AuthorNuart

Martyn Reed: One, Two, Three … Swing!

One, Two, Three … Swing!

On “Duality” BLACKWHITE for Autodidact Magazine.

Martyn Reed is an artist, researcher, producer and in his own words, an “ambivalent curator” dedicated to the democratisation of art production through the promotion of street art practice. His projects are designed as a critical response to the cultural hegemony whilst offering a celebration of radical DIY alternatives. He is a graduate of Jacob Kramer (Leeds) and Hornsey School of Art (London).

Arts and culture journalists often ask how and why I started Nuart, what was it that gave me the impetus to create and curate a “Street Art” festival. Nuart was established in 2001 as the sister festival to Numusic, an electronic music festival that I established in 2000 in an attempt to bridge the gap between contemporary academic art music and club culture, “High Art” and “Low Art” if you like, my body decidedly occupying the “low”, whilst my mind tried to connect the dots on the “high” side.

Nuart operates between a similar duality, “Art as Art” and “Art as Life”, between an establishment art built on “specific knowledge” being imparted from on high, and a more autonomous DIY art built on a type of “nonknowledge”, the picking over and reconstituting of elements from the detritus of life. It’s between this duality, in the area that critical biologist Gilles Clement has termed “The Third Landscape”, a fragmentary territory, imbued with great symbolic value but nevertheless residual, undecided, suspended, that genuine and critical street art situates itself. It occupies a kind of totally autonomous zone where real life, and by default real art, lives and dies. Nuart was created primarily to provide a platform where the work created between the light and shadow of moonlit chiarascurro’esque back streets, could for a short moment, shine; and then, if necessary, die back into itself.

I could equally tell these journalists that we continue with Nuart because over the years we’ve seen many contemporary art institutions and their curators become neoliberal courtiers to the elite, consummate careerists whose loyalty is to their own advancement and the stature of the institutions they work for rather than Art per se. Or how about, the Contemporary Art Museum, like all elite institutions, has become a hermetically sealed echo chamber staffed by mediocre “liberal” careerists paying lip service to “issues” in the hope of one day being invited to curate another provincial “biennale banal”, dripping with doctorate privilege whilst exploiting rather than properly exploring issues faced by migrants and the poor. Or perhaps I could mention that for decades, the state has imprisoned poor people for expressing themselves through art on the only surface they have access to, the cities walls, whilst artists and the institutions and associations that supposedly represent this virtuous thing called “Art” have remained criminally silent about their incarceration. Or, It’s not that I don’t like curators, it’s just that many seem to live in a sealed white cube whose walls are the boundaries of their total existence, an existence populated by the myths and legends of an art history more commonly used to disenfranchise those less privileged than themselves. A $100 million Documenta on Capitalism anyone? (L)Earning from Athens indeed. Or, how about, the police have been known to shoot people of colour engaged in creating art, allegedly mistaking the spraycan for a handgun, and again the art world sits idly by whilst young artists bleed into the dirt, many art institutions and curators still quite happy to denounce the art they make, the Graffiti and Street Art, under the general rubrik of “that’s not real art”, whilst genuflecting to the niche aesthetic interests of the affluent middle class.

So yes, there has to be alternatives to this duality, right?

Where to look, where to look, how to liberate art, or at least some part of it, alongside the resources that go with it, from the clutches of this bourgeois cultural hegemony?

The art critic Dave Hickey has said that given the social advantages that most artists and those in the “art world” grow up with, “ considering the extensiveness of their educations and the enormous public and private investment in their artistic freedom, art should be more interesting and exciting than it is”, and I have to say, a recent visit to Superflex at the Tate’s Turbine Hall proved him right. One, Two, Three, Swing, and activist lite “Place-Making” moves to confirm its position as the art tourists conscience, “Place Taking” as someone called it. In the meantime, Soul of a Nation, Art in the Age of Black Power, on show on the second floor, depicting decades of institutionalised racism is positively ignored by those lolling and laughing on the multi-coloured carpet and swings below. A comparison with the Archibald Motley painting in “Soul of a Nation” depicting a KKK lynching is hard to ignore. One, two, three, Swing. The space between this duality as vast as the Turbine Hall itself.

Having been forged in the margins of a Northern city, a place of odd vernaculars with people that innately understand how systems of power work, then the street seemed the obvious place to return to after finding the contemporary art world lacking in either intellectual independence or moral courage. To be honest I didn’t know what I might find on my way back to the street. There didn’t seem to be much beyond flyers and urban design when I left for University and the Wild West of an Art School that promised but failed to deliver up new frontiers. What I did discover, after a good deal of “unlearning”, was as surprising as it was quotidian, a new type of art that had the potential to reconstitute what we think of as “good art”, an advanced type of democratic public art that used the tactical strategies of graffiti alongside the aesthetic and conceptual rigour I’d found in contemporary art. An art still uncontaminated by an art history defined by a privileged few. This parallel art was slowly gaining traction amongst those either disaffected or unconcerned by the “art world” and was appearing in the most unlikely “Third Landscape” neighbourhoods.

Now jump. Duality. What leads a working class boy to substitute “day to day” in a sentence with “quotidian”? Did you notice that ?
But first, we need to go back…way back. Rewind my selecta, rewind!

Derrida, Malthus, Althusser, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Adorno, Foucault after his acid trip, Horkheimer, Marcuse, Habermas, Lacan, Barthes, Wittgenstein, someone called Sauserre, if I remember correctly, more Baudrillard, McLuhan but not really, Structuralism, Post Structurlaism (leave the typo in, they’ll get it), Semiotics, Signs, Signifiers, linguistics, hyper-real, Benjamin but not really, pragmatism, post-modernism, Bourdieu, Lefebvre (how do you even pronounce that), and Debord, always Debord. Slavoj Žižek deserves his own sentence.

Plato, Descarte then jump to Kant, Hegel, Marx and Heideggar (wasn’t he a Nazi?)
Malarmé, Rilke, Borges, Camus, Sartre, Brecht, Ibsen, Blake, Goethe, Balzac, Dostoevsky, Saramago, Calvino, Ballard always Ballard, Eco, Danté, Bjørneboe (trust me on this one), Eggers (maybe), David Foster Wallace (but only the youtube edits), Murakami (White Jazz?), Irwin Welsh, fuck off. Will Self, sometimes. And now too many to list. I saw a stencil on the street some years ago that simply stated “Read more books”, it had the power of a thousand artworks.

Discovering Cubism, Expressionism, Futurism, then backtracking to Cezanne, becoming a Fauvist for a week, Surrealism, DADA, Abstract Expressionism slipping into esotericism, art infecting life, Blavatsky, Crowley, the OTO, Magick with a K, Chaos Magick, the Kabbalah, Gnostic Mass, Thelema, thinking what a load of tosh and out the other side to Pop art but not before helping Stewart McKenzie hang himself from a bridge over a motorway by his left leg whilst emulating “The Hanged Man” from the Tarot Card deck, but that’s another story. Fluxus, Arte Povera (aren’t we all), Conceptual Art (I’m sold) and then the YBA’s, conceptual art with a Northern accent. Carravagio because dirty fingernails why not, though as we’re talking “duality” perhaps that’s way too much body and not enough mind. Art and Language.

