Think about the different ways you mark your possessions to set them apart from others’. How often does the thing or practice we use to make such a distinctive mark end up having some built-in aesthetic value in and of itself? The line between identifying something as “yours” (amongst a group of similar-looking objects owned by others) and trying to make a statement about your customized object – and by extension, yourself – is vanishingly thin. In this shop selling birds in Amman, Jordan proof of the desire to customize and mark (even living things) is on display.
Of course, when the thing that is “owned” is not a living individual but a large system – like a city’s sidewalk – consider all the ways that said marking must change to accommodate its role, shifting on a spectrum from aesthetically to functionally driven, from personally significant (for the owner) to publicly significant (for those charged with maintaining the system). Even something as mundane as the very ground we walk upon comes with its own claims, properties, and operating instructions, although it begs the question of what instructions around us are intentionally kept beyond the realm of the easily understood.
On that note, Mayo Nissen has done some beautiful work around this with his “Invisible Boxes” project, which I’d highly recommend taking a deeper look at if you (like me) enjoy the inscrutable little wall- and pole-mounted devices that control, sense, and survey many aspects of modern urban life. Imagine choosing cities based upon their citizen data usage and storage policies, where agreeing to terms and conditions is implicit in the signature of your lease.