17 October 2014, 14:38
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Is Tagging Taking Over Yerevan?

There has been a mysterious, yet exciting, development gracing Yerevan's streets. An anonymous street tagger has been branding the nooks and crannies of this city. We have been following the tags around the city for a few months now, and we are ready to share our observations with you.

What is street tagging?

A ‘tag’ is a term that refers to a street artist’s alias. For many, finding ways to place and display their tags in public has evolved into an entire practice, called tagging.

What are its origins?

It’s often difficult to trace the exact origins of tagging because it is so intertwined with other forms of street art. Using the streets as a canvas for subculture gained force in the mid-twentieth century, some sources say after World War II. It has adopted many approaches and functions and today, it can refer to anything from vulgar messages to political statements or abstract art and sometimes, all three at once.

Is tagging a form of art?

Often, tagging is less concerned with what the tagger’s name is or means, and more about the way a tag has been written or drawn. In short, taggers strive to develop their own aesthetic, or style, much like any other artist. The fact that many tags are not even legible demonstrates its power to act as an intersection between typography and art. However, some people don’t see it that way and believe there to be an important distinction in street art, between ‘tagging’ and ‘graffiti’. While we agree there is a difference between the two, we believe it’s largely genre-related. There are different ‘rules’ and clichés surrounding the practice of tagging that, without rendering it less valuable, also form part of its charm.

Yerevan’s Mysterious Tagger

Yerevan is no stranger to street art. Much of it, however, explicitly directs viewers attention towards the country’s political discontent, like this example that we found on the wall in an alleyway near our office on Arami Street. The words in the image below say “There are no good politics.”

That’s why we have been interested, as of late, to find this particular tag popping up in places all over the city. It has many of the characteristics of tags from cities in which tagging is a frequent occurrence, like London or Berlin, like the image below. 

 

What is Yerevan's street tagger's style?

The image above is a picture, from a distance, of this article’s featured image. For those of you familiar with our city, it’s fairly clear where this picture took place – smack dab in the middle of Gendron [city center].  For those that don’t, it’s located above the metro station of Hanrapetutyan Hraparak [Republic Square]. The tag itself is not extremely legible (Does it say ‘Eli’? Does it say ‘Cli’? Argh! We can’t tell!), it has a distinct typographic style, and most importantly, the artist has been clever about maintaining some level of symbolic continuity. You’ll notice it has been painted along its surface's top edge. This, we found, was a theme in all of its locations.  

Here is another example of the same tag, located relatively close by (Pushkin & Abovyan). Again, it has been placed bordering the top edge. This one, however, uses a different color scheme, but is still bright and striking.

 

This example lacks any color whatsoever. It can be found at the entrance to one of Yerevan’s underground perekhod, a Soviet-era pedestrian crossing. Yet again, the artist has placed the tag right underneath the uppermost edge.

Nevertheless, Yerevan’s tagger is not afraid to sacrifice continuity for novelty. The type of surface is drastically different from anything we’ve seen before – it's a tree! This is the first organic surface we found this tag on -- the rest are man-made. The tag itself accomodates the trees natural properties and the directions of the letters are vertical, instead of horizontal.

Our tagger also demontstrates some artistic flexibility. He has about 3 different 'versions' of his tag, that vary in complexity. We're not sure what determines which location gets which version, but this is an example of another version, significantly less elaborate than the ones displayed above. Oftentimes, the locations taggers choose to paint on are illegal spaces, therefore it it was probably necessary to faster ways of writing his or her tag, so as not to be caught. 

Judging from all the evidence, is the artist a local or a foreigner? Are they Armenian?

We can’t know anything for sure, but we can make a lot of educated guesses from the style and aesthetic of the tag. It’s the only one like it in Yerevan, so we think perhaps the artist may be based out of Armenia. Additionally, the letters he or she uses are Latin ones, not Armenian. But that doesn’t mean this person isn’t ethnically Armenian. You may notice, in our featured image, the tagger has dotted the ‘i’ of the tag with a heart and inside it is written the word ‘HAYASTAN’ (the Armenian word for ‘Armenia,’ transliterated into Latin letters). It’s possible this person is a diasporan, visiting or living in Armenia. But it could be neither! Perhaps the most curious aspect of this whole ordeal is that when we were first noticing the appearance of this tag, like a secret scavenger hunt all over the city, we received word from a friend visiting Georgia that the tag appeared there as well (See below)!

What's next?

Well... Nothing really. We just thought we’d share our observations with you. Because when all is said and done, despite our immense curiosity, there is beauty in this individual’s anonymity. It’s one thing about street art that separates it from traditional forms of visual art you find in museums, where paintings are carefully positioned next to the names of their artist and credit is always given. There’s something so appealing about the mystery and we also find there is something very valiant about the fact that tagging and street art isn't tied to a particular individual. It makes it feel like it's something we all share, like it belongs to all of us -- just like the streets themselves.

On that note, we’ll open the platform to you! Let us know what Yerevan’s tagger means to you, or to Armenian society as a whole.

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