Speaking of the body…

…“Shhhh, listen, they’re fighting again”. We carefully untangled ourselves from the dirty parkas that acted as our winter duvets and tiptoed to the door quiet as frightened mice, GET OFF ME YA BASTARD, slap, muffled groans, the sound of furniture being dragged, YOO FUCKIN BITCH, I’LL KILL YA, muffled noises, One, Two, Three, Swing, something shatters.

Quick, my brother hushed, find a weapon, without a word we scanned the room, this’ll hurt him I thought as I tried in vain to lift the cast iron grate from the old fireplace. I’ll take that, whispered brother, here, take this. He emptied out my toy box and handed me the balsa wood orange crate, as light as the grate was dark. I lifted it above my head with one hand, this isn’t gonna do much damage I thought.
Grasping the soot covered grate with both hands way down by his belly, my brother led the way. A single flight of stairs with us small enough to descend shoulder to shoulder. Climbing over the congealed mountain of old coats at the bottom of the stairs, we readied ourselves. Let’s get him. Together, we shoved open the door, my brother stepped through, little me just behind waving the box. Get off ‘er we shouted, leave er alone. He stood there towering, 6 foot 1 in his stocking feet, 18 stone of crushed dreams, chips & white bread, pot bellied, unshaven, white vested and red faced. A cartoon of a bully foregrounding strips of mismatched and peeling wallpaper bought at the market.
Put those fucking things down and get back upstairs to bed before you get a fucking good hiding he bellowed. No punctuation. Leave er alone, one of us said again.

She was sat on the sofa with her head in her hands looking as dishevelled as the living room, tears to match the mismatched wallpaper streaked her face. It’s alright boys, go back to bed, yer Mam’s alright, it’s nothing, just an argument, everything’s all right. But he’s hitting you again. No, no, it’s alright love, we just had an argument.
And then a silence so deafening I thought my head would burst. I felt the temperature of the room slipping back to normal. I wasn’t scared of him, and never would be after this. I put the orange crate down and turned to leave. I helped my big but still little brother heave the grate back up to the room, covered in decades old Dickensian soot. We climbed back into bed in silence, and listened. Silence and listened. It was at this point a tiny internal voice gently whispered, you can take your place here, but you should not call it home. All quiet on the western front, I slipped my leg into the arm of a parka and drifted off to wherever 4 year olds went, my big yet still little brother Steve, would have been 5 and a 1/2 at the time.

Shortly after, two things happened in quick succession. One, Mam’s belly swelled up and produced the first of what would eventually be three, brown baby brothers, and two, I had a drawing, a crayon rubbing of a comb and some coins to be exact, chosen at Nursery School to be exhibited in the corridor. It is these two events, three if you count the violence, that has informed everything since, including the creation of Nuart. Though perhaps this is a tad too convoluted an explanation for your average in-flight mag.

It would be another 12 years before she eventually left him.

Philosopher Sandra Bartky’s argues that women have been subjected to a modernization of this domestic abuse, one that conforms closely to that described by Foucault in Discipline and Punish, but there was nothing “modern” about my introduction to domestic violence, it was positively “pre-modern” in style and technique. The black eye, a brutal #metoo for the working class woman. Body.

It took 20 years before I managed to assume an existence outside of the material conditions that being born poor brought with it, and another couple before I employed the word quotidian in a sentence.

It’s these ruptures in daily life and language, these fragmenting external realities we experience, that art has the power and responsibility to tackle and if necessary heal, to be the third landscape between dualities of art and language, between high-low, rich-poor, mind-body, love-hate, left-right, right-wrong, black-white.
Street Art is now being challenged, shut down by the persuasive architectures of institutional authoritarianism, undermined by the cultural elite, sidelined as a hipster pastime and presented as Shoreditch wallpaper used instrumentally to gentrify swathes of run down real estate. But dig a little deeper. If you’re questioning the validity of Street Art these days, of its power to build communities that celebrate the true expanse of creative possibilities in the spaces between, ask yourself why? Who wants you to think this way?

Not everything is always so black & white.

Original text for Autodidact Magazine Dec 2017.

Poesia & Ekg

We include this exhibition text in the journal as it covers ground rarely explored in either writings on contemporary art or street art/graffiti

A Major Minority: An Intercontinental Survey of Othercontemporary Urban Art

Exhibition Statement written by Poesia and Ekg.

Poesia (US)

Born in 1976, Poesia Transcend is a self-taught San Francisco Bay Area artist. During his early years as a graffiti writer at the turn of the nineties, he was recognized for his experimental Wildstyle pieces. In the middle of the decade, he became involved with the Transcend Collective. During this period, Poesia became one of the pioneering practitioners of what became known as Abstract Graffiti

Poesia is also the founder of the website Graffuturism.com that has led to the Graffuturist group or Graffuturism Movement. Graffuturism was founded in 2010.

EKG (US)

Somewhere between graffiti writer and street artist, EKG has made a name for himself with the quick stroke of his signature orange paint.  His work resonates with the energy of the city. Dilapidated buildings, dirty subway stations, doorways, dumpsters — this artist leaves no surface untouched.  A visual representation of the heartbeat — his work is simple yet easily recognizable and effective.  Each time you encounter one of his tags, you get a sense that we are all somehow connected through the city.  EKG reminds us all that it is our collective energy — the people — that brings life to NYC.

 

A Major Minority is an international exhibition consisting of urban artists from eighteen countries. Over a hundred artists will each be contributing three-to-five pieces, resulting in a massive survey of three- to five-hundred works of art. The concept and title of the show were developed by the graffiti artist Poesia, who is also the editor of Graffuturism.com and the cultural instigator at the center of the growing interest in abstract, progressive and hybrid Graffiti art forms. He elected to exhibit this large quantity and particular group of artists in order to display the wide spectrum of progressive hybrid aesthetics within the othercontemporary Urban Art community. This intensive and extensive sampling of stylistic specimens illustrates the broad continuum of approaches and aesthetics that fall under the purview of this art form, without focusing on any one sub-genre exclusively. His only stipulation was the size of the pieces, which he designated as the international standard “A4” (or 8.3″ x 11.7″) in order to symbolically emphasize the global scope of the survey, as well as the international cultural dominance of Urban Art at this time in art history.

By amassing this huge survey, Poesia presents the current Post-historical aesthetic moment of our Global Village as the natural evolution from the original form of Graffiti which manifested in the late Sixties. Both the above terms were created and defined fifty years ago in 1964 when they were developed independently by Arthur Danto and Marshall McLuhan in their works The End of Art and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man respectively. Coincidentally, these two visionary texts articulated our new world during the same decade that Graffiti appeared within the urban environments of Philadelphia and New York City. At first Graffiti was simply known as Writing by the progenitors of the movement, but then the term Graffiti began to be used in the mass media, and it stuck in the consciousness of the populace and the next generation of writers as well. Since that time, this singular art form has gone through many more progressive mutations as it developed. Even within the last fifteen years, since the turn of the new millennium, Graffiti has found itself once again rejuvenated by the re-emergence of Street Art, which became a powerful cultural, aesthetic, and marketplace force this time around. As traditional Graffiti merges with Street Art and becomes what we have come to call Urban Art, A Major Minority illustrates this current maturity and intellectual self-awareness of itself in all it’s iterations and as the major global art form, expressing and engaging our post-historical, global village culture and psyche at the turn of the new millennium.

