In the early centuries following the Ascension, when we were still young and glorying in all that it meant to Human and Awake, it became popular to depict the colossal urban sprawls of the last groundbound era as soul sucking blights, manufactured lesions on the living skin of the planet, the iconic example of our predecessors’ inability to appreciate systemic delicacies.
It is the nature of developmental progression to color representations of the earlier stage in a harsher light than is merited as a defense mechanism against regression. The empty, artless dystopian representation of our late years on the rock has become engrained in most of our legends of the time and the dangers of abandoning the aesthetic.
That representation is perhaps a bit unfair. The groundbound artistic culture did evolve alongside their technological culture, as Kid had discovered in the Imp. The kind of technological tools required to make art had, in eras preceding the technosocial revolution of the last century on the rock, restricted who could produce art.
As an example, while anyone with a decent ear could produce a a rhythmic melody with nothing but the mouth they were born with, the complex interweaving of multiple lines of sound and patterns capable of moving one toward evocative resolution was restricted to those who could afford the delicate and subtle instrumentations of the day. If one wanted to explore the majestic depths available to orchestral composition, one needed not only to be able to either purchase or build the disparate instruments, sharp brass and rich woodwind broadening the experience of the pure strings, and hire competent musicians to operate said instruments.
After the technosocial revolution a vocalist of singular agility might be able to produce a facsimile of the sounds produced by either brass or bass, by woodwind or wire, capturing a given progression of sound on a technosocial access portal and then layering the subsequent sounds atop each other in the digital space to be released as a coherent and rich musical composition. As an alternative route, one might use any number of digital tools to produce a synthetic impression of the sounds made by classical instrumentation, and then apply the same digital layering and smoothing to the same affect.
The technosocial shift of those latter years did not have the same impact on the visual arts. That is not to say that the revolution had no impact on the visual arts, just a very distinct impact from the kind of democratization that resulted in popular and compelling music being produced in isolated bathroom-turned-recording studios across the digitized world.
Vast amounts of visual media was produced after the technosocial revolution, but the majority of this was a function of the ubiquitous cameras turning every member of society into a burgeoning photographer or videographer. Digitization did not impact the more tactile of the visual arts in the same way. With the exception of large corporations who could afford the programs that could render the most remarkable of digitized drawings, most of the last century artists used the same graphite-scratched-against-paper techniques as their analog forebears.
The specific visual endeavor of ‘painting’ had experienced a technological revolution, but that was a result of the technological shift that preceded the technosocial wave of innovation. This earlier paradigm shift was called the industrial revolution, concerned with increasing the mechanical efficiency of both the production and the distribution of goods. Including paint.
The great shift in paint technology was not in the quality of the paint itself, the vibrance of colors, the standardized consistencies, the durability in the face of the ravages of either time or children, though all of those improvements did happen. No, the great shift was in the mechanism by which paint was applied. Previous generations of artists would have a jar or palette of paint they had mixed themselves from a careful balance of ingredients into which they would dip an applicator like a brush, sponge, or blade, then transferring the paint to the waiting surface of canvas, cork, or concrete.
The industrial revolution provided the means to seal a paint container and then withdraw all the air to pressurize the paint and preserve it for large scale distribution. With just the depression of a nozzle the pressure then would thrust the paint out of the narrow opening of the container right onto the surface of choice, eliminating the need for an applicator step in the process. This made painting both more accessible and (of maybe more importance) it made painting fast.
In almost the same way that the technological advances in sound generation and recoding liberated the majesty of music from the decadent orchestral halls, the technological advances in paint storing and application liberated the visceral vibrance of painting from stuffy art studios.
All of this to say that in the late years before the Ascension the most common, most visible, most practiced form of the painterly art, by far, utilized these compressed cans of aerosol paint distribution to decorate and declaim upon the walls and windows of the urban sprawl, most often against the express wishes of the governmental forces, both local and federal.
As we have discussed in passing, the pervasive capitalist system of the age converted almost every discreet part of the city into a commodity that was owned by a given person who hoped to profit from the use of their property by the other residents and visitors of the city. The vast majority of the artists who aerated their art across the city scape did not own the walls and windows they were decorating, and what the artist might consider an aesthetic improvement upon a property was not always (or even often) a sentiment shared by the owner of said property.
The contention between the property owners and the property painters set the stage for one of the more popular games played between the subversive forces in a given area and their authoritarian counterparts. Art, the practitioners of this particular discipline were fond of exclaiming, cannot be caged, so they would skulk through train yards and warehouses in the dark of the night to leave their murals and their messages.
The art that couldn’t be caged could be erased, or covered, and some cities had cultivated an entire branch of their municipal corps to that exact end. These washers would truck their high powered hoses and cold steel brushes around the city, searching out the newest and freshest art to scrub and scour it from existence. This race between creators and destroyers shifted higher prioritization to two factors when choosing where to paint: visibility and permanence.
