Recently, I began chatting with an artist friend of mine. We met when Indy Hall did their Jellyweek event at National Mechanics. She enjoys doing street art, creating bumper stickers and pasting them on public newspaper boxes. I immediately felt attracted to the subversive nature of the art. It didn’t take us long to realize that I could put one of these stickers into a good old fashioned Perkins brailler and create braille street art.
I would like to think we have done something novel, but not entirely. I found an article about a project in Portland, Oregon. In this case, the message says: “You don’t need to be blind to see that the writing is on the wall.” Excellent! I’ve also seen sculptures with braille plaques on them, and they do have a blind garden somewhere around here. Still I can’t escape the feeling that we have done something special.
We just made these stickers in a few minutes as a totally grass roots operation. The first sticker says “Aaron Swartz died for you!” This references the suicide of an internet freedom fighter arrested for making public domain documents available to the masses free of charge. The FBI wanted to drop charges, but a United States attorney named Carmen Ortiz wanted to send a message, so sentenced him to thirty years in prison. Swartz hanged himself on the anniversary of his arrest. I’d say Ortiz sent a message all right. We also did a special one with another message at the bottom: “I love whistleblowers.” In the future we will have a raised heart instead o the word “love” as they do in print, but this served as a functional prototype for now.
After doing this I began to feel inspired. I next made some with Max Keiser’s slogan: Buy silver, crash J.P. Morgan! The theory goes that J.P. Morgan has a massive short position in silver. If even 5% of the world’s population buys a single coin of silver, this will make the resource scarcer, thus forcing up the price and making it impossible for J.P. Morgan to recover its position. This would then force them to go bankrupt.
Some people do not believe this and question if it will work. Others feel certain it will. Either way it makes a good conversation starter. Besides, owning silver serves as a very real hedge, and offers a way to strike back against the globalist banker parasites which attempt to rule our world. And if you would like to buy some, check out my friends at Liberty Gold and Silver.
Lastly, my friend does a lot of stickers about animal rights, so I did one which said: “Love cats. Always adopt.” We both love cats, so I felt happy to do this. I adopted my cat from the SPCA and couldn’t have asked for a better animal friend.
For the prototype we used freely available postage stickers. She writes her slogan in the blank space. Fortunately I could braille wherever, leaving her the space to write. The combination of print and braille worked very well, and we quickly had them done.
At the bottom of the sticker she wrote “Braille Street Art” to alert sighted people. When we began discussing this idea, I realized a challenge. How would a blind person know to read the braille? We don’t just go around feeling every surface. Hopefully this will encourage a sighted person to point it out if traveling with a blind person.
I didn’t know this, but street artists frequently use symbols to sign their works. My friend uses a pair of cat ears. We wondered about a symbol for me, and decided on the glyph for my Mayan birthday. She quickly fashioned an approximation, good enough for now. So it has her cat ears, an X like a multiplication symbol, and my Mayan glyph. Artists doing a collaboration use this “a X b” style of symbol.
Finally I showed her the top left corner of the stickers so she could affix them properly. Nothing sucks more than seeing an upside-down braille label on something. From my point of view they looked perfect, or should I say they felt perfect. I left the top part of the sticker blank for writing, vertically centering the braille more or less. They use grade II braille, which uses contractions. A blind person will know that another blind person had to make the them.
We gathered up the stickers and headed out to the #NotAtSXSW party at Drink Philly. We discussed where we wanted to apply our masterpieces while in the cab. We suddenly knew exactly where to go. We slightly changed our destination and ended up at our old friend, Indy Hall. The City paper box in front of it made a perfect target. She made some final adjustments to the stickers while I smoked a pipe. Then in a flash it happened. The box now had two subversive stickers affixed to it. I felt them. Aaron Swartz died for you! Buy silver, crash J.P. Morgan! This made me feel empowered, and a certain new type of giddy thrill. Now I understood the attraction to creating art, especially this type of art, and I wanted to do more.
The deed done, we headed over to Drink Philly and had a wonderful night networking and chatting with a cross section of Philadelphia’s wonderful tech/startup community. We decided to post a photograph on Twitter and already it has gotten some mentions, so people like what they see. I feel fantastic!
Stay tuned, because we will have plenty of more braille street art. Perhaps you will see it or maybe even feel it. And if you do chance upon it while with a blind person, kindly point it out to them. I can only imagine the weird sensation a blind person will have reading these rousing slogans. We simply don’t encounter braille in a public art form like this very often. Before this I had never encountered graffiti, or street art. Now a whole new world of expression has opened up to me. I wonder what we will do next. By the way, that bastion of truth Wikipedia defines street art as “specifically visual art.” Not anymore!