Despite this maturity, Urban Art has always remained on the edges of the art world and has never been bestowed true institutional recognition. At this point, Urban Art is a highly-developed movement with a rich fifty-year history, consisting of a wide-ranging community of practitioners, fans, merchants, and some institutional supporters. The use of the term Othercontemporary Art, coined by Stefano Antonelli, was settled upon during the discourse generated by the process of writing this exhibition statement, and encapsulates the concept that this is an art form which has always existed alongside but outside of what has become known as Contemporary Art by the critical, intellectual and institutional fine art communities. The term incorporates, but is not exclusive to, the ideals of The Other, Outsider Art and the recognition of an alternative version of art history of which Graffiti and its iterations are at the center of. The use of Othercontemporary is an attempt to create a specific and meaningful adjective for our proper nouns — Graffiti, Street Art and Urban Art — but it can also be used as an umbrella for those three terms, especially when used in opposition to the term Contemporary Art.

Because Urban Art has been misunderstood and ignored by institutions and their current version of art history, it was necessary to attempt to initiate and standardize a unique term that would augment and define this outsider art form. Over the past fifty years, Urban Art has not been canonized within the realm of Fine Art, but has actually been the singularly new, culturally relevant and globally dominant art form all along. At this point the term Contemporary Art has become so broad and meaningless that it ultimately only means art that is of the now, and yet it still remains one of the most common terms used when attempting to assign cultural relevance and historical pertinence to art. The term also actually falls into the same category as Post-modernism and Altermodernism, because it is merely another extension of the term Modernism, which had been used interchangeably with Contemporary up until the second half of the twentieth century, when Modernism began to sound antiquated and irrelevant. So, the decision to use the term Othercontemporary is an attempt to co-opt and subvert the term Contemporary and revitalize discussion around it. Whether the term itself is accurate or useful will be finalized only over time. Just like any other term that arises through cultural exchange, it will either die or live on, depending on its long-term viral cultural usage. This is only the beginning of that discourse, and over all, really, it still is mainly an adjective to the term Urban Art which will ultimately come to define this century, as Modernism is used to summarize the century before this.

So, Othercontemporary Art, a term which we define as having originated with Graffiti, extends its arms around Graffiti’s iterations and all are overseen by the umbrella term Urban Art, which contains in harmony and equality all these hybrid aesthetic forms which have originated outside the circumscription of traditional modernist theory and the established twentieth century art world, as well as civil society, the legal system, and the adult world. As mentioned, Graffiti manifested originally as Writing in the late Sixties. It was discovered and developed solely in the hands of adolescents through illegal marker and spray paint aesthetic interactions on the walls of the streets and the surfaces of subway cars in urban environments, with Philadelphia and New York City being at ground zero. Because of their extremely young age and unawareness of art history, Writing/Graffiti was truly an instinctual singular aesthetic cultural manifestation of our post-historical global village. New discoveries and innovations were transmitted by them directly and immediately on a daily basis from these public broadcast surfaces to each other and the general public as well. The marks were then analyzed and critiqued at “writer’s benches” around the city, and eventually in the form of photos appearing in periodicals, zines, books and electronic media as well. From these humble beginnings, the movement has continued to develop over the past fifty years due to the unique participatory and non-exclusionary nature of these means of transmission, therefore making it easily accessible to anyone and everyone in the urban environment. Because of these broadcast elements, the Graffiti signal is democratically assimilated, even though it is anarchistically disseminated. At first, these signals were transmitted only by illegal means, but as supporters were found and other avenues became available, the graffiti style was also broadcast on “legal walls,” therefore broadcasting Graffiti from the realms of Public Art, Community Art and Mural Art as well.

This interaction of the public with Urban Art and its populist acceptance by the majority has been portrayed as a negative aspect of the art form by the elitist gallery and institutional art world culture. Graffiti at its semiotic core though, because of the illegal nature of the medium it is broadcast through, is inherently an expression of populism and protest; Therefore it is important not to deny the mass attraction to it, but to recognize it’s communicative power, individualist nature, anti-status-quo subversion, and alternative community building aspects. As a matter of fact, we choose to wear it’s popularity as a badge of honor and a symbol of the successful infiltration, reception, and assimilation of our contentions with the critical, intellectual and academic elites, as well as all systems of societal, political and cultural control. Therefore, we embrace all styles and aesthetics that are visually engaging, but also that utilize this direct means of connection with the public within its own domain — the urban landscape — and transmit a message of transgression with the semiotic aura imbued by the illegal nature of the art form, whether it is expressed as direct action on the streets; as a stylistic homeopathy in the form of legal public art; as fashion, design or fine art commodities; and even in the constant visual and textual dialogue generated by it’s presence on the streets.

Each of the artists in the show has their own approach to and interpretation of this form of art, whether they emphasize style, concept, or medium at this stage in their development. But at it’s genesis, this movement is rooted in the act of unsanctioned mark making in the streets, which on some level has guided and influenced everything to follow. This may be the true basis of contention by critics and institutions, who feel unconscious trepidation about promoting an art form that developed from illegal actions that brutishly and anarchistically challenge polite civil society, cultural mores, the legal system, and ultimately the capitalist economic system of profits and private property, specifically when it pertains to who controls public visual display and communications. Whether intentional by the individual practitioner or not, Urban Art is a form of protest based in a public transgressive act, a visual civil disobedience that utilizes illegal aesthetic manifestations to broadcast disobedience from urban display surfaces. These illegal visual disturbances within the urban matrix may be one of the most important aesthetic and cultural questions of our time, and, as the separation between economic classes continues to widen, this collective cultural query will eventually need to be answered with something other than the current legal system’s definition of these aesthetic acts. Their utilization of the simplistic definition of these aesthetic protests as merely Vandalism does not address the deeper meaning of the collective cultural statement. The element of illegality at the genesis and core of this art form not only has driven the formation of style, choice of tools, and development of an alternative community, but also ultimately questions the existing societal and economic global systems and structures currently crumbling under the weight of the selfishness and myopia of the 1% ruling corporate class. This is not just an art form that speaks for the 99% aesthetic class, but ends up also challenging the 1% economic class in a similar way that Occupy Wallstreet does.

On the whole, this movement consists of a collective set of contradictions that embody today’s othercontemporary aesthetics, post-modern society and post-structural themes, as well as the economic, cultural, social and legal paradoxes in play. Poesia has chosen to focus this survey on artists he is familiar with from the context of Graffuturism, which as well as being the name of a website, has become recognized as a unique term he created to encapsulate the progressive hybrid aesthetic forms that have developed from the original discoveries of Graffiti. Even in the title itself, A Major Minority references the deconstructive influence of opposites and a network of disjunctions present in the survey, which is where much of the aesthetic power of previous but especially this particular phase of the movement comes from: activist/idealist, illegal/legal, graffiti/street art, letterform/non-calligraphic, popular culture/fine art, representational/non-representational, figurative/abstract, geometric/organic, minimal/expressionist, conceptual/aesthetic.

