Published in «Anarchie und Aerosol» (Anarchy and Aerosol),
art catalogue of the corresponding exhibition at the
Historic Museum Baden
By Meili Dschen, Art Critic and Journalist for
«DU» Art Magazine and for
«SF» Switzerlands National Broadcast
Gen U One, aka Gen Atem – today’s kids still lower their voices respectfully on mentioning his name. He, the invisible man, is beset with the aura of legends, despite his works having mostly disappeared from facades and him having bid his farewell from the guard of active sprayers quite some time ago. Myth regards him as the godfather, seminal figure and innovator of the Zurich spray scene; at the same time he is considered an obscure loner, who antagonized the incomprehension of his fellow sprayers. Nonetheless he is respected, admired for his consistency and frequently imitated.
In 1984, when the youth traded the last twitches of uprising for apathy, he began tagging the wastelands of Zurich City. The 17-year-old apprentice of the graphic arts, already immodestly signing as Genius, was one of the first on the scene. Years later he pulled out as one of the most radical, after he had forced open the boundaries of the genre. The spray-can had not sufficed for him anymore. He experimented with stencils, with brush and paint roller, even with welding torch and soldering iron, with which in nocturnal hours he transformed his sprayed objects into three-dimensional installations. For him, as an artist–and nowadays Gen U One defines himself as an artist first and foremost–spraying was just one means of expression out of many, next to performances, video art, music and objects. Under no circumstances he wants to be seen as representative of the so-called graffiti scene or something similar, although back in the days he gained a lot of fame as the king of the Attacking Vandalism Criminals. In daylight AVC lives on as A Virtuous Company, a studio community in Zurich North. It is here where Gen U One is trying out the legal approach to gaining fame, maybe even in terms of money. Here originate his frescoes made from waste objects. Here he works on his book and corresponding video with computer, scanner and camera. It is about the total war of signs, the apocalyptic fight of «letter formations». The story set in a time far away, when symbols have become pure aggression and violence, stripped of any content.
Spearheads, blades, stilettos pierce the letters and in return grow out of angled corners. No more conciliatory curves, only metallic sharpness and forward-pressing power. These are the trademarks of «Ikonoklast Panzerism», a style Gen U One acquired in his New York years with sprayer Rammellzee. For Rammellzee script, as he documented in a pamphlet, equals «the impact of military armament–a composition of symbols meaning destruction and death. The destruction of the alphabet. The death of the dictionary.» Fascinated by these fantasies Gen U One had asked for admittance into the strict hierarchy of the subway tunnel mystic’s crew and worked himself up from being a sidekick and can shaker to a grandmaster. On his inauguration the master dedicated the following sentences to him: «Gen U One, Tag Master Killer and Possessor of the Letter U. General of the unreadable One. Rammellzee's lieutenant in the military formation functions of Ikonoklast Panzerism.
The sinister militancy of Rammellzee's language, his mazy symbolism–a mix of medieval conjuring formulas and pseudo-scientific equations–are reflected in Gen U One’s body of work. The novice has become a monk, a Subway Monk and dweller in somber seclusion, emphasized and set in scene with his appearance–black on black outfit, black spectacles and covered head. He sees himself in the line of medieval monks, who in an era of nescience were in exclusive possession of the script, thus power and the means of communication. As in the intricate netting of the gothic majuscel secret knowledge showed itself, the tag or the yet undecipherable signoverture becomes a warning sign revealing the type guerillas’ threatening powers. In a world reigned by signs, expression is an assault, even though the kids of today won’t get it (and don’t care, for that matter). From his scriptorium, the Zurich-Oerlikon based studio smelling of cast polyester and crammed with digital gear, the Subway Monk is tracking the development of our galaxy with vigilance.