To be clear, though, neither the visibility or permanence were weighted with any universality. That is to say, better visibility did not always mean visible to more people, so much as being visible to more of the right people, the artists and aesthetes, while also being less visible to the wrong people, washers and workers as it were. Great visibility would involve a location or perspective that was enjoyed by the intended audience while being ignored by the authorities.
Escaping the notice of the authorities was a critical facet of ‘permanence’ which was also a word with a more specific connotation in this context. Permanence had one meaning for those who were in the business of owning and shaping cities than it had for those who were concerned with conveying the experience of the human condition through an intentional arrangement of shapes and colors. A painting is never as permanent as the wall upon which it is sprayed. Where a wall was built to shape the order of human movement and access for generations a painting, street paintings in particular, could measure their relevance in days, weeks if the artist had a good eye for location.
Social scientists of the day would speculate that the tenuous nature of this art form was a reflection of the impermanent nature of the lived experience of those who lived and painted on the street, suggesting that the experience of invisibility that dominated the daily experience of the culture produced a genre of the visual arts that by the very nature of existing at the intersection of proprietary ownership and free expression was doomed to a kind of temporarity that colored the entire field with the feel of a minor key that the eastern aesthetics called mono no aware, a sensitivity to the ephemera, that beauty that was unique to the experience of something that was fleeting by definition like the guileless smile of a youth before the experience of betrayal or the leaf flaring into brilliant shades before releasing the limb to fall to the ground, curl, and die.
Regardless of the accuracy of those studying the life on the street from the comfortable distance afforded by their well appointed ivory towers, it was very much true that the street art tended to be drawn to locations that already had an impermanence to them. Signs declaring future property use, construction fencing, boards covering windows, all of these were high value canvases because no one was offended by the defacing of these properties. No one lost money when these things were painted, so no one was in a rush to clean them. The signs, fences, and boards were all coming down in short order anyway.
Not that Twitch had explained any of that to Kid before sending him on his mission. All Kid needed to know was that he needed to put the gang’s tag on these three blocks, and it had to still be there when the week had passed. That Kid had focused on painting signs and boards rather than walls and windows was either a sign that the he had internalized the mono no aware of the culture, or just an indication of the subversive nature of social cognition, depending on which school of scientists one attended.
Kid approached a fence separating two parking lots, the large wooden sign designating the future use of the property as a part of some community renovation project. Kid looked over the sign without reading it, shaking the can of paint in his hand, slinging his bag up against the bottom of the fence.
You know, as far as quests go, I kinda thought this one was gonna be a little bit tougher.
Hey! Don’t jinx things! We are almost done.
Kinda right, though. For all Twitch being worried all the time, checking in on us.
Six days now, seems like the strategy of just hitting one lot per trip is working out. Point for the Plan Man.
Yeah, I don’t know. Felt better before I let it out.
Like the fart you’re expecting to be quiet, then BRRRIPPPUUPPTT.
Um. Yeah. Maybe like that.
On the plan part, I think that you have to lose a point for the ‘cover up the C’s signs’ bit.
Yeah. You have to admit, would have been a great idea if we DID know what they looked like.
Ha. Idiot. Minus points for the Plan Man.
Forget I ever said that.
Not happening, Planny.
So, we get this fence, the boarded up windows, call it a day.
Let’s make it happen.
Long, smooth strokes, the hiss of aerated paint meeting the flat surface of the sign. The same tag that now covered dumpsters, street signs, and almost any available wall surface, for almost three blocks of the street.
“Well, ifi’ ain’t fuckwad.”
Kid turned around to see three boys walking down the sidewalk, spreading to cover most of the ground from the building to the street. Kid took a quick peek through the fence to see two more boys coming from that direction, outlined in fading glow of the set sun.
Um. Not great.
Aren’t those the same guys…
Yeah. Remember when I told you not to jinx this? Go fuck yourself.
Kid faced the group of three, looking around the parking lot for an escape route.
“We seen some scrawl poppin’ up ou’si’a th’street, righ’ abou’a same time e’ery damn nigh’ this week, though’ meybe we’d get lucky tonight.”
There! Run up the car, Wall Walk up the corner, to the roof!
Boom. Great Plan, Man!
One of the boys edged along the building, cutting the route to the car, shooting a grin over at his buddies. The other two rounded the corner, spreading in a half circle, pinning Kid in the corner. The short one in the middle of the group spoke again.
“Looks like we lucky. They ain’t no one t’save you, ‘is time.”
So, you know how Twitch said they usually send groups on shit like this?
I think I figured out the reason.
Anything helpful to say?
All our stuff is in the bag by the fence.
Not ALL our stuff.
Kid took a slow step forward, raising his hands, palms out, holding the can of paint pinched between his middle finger and his thumb. The boys surrounding him each continued to close the distance from their end until the bubble of space separating them from Kid had shrunk to a little more than arm’s length.
“Um, look, guys, about the phone business…”
Kid swung the paint can, swift and smooth, long swings like he had been practicing, depressing the nozzle just as his hand swept close, spraying the paint into the leader’s face, across his eyes, leaning close to keep the line nice and tight. The same kid he had punched in the face the last time they had met.