One could compare this level of development to parallels in the growth of any aesthetic form. At first an original aesthetic form is born as a crude undeveloped mark, equivalent to a new born baby, which then grows up and matures, learning to walk, talk and eventually explore all its possible facets, becoming intellectualized and formalized over time. An equivalent comparative example is Cubism. It’s birth had it’s genesis in the brute force, color palette and primitive shapes of Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon. This moment in the manifestation of Cubism would be equivalent to the brute force of the illegal transgressions, crude tools, and primitive hand-drawn marks of the original tags of the Graffiti movement. In the second phase, the refinements of Picasso and Braque during the genesis and core explorations of deconstructed space and time of pure Cubism can be compared to the development of Wildstyle in the Graffiti movement. Wildstyle developed from the basic tag to a complex and unique calligraphic style of fast-flowing letterforms, eventually completely deconstructing the letterforms into abstractions of unreadable tags and piecing during the Golden Age of Subway Graffiti, all of which was guided by the impetus to work fast in order to avoid being arrested and the tactile nature of spray paint and ink markers.

Then in the third phase of aesthetic development, which in the case of Graffiti has lasted a few decades and included many sub-movement explorations, Cubism launched into a state of hybridization called Synthetic Cubism, when Picasso and Braque explored and combined other influences, such as contrasting color palettes, collage, impressionist painterly techniques, and other iterations within the Cubist style. This is the phase that Graffuturism falls into, which has also been called abstract, progressive and hybrid graffiti. It is an implosion of synthesis, an inclusion of all other art historical aesthetic forms, as well as any other kind of visual expression from pop culture, outsider art, illustration, advertising, and anything else that an artist may be attracted to. Once a form has developed to an extreme of complexity, artists search for their own voice within the movement by turning to their individual interests outside of the movement, including any other forms and tools, their indigenous cultural backgrounds and their particular historical roots. These three phases of aesthetic development can be applied to many movements from their crude genesis to their maturation as fully explored and extended aesthetic forms.

The above analysis of aesthetic development specifically situates the progressive forms of Graffuturism in the third stage of the formal growth of Graffiti. Urban Art on the other hand should not be seen as a linear extension from Graffiti, but as an umbrella term encapsulating the whole movement and all its sub-genres, much as the term Modernism covers many different movements that fall within the previous hundred years. Urban Art is a term that developed outside of the subculture and still rubs many practitioners the wrong way as yet another attempt at appropriation and gentrification, much like the term Graffiti still irritates many of the first generation of Writers and Street Art irritates many of those that considered themselves Graffiti Artists. The term Urban Art first appeared in the nineties within the advertising industry in the form of Urban Market in order to create a category of consumers consisting of urbanites who were into hip hop, graffiti, break dancing, and other connected cultural elements. Eventually Urban Art, an iteration of the advertising term, was adopted by the fine art auction houses for their Graffiti and Street Art auctions, which they applied even more broadly, to include skateboard-related art, Pop Surreal paintings, and many other forms.

Although the term Urban Art developed for economic purposes outside of the culture, it has come to be recognized by many within the movement as an acceptable term because these art forms could not have appeared in any other context than that of the urban environment. The realization of the broadcast function of urban public surfaces and the semiotic power derived from its illegal transmission are keys to the development of Urban Art. The urban environment offers of a matrix of concentrated societal elements that create a cultural frission when transgressed by the simple act of making an unsanctioned mark within it. Therefore artists can manifest their rebellious identities or revolutionary statements through public aesthetic actions that make powerful statements because of the semiotic aura accrued by their transmission through this media and the huge amount of people they can reach. Through these anarchistic actions artists can create autonomous omnipresent identities, entities equivalent to and in opposition to the massive corporate and legal authorities, as well as expressing more complex and subtle aesthetic statements and political philosophies. We accept all these entities created under the umbrella of Urban Art as statements and forms which are inherently valid and universally driven by our current cultural context. Writing was the originating signal, the original sin, an alternative deviant renegade code, the evidence and expression of our developing global village surveillance state that initiates when you appear as a biological blip on the radar, a tracking number for observance by the oppressive structures in place, and paradoxically expressed by Graffiti’s instinctual opposition to these systems, a semiotic guerilla action, taking to the streets and scrambling communications, creating new channels, spreading a hacker’s virus.

All of these terms from Graffiti to Urban Art, even if an attempt by outsiders to categorize and monetize a movement they really didn’t understand, still caught on and do ultimately define commonalities that fall outside of conventional markets, styles and theory because of their roots in the broadcast channel discovered by graffiti writers. Although there have recently been visionary curators such as Jeffrey Deitch and Cedar Lewisohn who come from a passionate and compassionate understanding of the movement, and who have successfully begun to champion and canonize the art form, there is still an overall lack of critical analysis, historical understanding, and theoretical thought on the matter. With the benefit of hindsight, driven by an outsider’s impetus and our insider’s passion, we hope to inspire and focus the spotlight and microscope on this situation. Utilizing and mutating current vocabulary and archeological dissection of intellectual objects, we hope to translate the why and how this movement was born, subsequently to become a globally dominant art form. Research being done by Poesia, Carlos Mare, Ekg, Martin Irvine, Martyn Reed, Anna Waclawec, Stefano Antonelli, Daniel Feral, and others who can utilize a scholar’s vocabulary and terminology to explain this movement will hopefully find insights and reveal connections between this othercontemporary art movement and the world that manifested it and is in opposition to it. Essays such as Irvine’s The Work On The Street, books such as Waclewec’s Graffiti and Street Art, and Feral’s historical info-graphic The Feral Diagram capture and express truths about this historical trajectory that will document and canonize the movement in a manner that Fine Art History can assimilate. These are deep documents on the subject that show a clarity and understanding beyond the thousands of coffee table books published on the subject and are able to clarify some of Urban Art’s key influences from and relationships to the fine art world, as well as its genesis as an aesthetic cultural force that can not be denied.

Meaningful scholarly endeavors such as the above are a unique reflection of today’s othercontemporary art world in which there is no longer a need for existing institutions and that their status-quo critical and theoretical structures no longer exist as the only means of canonization. This new historical thread called Urban Art can be traced to a new generation of artists, critical thinkers and theorists that speak to a younger larger audience than any biennial or museum can. These institutions are currently floundering in their attempts to recognize and exhibit any kind of art in the new millennium that attracts and engages broad young audiences. They continue to rely on old definitions, catering mainly to an academic and social elite that is still utilizing antiquated formal categories and standards to define what is relevant and important Art, and then force it on the public with the authority of a police state. As a result, they churn out massive retrospectives of Modern and Post-modern artists from the past hundred or more years which are mystifying and uninteresting to most. Because we are The Other, the major minority, an equivalent of Occupy Wallstreet’s 99% in opposition to the dominant 1% of the aesthetic class, we fall outside of the contemporary art market and the intellectual elite in all its forms. We speak to a new generation born into a new world with a resultant new model for aesthetics, art making, distribution, and consumption. This major minority is one of many to come in the future, always mutating, who will continue to gestate outside of academia and the current art world system, continuing to create progressive hybridized art forms that are truly relevant to the current and following generations.

A few closing words quoted from Martyn Reed: “From TED prizes and truly global art projects to record audience attendance at museums and institutions the world over, from front page headlines in mainstream media to Oscar nominated documentaries, Venice Biennale events to contemporary art institute shows, a thriving new market for entry level prints via online galleries has given the artist a new found freedom and in many cases a living wage. Not to mention “internet” fame. The ongoing success of this “bottom up” movement called “Street Art” is absolutely unprecedented in scale and scope. And perhaps more importantly, it’s inspired more people to pick up a can/brush/scalpel than all movements combined before it. It has brought art back into our communities and lives. Institutions? Pretty irrelevant really. We’ll build our own.”

