Despite being having been accepted in the art community as a well-known and signifiant graffiti artist, Alan Ket, a CEO and the graffiti and environment consultant on Marc Ecko’s Getting Up, was prosecuted on graffiti charges using mostly evidence found on his computer:
The case could pose an important test for prosecutors and the police, since Mr. Maridueña was never caught in the act and has no previous criminal record in New York City. Instead, the government’s case appears to be based largely on what prosecutors say is the unmistakable detail of his graffiti signature — his “KET” tag — and the fact that the tag is visible on photographs of illegal subway graffiti that were entered into Mr. Maridueña’s home computer only hours after identical work was discovered on subway cars.
That’s right. He was never caught in the act. The only evidence is his tag and image files on his computer. This is one of those cases in which new media and the internet have that ambiguous relation to power. On the one hand, you can put up your images so the whole world can see. On the other, those images link back to your real world body and state legal action. Having a graffiti tag is a lot like having a screenname. It isn’t a legal birth name. You wouldn’t sign your checks with it. Part of the reason you use a tag name is to detach the art from your physical, open-to-legal-sanction body. Similarly, screennames have been hailed as detached from the body as well, offering a kind of telepresence as opposed to embodiment. Setting aside the problems with that position, this example of Alan Ket demonstrates how power still manages to function in the same way; through presence and signature, even when dealing with codenames and digital media.
My final thought on this: what kind of precident is being set? Images and videos of people getting up are all over the internet. Will law enforcement just start going after anyone with graffiti videos on their YouTube account? Will this stiffle some of that activity which seems strongly correlated with the upswing in popular attention to what has classically been a marginalized artform? What happens to a blog like Wooster Collective, which has an oddly appropriate image up today?