other power or voice has been stolen from you. It’s often utilised in edge-land spaces, intertidal zones, partly out of sight, unloved, unclaimed. And it may be both untidy, and highly authentic, at the same time.

I talk about Cultural Graffiti to describe voices that are claimed within the social spaces of our Organisations, voices that do not directly parrot the formal view, but choose to represent a difference, an opposition, or a counter story. These may not be voices that we want to hear, but we are weaker if they are hidden to us, because they may represent a certain wisdom.

Cultural Graffiti

I use a notion of ‘Sanctioned Subversion’: sometimes a wall is made available for people to draw on, it’s permitted, sanctioned. In similar vein, we can choose to create spaces to hear those voices of opposition or dissent, and choose to be ready to listen to them.

The 5 Day Experiment runs through five separate aspects to explore this.

First, we look around us and map the Edge-Land spaces: i’m working on a structure to support this analysis which i will share later this week.

  • Visibility – how visible is the space? Is it an open space, or a closed one? Can anyone join, or is it by invite only? Is it mainstream, or peripheral? Is it a destination space, or a glimpse through a window?
  • Transience – how permanent is the space? Does it last forever, or wash away with the tide? Can you withdraw a conversation, or can someone else silence it? Is it like a conversation that floats away on the breeze and is gone forever, or is it carved in stone, for eternity?
  • Consequence – what forms of consequence exist? Are you breaking a rule, or simply social convention? Do formal rules apply, or social ones? Does a conversation here count as a ‘work’ one, or is it a social opinion on the side? Is this space formal, or fully social?
  • Ownership – do you own what you write, or does someone else? Is it attributable, or anonymous? Can you silence others, or does everyone own the space?

Graffiti Story

On the second day, we consider the art of graffiti, and i ask you to curate an example, and tell a graffiti story. I have previously shared a couple of examples of these. Similarly we can use a structured format to explore this:

  • Story – what story does the graffiti tell? By reading it, or looking at it, can you see what the story is. You may feel that some of the following are relevant ways to describe it:
  1. Story of protest
  2. Story of opposition
  3. Story of support
  4. Story of love
  5. Story of hate
  6. Story of hope
  7. Story of one person
  8. Story of a community
  9. Story for change
  10. Story for stasis, to keep things the same
  • Voice – is this voice permitted, or claimed, anonymous, or owned? Is this voice one of irony, celebration, protest, or joy?
  • Purpose – what is the purpose of this story? To celebrate, drive change, add comment, vent frustration, to infuriate, or placate?
  • Context – does the context of the story relate to the story itself? For example, Banksy typically posts graffiti in a context that is relevant to the story itself. A political statement painted on the side of a parliament building is different from the same story drawn in your bedroom.

The third day is an opportunity to create a ‘Sanctioned Subversion’ space, perhaps by making a half drawn poster, or structured discussion group. These are examples of the types of poster you could make:

  • Change is always good”,
  • What we do today is not enough
  • We are at the peak of our potential
  • More new ideas are always better
  • Different generations think differently

Each one includes the incitement to ‘Graffiti this poster’.

The fourth day explores how someone may be silenced. Examples may include:

Here are some examples of how your voice can be taken away:

  • You can be told to be silent
  • You may exist within a dominant societal narrative where you have no voice
  • You may exist under strict rules and strong consequence
  • You may be uncertain what is allowed, so you play it safe
  • You may have been penalised before, so you play it safe now
  • You may have seen others penalised or persecuted, so you have learnt to be silent by proxy
  • You may believe that an issue is not YOUR issue, so you ignore it
  • You may lack access to spaces where you can speak safely
  • You may lack the tools or technologies to tell your story
  • You may feel that you lack authenticity or permission to tell a story
  • You may not be clear exactly what the story is
  • You may be too angry to tell a story
  • You may be too passive to have a voice
  • Someone may have stolen your voice
  • You may find yourself painted into a corner where you are characterised as a troublemaker

The activity is to explore and expand on this.

The final day sees the creation of Guidelines that you can use in your own practice, or broader Organisation, based upon the experience of the experiment.

I will run a couple of groups through this, and share any of my own learning as i go.

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Memory

I found a roll of film over the holidays, lodged at the bottom of my camera bag: i had no idea what was on it, so sent it off, and it arrived back this week, triggering memories.

Memory is strange: not a book that we can necessarily leaf through at will, but rather a disjointed series of images and stories that can be triggered through the different senses. Looking at this photo, i can remember the sun on the landscape, the feel of the landscape, the smell of the air. And i remember the road that stretched behind this image, and the road that stretched ahead of it. The context is part of my memory.

I know the neurological basis of actuation, how a memory is triggered, but there is a delightful tingle when it happens out of the blue. A story that is part of us, bought back to the fore. These memories are what make us.

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