Special thanks for discourse and feedback from: Stefano Antonelli, Martyn Reed, Martin Irvine, Anna Waclawec, Carlos Mare, RJ Vandalog, Brooklyn Street Art, Cedar Lewisohn, Caleb Neelon, and Daniel Feral.

RJ Rushmore

Art Ignites Change

This year’s Nuart Plus program sets up a false dichotomy of muralism versus activism and neuters muralism’s power. Day one of the Nuart Plus talks will be on “Muralism,” and day two will be on “Street art and activism.” Is there no room for activism, or at least some kind of political voice, within muralism? By saying “Street Art and Activism” but just leaving muralism as “Muralism,” we have ripped out muralism’s heart. Shouldn’t it be “Muralism and X,” whether THAT “X” is “activism” or “gentrification” or “communities” or what have you?

RJ Rushmore is a 20-something living in Philadelphia. He became a fan of street art alongside his father when they began collecting art and searching out street art together in early 2008. RJ has written two books, curated some exhibitions and is currently communications manager at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, editor-in-chief of Vandalog, and co-curator and artist liaison for The L.I.S.A. Project NYC. Some of RJ’s favorite street artists include Jenny Holzer, Brad Downey, Troy Lovegates, John Fekner and Swoon.

The way we have titled these events suggests that muralism is at best art for art’s sake and at worst meaningless. If we are meant to be having a debate about which of these two fields is “better,” those of us organizing Nuart Plus have already picked the winner simply by how we titled the each day of talks. I disagree that muralism is simply “Muralism.” It certainly can be “Muralism and X.” To pair it with “Street Art and Activism,” I suggest “Muralism and Social Change.”

Activist street art creates an undeniable visceral response, and it gives a voice to the voiceless. But what if you are not voiceless? What if you have access to the halls of power? Surely you are not precluded from also improving society, perhaps in ways that align with the same issues and values that activist street artists are interested in.

Take where I work: The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has, for 30 years, shown that artists can infiltrate government and promote positive change through art while working with and from inside the system. Mural Arts is a part of the city government in Philadelphia, and the program has used an insider approach to fulfill ideas that traditional activists can only dream of.

Here are a few examples of how we work within the system and use muralism to ignite change:

  • Every year, Mural Arts works with thousands of at risk and adjudicated youth in art education classes where students assist in producing murals or other public art.
  • Mural Arts’ community mural-making process empowers residents to take control of the aesthetics in their public spaces, hopefully inspiring greater democratic participation more generally.
  • By building long-term relationships with Philadelphia-area prisons, Mural Arts provides restorative justice, art making, and job training opportunities to hundreds of inmates every year.
  • Mural Arts’ muralists and teaching artists are all paid, pumping money into the local creative economy and providing jobs in the arts for many local artists.
  • Working within the system does not preclude working for positive and sometimes radical change. Personally, I’ve never felt more like an agent for positive change than now that I am working for “The Man.”

Some murals are purely decorative: essentially outdoor wallpaper, covering up blight or whitewashing a sponsor’s reputation. Other murals are louder than a bomb: providing jobs for artists, empowering local communities, and skills training for at risk populations. Street art is the same. Artists like SpY draw our attention to the dangers of a mass surveillance culture. Other street artists use walls solely to promote their vacuous gallery art. Muralism is not the enemy of change. Apathy is.

Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo: Murals, Activism and Censorship

Murals, Activism and Censorship

After examining and discussing this years’ Nuart 2014 theme of murals and activism we realized the underlying matter that strikes at the core for us must include a discussion about censorship, our varying degrees of comfort and discomfort with it, and how it impacts art in the streets.

Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo are the Founders of the influential art blog BrooklynStreetArt.com. With Steve serving as Editor-in-Chief and Jaime as Editor of Photography. Proud New Yorkers, artists, and cultural workers for more than twenty-five years, both are experts on the evolving Street Art scene in New York as well as globally. With daily postings on Brooklyn Street Art (BSA), 175 articles on The Huffington Post, and close to one quarter of a million followers on their social media network, the two have shown and discussed Street Art, graffiti, murals, and public art in more than 100 cities over the last few years.

Mural art is almost unanimously censored art and cannot be righty considered strictly as Street Art. Whether the content of the composition has been influenced by a wall owner, a real estate developer, a sportswear brand, a business improvement district, or by Father Paddy O’Reilly who lives in the rectory just up the street, once a mural has been discussed and voted on and approved, however tacitly, by an entity other than the artist, the mural takes one large step in the direction of public art and a fast run away from the D.I.Y. approach that we think of as Street Art.

Censorship is anathema to the entire activist spirit of Street Art that drew us to it to begin with. No permission is sought for commission, and no critique is necessarily desired either. By its very nature it’s all about politics – personal, geo, social, anthropological, philosophical, sexual, identity-based. Rabble rousers and challengers of the status quo, the choice to avert the established Art World path of university-gallery-fairs-museums-collectors and the multiple layers of gate-keeping is itself a sort of middle finger activism toward the self-appointed doyennes of art, design and basically any aesthetic endeavor. The only peer-review journal they are interested in are the thick dripping markers nearby or overtop their work – and in the various Internet hubs they participate in. Street Art, a corollary to and evolution of the graffiti practice never necessarily had in mind that it was answerable to any person or institution but rather it has been primarily a direct communication to the everyday passerby.

With the growing fascination, acceptance, and even romance with Street Art on illegal walls, real estate developers and moribund city centers are courting the very artists who once surreptitiously hit the walls, with some restrictions naturally. Only ten years earlier many of these same entities were alerting authorities to the vandalism occurring on walls in their neighborhoods. Now artists are being tracked again – but with a different request: please hit up my wall with beautification in mind and with something vaguely edgy.

“But please, no boobs. Also, no politics. And could you keep it family-friendly? If you can include a Ninja Turtle my son would be so totally stoked.”

Eager for the “exposure” and relieved to not have to look over their shoulder for the police, a mass of Street Artists are happy to create happy walls. Not exactly the public art murals of yesteryear that spoke to social ills and local pride, the new crop of murals is pleasant and sometimes aesthetically astounding, but the genteel censorship brings the final result closer to public art than Street Art.

Conversely, commercial mural walls are openly anti-activist and non-apologetic vehicles for the delivery of a sponsored message. For purists, if there are any, this is the essence of the Street Art creative approach now perverted by the integration of branded content, radically altering its essential spirit. We won’t say “co-opt” lest you think us hippies, but even hippies are sedate these days and this evolutionary phase of Street Art is simply the adopting of the language of a subculture to sell something to the dominant culture. In a time when TV is giving wars their own names and themed motion-graphics, Street Art as a product delivery vehicle is probably expected. From Elvis to punk to hipsters we have learned over decades that organically grown youth movements are first resisted then fully subsumed, synthesized, and re-employed.