I feel like we can expect this guy to hate us, regardless of how this turns out…
The kid screamed.
Rat, Big called him Rat.
Rat screamed, burying his face in his hands.
“My eyes! FAAHHCK!”
The thick boy took a quick step, huge right hand falling toward Kid’s head out the corner of his eye as Kid felt the world dipping into the slower register, letting him watch the hand coming even as he began to respond to it.
Kid spun with the momentum of his spraying arm, holding the paint can, tucking into a tight duck. Whirling in a full spin, spying a knee out the corner of an eye just in time to smash the can into the side of said knee now right in front of his face and closing the distance. The base of the can caught the knee just as the foot began to plant on the ground with all of the committed weight of an upper body descending upon a joint that was not where it was supposed to be. The knee made a loud pop and a softer creak, before crumbling beneath the boy, who cut loose a scream that sounded like a disemboweled jungle cat.
Kid thrust to his feet, darting straight at the wooden sign he had been in the process of paint-claiming, weight centered and then springing up, planting the ball of his foot on the sign, and pushing,
Spinning to launch himself back at the one boy still standing, twisting to fly…
To a … ugh!
Right into the arms of the fat thug, who caught Kid with a hug, arms wrapping around to clasps each other behind Kid’s back, flipping the smaller boy upside down before slamming him into the asphalt parking lot. The air blew out of Kid’s lungs, paint can flopping out of loose fingers, limbs flailing. Rat was curled into a ball, still screaming about his fucking eyes, the boy next to him holding his knee with one hand and trying to work a knife out of his pocket with the other.
Get up. Can’t get stuck on the ground.
And breathe. We should keep doing that, too.
Kid started to push himself to his feet when Fatty started with the kicking, again, as his late arriving associates rushed to join him. This time around Kid didn’t have his bag to shield his back. He flipped around on the ground, trying to get knees and elbows into the path of flying boots.
Ignore the hands! Feet do more damage!
Um, do you hear that?
Red and blue lights flashed across the parking lot, siren piercing the air and getting closer, fast, one of the boys smacked the thick one twice on the arm, yelling about the cops. Rat supported the boy whose knee still didn’t seem to be sitting straight, and as they turned to go, the thick boy pivoted to drop a hard overhead punch into the side of Kid’s head, and then hurried to catch his fleeing comrades. Kid lay in the empty parking lot, eyes closed, as the lights and sirens got closer.
Should we go?
Can we go?
That whole ‘hands hurt less’ bit was bullshit!
I meant normal hands.
Odin’s crusted eye socket, that shit hurt.
Wow. That was awesome.
Getting punched in the head? ‘Cause I disagree?
No, the old school cursing. That’s lots more fun than a fucking f-bomb.
I see what you mean.
I think someone is talking to us.
“I, said, are, you, oh, kay.”
Kid squinted to see a bright glare of lights, and in the middle a head shape that seemed to be the source of the words. Holding a hand over the worst of the lights, Kid saw a man leaning over him. He scurried away, pushing his palms against the asphalt to slide back, away. The man leaned back, holding his hands out, stethoscope pinched between his middle finger and his thumb.
No, it isn’t. Poetic, maybe.
Irony is a stupid word. No one knows what it means.
Not the time.
A man outlined by the brilliant lights trained on Kid sat back on his heels, hands still held before him.
“We’re paramedics, just here making sure you are alright.”
Kid sat with his back against the fence for a moment, then gave a slow, gentle search of his body with his hands, the same searching pat that he gave to a wall he was investigating in the dark. After a few careful moments, he looked up at the paramedic and nodded.
“Good, that’s good. Now I just want to take a look, clean up some of those cuts and scrapes, put some bandages on them. Nothing else.”
He began to inch his way forward, hands still in the air, while Kid stared at him, grabbing his bag and tucking it against his side.
The paramedic pulled out a cloth swab and began dabbing at spots of blood, coming swift with the other hand to apply bandages, held in place with the back of the hand holding the swab, as he made his way across the various wounds Kid had suffered during the fight. While the man worked he talked.
“Hey, there, name’s Michael. You had a bit of a rough one, huh? Lucky to have gotten off with so little by way of injuries, this isn’t that bad at all. Here, pull your leg up so I can get at your knee… there you go, now, I would advise against doing this on any sort of regular basis, but, hold on just a sec, and there, good as new. Weelll, maybe good as just slightly used, but hey, I’m paramedic, not a wizard.”
Kid looked up at the paramedic, who sat back with a smile.
“Ok. Now you just sit here for one minute, I’m gonna go tell the officers that you are ok.”
Um, can we think of any way that this is going to go well for us?
The medic stood, and walked back over to where three other adults in uniforms were standing next to the ambulance and the police car. When he got to where the others were congregated he responded to their question with a reassuring answer, and they all turned to look at the spot by the fence where just a minute ago a little boy had been sitting, bruised and beaten, but bandaged.
Just on the other side of the fence, clutching his bag, Kid ran off alone into the dark.