Back in August, I met with one of the founding contributors for the online magazine The Enemy. Their stickers checker the city, plastered on street signs or hanging around the washrooms of your favourite music venue. The Enemy covers music, art and culture in Winnipeg. They tell the stories of outcasted individuals while challenging the inherent privilege implied in access to art and culture. Their piece on sneaking in to Folk Fest was irreverent and thorough.
At Café Postal, late Sunday morning, we wait in line while chatting briefly about our weekends. I order a coffee, the enemy a tea. As we take a seat outside, he pulls an insulin pouch and banana from his backpack. I ask if it’s okay for me to photograph the process, and he shrugs, “I used to be self-conscious about it, but now I think it’s good to be visible.” His only request is that I not photograph his face or reveal his name. In the tradition of street artists, many of The Enemy’s contributors prefer to remain anonymous as a way of protecting the work they do.
From Postal, we wind our way through Saint Boniface: the enemy puts up stickers on stop signs and dumpsters; we chat about gender representation in rap music; we point out our favourite homes in the area. Ever game, he offers to climb a tree in front of one of these homes. A window opens, and we're asked to leave in rapid but polite French.
Our conversation flows easily from one topic to the next. I fall in and out of recording, fumbling for my phone every time we circle back to The Enemy.
FULL: One of the main ways I know about your work is because of your stickers. Tell me about the thinking behind them.
the enemy: Stickers were an easy point of entry. They’re fun and you can do whatever you want with them. They don’t cost much to print out; you can put them everywhere; you can have other people put them everywhere; and people love stickers.
Putting up stickers is something influenced by graffiti. It’s that same mentality of wanting to have your name up everywhere, always be up, and just see yourself around the city. It’s egotistical. At the same time, we see billboards everywhere, and companies are allowed to occupy public space just because they have the money to do so. We’ve decided to occupy that same public space in a more artistic manner without paying.
It’s interesting to see how handing out stickers leads to interpretations on the way we’re represented. We give stickers to kids in skate parks, people who are psyched on them. It’s a point of entry.
Skating and graffiti are two things that we’re looking to do more content on right now. There’s a huge cultural base for graffiti in Winnipeg and it doesn’t get talked about much. Because of the popularity of street art and murals, there’s one side of the graffiti identity as this clean cut thing, or a belief that all graffiti artists want to advance to doing murals, and tags are trashy, on the level with arson. In reality, what I’ve heard from graffiti writers and what I’ve seen, the tag is the base. It's a way to grow and be able to do the work. There would be no street artists without tags.
Graffiti itself is way more a war zone than it is an artistic forum. It’s using art to make war, or show power. Getting your name up and seeing yourself is a display of that power. There are elements that people who aren’t part of that world don’t get. They look at street art and go, “Oh this is nice,” or with tags, “This is just someone being mischievous.” There’s a lot more depth to it from what I’ve seen.
FULL: It’s a classing of art.
te: Yeah, from what I’ve seen, the artists think of it not as art, but as an obsession. They throw themselves into it, and get better at art through it, but they’re painting because they need to, and want to cross out these other people. It’s a captivating approach. I want to show that more.
Graffiti extrapolates to so many other things too, like rap music. People see The Enemy as being tied to hip hop. I think it’s because there’s a lack of reporting on rap and hip hop in Winnipeg. That’s something we started out doing, so we’re identified as belonging to that group. It would be a huge oversight for us not to continue to cover that scene. For the biggest powers that push culture, this is the stuff that’s going on.
So mentally, that’s where we’re at right now with content. We want to cover different kinds of stories, but continue to offer information about the music scene in Winnipeg. People look to The Enemy to find out about what’s going on. Keeping that up is key and we’re passionate about it.
FULL: How did you land on the name The Enemy?
te: It plays on the idea of the media being “the enemy” because it shapes our perception of things and our perception shapes our reality. But at the same time, the media operates in these spaces where when we interact with creative people like musicians, we’re telling a part of their story. We’re exposing their story. What we think of them shapes that reporting and that will shape how other people see them. In that way, we can be "the enemy” to the people whose story we’re telling if they don’t like our version of their story.
We’re also a kind of enemy to the middle-class, white Winnipegers who appreciate the culture of people of colour and outcasted people without actually appreciating the outcasted people. We’ll sometimes get responses like, “It’s rad that you did a piece on Super Duty, but why did you do that piece on sexism in Winnipeg? I don’t see any sexism in Winnipeg.” That’s where you go, “Okay, this isn’t for you.” Or even better, “This is to challenge your views; you are probably the number one person who should be reading this stuff.”
FULL: The diversity and perspective of your stories is a valuable one.
te: That’s why we made a change in the subtitle of the site to “No Culture,” because we want to disavow. When I’m writing, I try not to codify things into genre. And if I do, it’s tongue-and-cheek. Just because I write a piece on graffiti or hip hop doesn’t mean I can’t expand into other areas. Because I’m going to be writing about the next punk show after that, or there’s going to someone else coming in and writing about the Indigenous experience in Winnipeg. It’s just about producing work we think is cool and interesting.
And people like that stuff the most I think, when they feel it’s not made for them. It plays on an insecurity and causes people to focus in. We’re all individualistic and egotistical because of the society we live in. There’s a feeling of, “Why isn’t this for me? It should be for me, because everything’s for me.” You end up learning and branching out because of that base insecurity.
FULL: I wanted to ask more about the torch figure that I see on your website and Instagram.
te: We spent time as a group developing a mythology around The Torch. The Torch is not from earth, The Torch is from a planet light years, tight years, away: hundreds and thousands of tight years away. He was beamed down to Earth and landed in Winnipeg a couple of hundred years ago. He’s an out-of-space representation of the inspiration you can get from being in Winnipeg. He’s touched different people at different points in history, and this is our time to hold on to The Torch.
FULL: What brought you to the idea of The Torch?
te: We took a lot of time to develop something because we wanted it to be representative of things we see in Winnipeg. I came up with this thought of zombification: the hatred of being here in the winter and being stuck in these smaller scenes where you see other people seemingly doing larger things. I wanted something that would represent the battle against that zombification and then our art director, she perfectly personified that in The Torch.
FULL: Do you have a specific connection to fire?
te: When I walk through downtown and a lot of the neighbourhoods outside more vibrant communities like St B or the Exchange, those spaces seem lacking to me. There are a lot of grey buildings. Even here, there are a lot of buildings like that bank across the street: bland, brutal architecture. The thing that I found kept me in Winnipeg, and the thing that we all agreed on, was the people, and the kind of artistic fire that comes from being in this environment that can be a bit depressing. It’s battling against that. Sparking a fire in people was the best representation of that for us.
FULL: Fire is also a connection with burning something down, changing things, a violent upheaval.
te: It’s definitely cleansing. As a metaphor for creativity, fire’s something tough to control at times, so you have to allow yourself to be out of control and not know what you’re doing and still working on things even in that place of not knowing. And that can inspire people to start other things, to do art or start writing. Even if they don’t feel confident yet, doing it is important.