Thankfully, not everyone in the next gen of Millennial #activists got the text. These digital natives whose initial cell division took place in an amniotic fluid floating in logos and slogans are hypersensitive to the commercial or political re-purposing of their anger and have taken the means of digital meme production into their hands and swiping fingers. With virtual location unmoored from the physical location, freelance and organized Street Artists create works on walls and fences and bus stops across cities specifically to be shot and re-Grammed en route to addressing topical events and issues. Unsanctioned takeovers of public and private space are quickly recorded and dispersed through the ether before being buffed – or even discovered.

No clouding or spinning of the message has a chance to take place before the campaign begins, only in reaction to it. With these and other means activists on the street are reaching their target audiences like never before. Whether it is the ever flaring Israeli-Palestinian disaster, the blossoming Arab Spring, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the verbal harassment of women in a Brooklyn neighborhood, factory-raised meat and GMOs at your local grocery, or simply the rapidly growing canyon between rich and poor worldwide, Street Art activism is way outside the censorious instincts of most mural programs and urban art festivals.

Ultimately the rise in large scale murals and mural programs and festivals are excellent for world-wide public art production but may have a silencing effect on the more traditionally rebellious Street Artist, with the resulting work a de-fanged and pleasantly neutered version of its original conception. If this is censorship imposed from outside or within, we may be seeing a more palatable art in the streets for the next few years, but it won’t signal the end of Street Art. You can securely predict that the discontented youth who prefer a more activist approach will be out there as well.

Carlo McCormick: The Torn Off Head …

The Torn Off Head …

There’s a little story by the supreme iconoclast and prototypical absurdist, Daniil Kharms, that seems to address well the contradictory polemics on the form and function of public space in contemporary urban planning. Kharms, who founded the Union of Real Art, or OBERIU, movement in 1928 and attained great popularity as a young man before running afoul of Stalin, died of starvation while still in his thirties in custody of a state psychiatric ward for his anti-Soviet ideas during the siege of Leningrad in 1942, which somehow grants even more gravitas to the nonsense he embraced as a poet to articulate the ridiculousness of reality. Short enough to quote in its entirety I take Matvei Yankelevich’s translation of this story from his book of Kharms selected writings, “Today I Wrote Nothing.”

Carlo McCormick is an esteemed pop culture critic, curator and Senior Editor of PAPER magazine. His numerous books, monographs and catalogues include: TRESPASS: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture, The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, and Dondi White: Style Master General. His work has appeared in numerous publications including: Art in America, Art News, and Artforum.

Lynch Law

Petrov Gets on his horse and, addressing the crowd, delivers a speech about what would happen if in place of the public garden, they’d build an American skyscraper. The crowd listens and, it seems, agrees. Petrov writes something down in his notebook. A man of medium height emerges from the crowd and asks Petrov what he wrote down in his notebook. Petrov replies that it concerns himself alone. The man of medium height presses him. Words are exchanged and discord begins. The crowd takes the side of the man of medium height, and Petrov, saving his life, drives his horse on and disappears around the bend. The crowd panics and, having no other victim, grabs the man of medium height and tears off his head. The torn-off head rolls down the street and gets stuck in the hatch of a sewer drain. The crowd, having satisfied its passions, disperses.

The garden and the skyscraper it would seem are of equal value and beauty, two things our ideal city would have in ample abundance if we could have our druthers, and certainly not the kind of either/or proposition we would want to entertain. While most contemporary metropolises have both public gardens and skyscrapers, few could say to have them in perfect balance or proper distribution. Inequities aside, for surely some neighborhoods are better served than others by the ratio of development to public space or the relative beauty invested in either, the very notion of balance is itself problematic. That is, while collectively the body politic demands a need for both, rarely is either created with the other in mind. Born of very different agendas and serving contrary purposes, the garden and the skyscraper are rather more oppositional forces than complimentary terms.

Our talk, which is ultimately about how individuals, groups and in particular artists, can re-imagine these sites and situations of the city, queries this topography for points of access and weakness. We will begin by considering the visual history of the garden and the skyscraper as cultural metaphors- called different things over time, like parks or towers- that have helped define and design our concept of civilization for centuries now. But we regard them only so far as a kind of reconnaissance, and stay there only long enough to figure out a way to bulldoze them over. We must recognize the metonymic power of garden and skyscraper alike, how each is a kind of synecdoche standing in for so much more, and take their various significations- of innocence, life, purity, power, ill-fate, aspiration, of escape and return, city and country, utopia and dystopia, ascension and the fall- as embodiments of a certain authority or stasis which is there for art and society to accept or defy. These are the nodes of conjunction where we meet, places where we may take our collective stand and try to topple existing orders, diversions for the eye whose deeper meaning is just the stuff we could lose our heads over.

Xavier Ballaz

Barcelona: The Legal Turn

Xavier Ballaz, social psychologist and educator, has been developing projects related to urban art for over a decade.Co-founder of Difusor, a Barcelona based cultural association, has developed artistic and educational projects to bring art to the public, primarily through workshops, conferences and the development of participatory art projects.From Difusor, he created, along with Edu Crespo, the first online platform to deliver authorisations to paint legally in authorised walls, openwalls.info, working in Barcelona since 2008. Director since 2011 of the Open Walls Conference, which will again be held in October in Barcelona. This activity has led him to participate in many urban art related forums related, both abroad – Cans Festival (London, 2008), Dialogues and Graffiti Graffiti Sessions (London, 2010 and 2014), Bien Urbain ( Besançon, 2015) or being part of the Expert Advisory Board Graffolution Project (EU) – as in Barcelona, where he has had a major influence on the paradigm shift urban art is experiencing nowadays.

Barcelona had a bipolar relationship with a phenomena that happens in the public space, regardless sometimes is written over private property, commonly known as graffiti.

For nearly a decade, which ended abruptly in 2005, Barcelona lived a so called ‘golden age’ of interventions, defined by its innovative style as well as the quality and quantity of work. The streets of Barcelona had yet a good tradition of independent street messaging (some left wing muralism and vandalism, Miró and, yes, also Gaudí has a lot to do with expressing on facades, too); For nearly a decade, which ended abruptly in 2005, Barcelona lived a so called ‘golden age’ of interventions, defined by its innovative style as well as the quality and quantity of work.

Since the early 80’s this visual power growing in Barcelona was embodied in graffiti, imported slowly from Central Europe, particularly through the powerful stencil scene: born circa 1985 in an Art School in La Massana. Work from this art school invaded the city – mainly Gracia and Chino barrios – with comic, advertising, punk and ska iconography. After an exhibition named Barcelona Graffiti, by local stencil crews Els Rinos, PN+A and Els Trepax, comissioned by the multifaceted Genís Cano, there began to be some artistic activity on the street, parallel to the early fanzine movement and other cultural events and publications – such as the Barcelona City Hall book Barcelona Murs, yet discontinued.

But it was not until the (late) 90’s that Barcelona had the appearance of a “painted” city. Other cities in Spain had graffiti, however work produced by the sea was much stronger: an intense and vibrant street life, the permissiveness of the authorities, the unique creativity of a mixture of artists that created what some called the barcelona style, some technical improvements – and cheap prices – in a spraypaint introduced in 1994 by a newborn local company, turned the city into a world mecca for graffiti and street art.

This flourishing environment, sometimes even sponsored by local institutions themselves (Keith Haring mural done in 1989 and moved later to MACBA, countless books, being Barcelona Murs, written by Genís Cano, just the first of it’s kind, and cultural events, including the odd – not artistically, but because of the context it was painted in – collective mural done at the 2004 Barcelona Forum of Cultures – and that ended up being a significant epilog of this golden age – was abruptly broken in late 2005 with the implementation of the Civic Ordinance.

Since 2006 the City Council dramatically fined many activities occurring in the public space: skatebaording, drinking alcohol outside licensed establishments… and graffiti. Within a couple of horrifying months in the summer of 2005 – only half a year before the bylaw was approved –, the whole city was painted grey. Or beige.

Although the ordinance reserves the right to paint legally with municipal permission, the truth is that no one in City Hall seemed to know how and when this permission could be given.

This tour de force initiated by Mayor Clos has implications that surpass the pure desire to eliminate anti-social behavior: systematic buffing of graffiti, banning of leaflet distribution, even the prohibition of painting a chalk hopscotch on a playground, means the council went far beyond deciding which city wants to show to the tourist (one of the main economic basis of Barcelona, that significantly changed from backpacker to cruise passengers): this new public space policy kidnaps a space that had been public to the date. With the new ordinance, the public space is privatized and becomes a territory governed by a de facto state of emergency: if you cannot paint, nor even distribute leaflets on your own, freedom of expression is under a massive threat.

It is under the full implementation of the Ordinance when initiatives begin to appear trying to organize something around street art. Festivals like Urban Funke or Hipnotik include graffiti in their line-up, but always framed in time and space, far from what happens in public space and far from anything really interesting. The challenge was to provide means for freedom of expression.

In 2007 there is the first organized response that points in this direction. Difusor 2007 Stencil Meeting brings to Barcelona – well, more precisely, they came on their own to a pretty much D.I.Y. event – one hundred international artists among which Pure Evil (UK) DOLK (No), M-City (Pl) or local Btoy, and begins the claim of a consensus proposal to intervene in some “authorised” areas. From the work of that festival was raised the Galeria Oberta (Open Gallery), a pioneer project in the management of public spaces for autonomous graphic interventions that, after a change of location, was named Openwalls. Then, followed other initiatives that gradually were opening up debate on the lace between urban art and the city.

Currently, it seems that the Council is in a crossroads: the ban costs them up to €4M per year only in wall repainting, isn’t reporting any remarkable benefit (opposite to that, Barcelona ceased to be a mecca for nothing – except for British bachelor parties – a long ago), and the alternatives developed by some independent organisations work fine. After the last municipal election, it looks like a breathe of fresh air entered the Council and there are some signs of openness (which to be honest, already started slightly before).

Nevertheless, despite this openness can bring a bunch of new oportunities, is still highly regulated under different forms, both explicit or implicit. What happens when informal creativity is allowed only under strict constrictions? Which are these new forms of censorship? In our 10 year experience in producing artwork in the public space, we’ve witnessed – and sometimes been part of – this lack of liberty for the artists, sometimes explicit, sometimes not, sometimes responded, but sometimes accepted. When organizing an open call to paint a wall, the decision of having or not a jury; when comissioning a wall, working with the neighbours or just showing – or not – a sketch to the authorities; inviting an artist or another to perform in a street art festival, thinking on what kind of challenge – for himself, for the city, for the society – can someone that has only painted after legal walls were settled have… all these are relevant issues to understand the challenges contemporary cities are facing.

info@difusor.org
difusor.org
openwallsconference2014.org
conference.openwalls.info

Carlo McCormick: Learning to Play Along the Battle Lines

You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.
—Plato

Carlo McCormick is an esteemed pop culture critic, curator and Senior Editor of PAPER magazine. His numerous books, monographs and catalogues include: TRESPASS: A History of Uncommissioned Urban Art, Beautiful Losers: Contemporary Art and Street Culture, The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984, and Dondi White: Style Master General. His work has appeared in numerous publications including: Art in America, Art News, and Artforum.

In honor of this year’s Nuart being dedicated to the notion of play as set forth by the Situationist International, and the participation of Jamie Reid as one of this year’s artists, I’ve set forth with some trepidation along that thin and contentious line where a kind of playfulness in gestures, if certainly not rhetoric, follows from the Situationists and the Student Revolts of May 1968 through to Punk Rock a decade later. Reid is after all most famous as the great graphic artist behind The Sex Pistols, the man who put the safety pin through the queen’s nose, wrote the lyrics to “Anarchy in the U.K.” and fathered that ransom note style of cut and paste lettering that became de rigueur for punk rock fliers ever-after. But before even that he was a Situationist, so he’s an easy example for all of us to understand how a tradition of visual antics and cultural pranks could be passed on through generations and end up playing such a significant role in street art today.

It is a relatively simpler task however to track the riotous radicalisms of the Sixties going forward than to understand where they came from. Rebellions manifest as the flashpoints along the fault-lines of our cultural dis-ease, each upheaval a seizure like a spasm meant to address some pathological discomfort in the body politic. I’m not particularly interested in changing the world, I just like to watch it dance and shudder trying to get away from its own sickness. If it is play it is like that of the shattered children in Jeaux Interdits (Forbidden Games), Rene Clement’s profoundly disturbing masterpiece about two little kids whose lives have been utterly destroyed by the war, entertaining themselves by creating their own little pet cemetery amidst the ruins of World War 2. This is the great game of artists working in the streets today, and though we find it all so amusing we might also heed the words of that true comedian of the people, Charlie Chaplin, when he said, “To truly laugh, you must take your pain, and play with it.”

To explain all this, how a culture of conformity could not only get pissed off enough to take up arms but could also somehow learn to laugh at itself along the way, I’ll be giving a talk called “The Revolution Goes Pop” as part of Nuart Plus. Here we will look at the art of the Situationist International during the height of the May 1968 uprising, in particular the graffiti and the posters produced by the Atelier Populaire, that is quite literally the street art of that time. And to understand how art could play such a prominent and populist role in the politics of that time we will also look at how pop art itself came to inform political art through a visual meme like Jim Fitzpatrick’s ubiquitous Che image based off the Alberto Korda photograph, and the highly influential art direction of Roman Cieslewicz for the French magazine Opus International. Along the way we’ll cavort with the cultural provocateurs of that era including The Living Theater, Black Mask, Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers and King Mob, and wrap it up with that pantheon of punk-freaks – Gee Vaucher, Gary Panter, Arturo Vega, Winston Smith and Raymond Pettibon- who, like Reid, re-imagined the ephemeral pictorial polemics of the Sixties into the iconic nihilism of a new day.

As we come to terms with the profound impact that Situationism, the youth revolt of the Sixties and punk have had on the kind of art being produced in the streets today, we need to also recognize what has been often lost in the translation and the hypocrisies that such a slippage of content and intent produce. We may locate this most succinctly at the moment in Dismaland, the latest subversive spectacle from Banksy now going on in England. The one artist working the streets today who bears the most obvious and direct relationship to Situationist and post-punk strategies, the fact that for all its parodist power Banksy’s satiric take on Disney magic must inevitably become its own mimetic reproduction, like a simulation of the simulacra, brings to mind Guy Debord’s Situation of the Spectacle. The landmark text of the Situationism written by the movement’s founder and published on the eve of the student revolts, it tells us clearly from the outset:

“In societies where modern conditions of production prevail, life is presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has receded into a representation.” This primary lesson, that no representation can possibly free us from the endless web of reproduction we now live in, is one all artists working in this idiom should heed, and those of us who find our own cultural liberation in these forms might consider Debord’s warning that “the spectacle is not a collection of images; it is a social relation between people that is mediated by images.”

This collective folly then by which we allow our discontent to be distilled into art and as such subject to our aesthetic fetish is itself completely contradictory to the revolutionary purposes from which we so liberally borrow our ideas now. I think of this, and my own problematic culpability in this process as I put together the images for the Nuart talk. I marvel at the posters put out by the Situationists, and with an eye towards how “collectable” the prints of our favorite street artists have become, I am reminded that Atelier Populaire strictly forbids the sale of their posters for any reason, and explicitly condemns us from taking pleasure in these images, declaring:

“The posters produced by Atelier Populaire are weapons in the service of struggle and they are an inseparable part of it. Their rightful place is in the centers of conflict, that is to say, in the streets and on the walls of factories. To use them for decorative purposes, to display them in bourgeois places of culture or to consider them objects of aesthetic interest is to impair both their function and effect. This is why Atelier Populaire has always refused to put them on sale. Even to keep them as evidence of a certain stage in the struggle is a betrayal, for the struggle itself is of such primary importance that the position of an ‘outside’ observer is a fiction which inevitably plays into the hands of the ruling class. That is why these works should not be taken as the final outcome of an experience, but as an inducement for finding, through contact with the masses, new levels of action, both on a cultural and political plane.”
—Atelier Populaire, 1968

Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo

Technology, Festivals and Murals as Nuart turns 15

Nuart is turning 15 this year and like most brilliant teenagers it is alternately asking you challenging questions, finding you somewhat uncool, or is on your tablet ordering a new skateboard with your credit card. Nuart started with mainly music and is now mainly murals; an internationally well-regarded venue for thoughtfully curated urban art programs and erudite academic examination – with an undercurrent of troublemaking at all times. Today Nuart can be relied upon to initiate new conversations that you weren’t expecting and set a standard for thoughtful analysis of Street Art and its discontents.

Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo are the Founders of the influential art blog BrooklynStreetArt.com. With Steve serving as Editor-in-Chief and Jaime as Editor of Photography. Proud New Yorkers, artists, and cultural workers for more than twenty-five years, both are experts on the evolving Street Art scene in New York as well as globally. With daily postings on Brooklyn Street Art (BSA), 175 articles on The Huffington Post, and close to one quarter of a million followers on their social media network, the two have shown and discussed Street Art, graffiti, murals, and public art in more than 100 cities over the last few years.

We are in the thick of it, as it were, this great expansion of a first global grassroots people’s art movement. Give it any title you like, the flood of art in the streets that knocks on BSA’s door daily is unabated. We admit that we often get caught up in the moment and forget to study our forebears, Street Art’s progenitors and contributors – and that we sometimes are unable to appreciate the significance of this incredible time. So we are happy when the Nuart team asked us to take a long view of the last fifteen years and to tell them what we see.

As we mark Nuart’s milestone, we see three important developments on the Street Art scene while it evolves: Technology, Festivals, and Murals.

And just before we discuss these three developments in Street Art we emphasize what has stayed the same; our own sense of wonder and thrill at the creative spirit, however it is expressed; we marvel to see how it can seize someone and flow amidst their innermost, take hold of them, convulse through them, rip them apart and occasionally make them whole. What has changed is that the practice and acceptance of Street Art, the collecting of the work, it’s move into contemporary art, have each evolved our perceptions of this free-range autonomous descendent of the graffiti practice that took hold of imaginations in the 2000s. At the least it hasn’t stopped gaining converts. At this arbitrary precipice on the timeline we look back and forward to identify three impactful themes that drive what we are seeing today and that will continue to evolve our experience with this shape-shifting public art practice.

Technology

Hands down, a primary genesis for the far flung modern embrace of Street Art/Urban Art/Graffiti/public art lies in the booster rocket that propelled it into nearly everyone’s hands; digital communication and all its sundry technologies. From the early Internet websites and chat rooms accessed from your desktop to digital cameras and photo sharing platforms like Flickr in the early-mid 2000s to ever more sophisticated search technology and its accompanying algorithms, to blogs, micro blogs, and social media platforms, to the first generations of laptops and tablets, iPhones and Android devices; the amazing and democratizing advance of these communicative technologies have allowed more of us to access and share images, videos, experiences and opinion on a scale never before imagined – entirely altering the practice of art in the streets.

Where once there had been insular localized clans of aerosol graffiti writers who followed arcane codes of behavior and physical territoriality known primarily to only them in cities around the world, now new tribes coalesced around hubs of digital image sharing, enabling new shared experiences, sets of rules, and hierarchies of influence – while completely dissolving others.

As old guards re-invented a place for themselves or disappeared altogether, a new order was being remixed in front our eyes. There were a lot of strangers in the room – but somehow we got used to it. Rather than making street art pieces for your local peers, artists began making new compositions for somebody’s phone screen in London or Honolulu or Shanghai.

Cut free from soil and social station, now garden variety hoodlums and brilliant aesthetes were commingling with opportuning art collectors, curious gallerists, unctuous opinionators, punctilious photographers and fans… along with product makers, promoters, art-school students, trend watchers, brand managers, lifestyle marketers, criminologists, sociologists, journalists, muckrakers, academics, philosophers, housewives, and makers of public policy. By virtue of climbing onto the Net everyone was caught in it, now experiencing the great leveling forces of early era digital communications that decimated old systems of privilege and gate keeping or demarcations of geography.

Looking forward we are about to be shaken again by technology that makes life even weirder in the Internet of Everything. Drone cams capture art and create art, body cams will surveil our activity and interactions, and augmented reality is merging with GPS location mapping. You may expect new forms of anonymous art bombing done from your basement, guerilla image projecting, electronic sign jamming, and perhaps you’ll be attending virtual reality tours of street art with 30 other people who are also sitting on their couches with Oculus Rifts on. Just watch.

Festivals

Thanks to the success of festivals like Nuart, myriad imitators and approximaters have mushroomed in cities everywhere. Conceived of philosophically as a series of stages for the exhibition of artistic chops with the proviso that a cultural dialogue is enriched and moved forward, not all festivals reach those goals. In fact, we have no reason to expect that there is one set of goals whatsoever and the results are predictably variable; ranging from focused, coherent and resonant contributions to a city to dispersed, unmanageable parades of muddy mediocrity slammed with corporate logos and problematic patronage.

Some festivals are truly grassroots and managed by volunteers like Living Walls in Atlanta or MAUI in Fanzara, Spain. Others are privately funded by real estate interests like Miami’s Wynwood Walls or business improvement district initiatives like the L.I.S.A. Project and LoMan Festival in Manhattan, or are the vision of one man who has an interest in Street Artists, like the now-discontinued FAME festival in the small town of Grottaglie, Italy and the 140 artist takeover of a town in Tunisia called Djerbahood that is organized by an art dealer.

In some ways these examples are supplanting the work of public art committees and city planners who historically determined what kind of art would be beneficial to community and a public space. Detractors advance on opinion that festivals and personal initiatives like this are clever ways of circumventing the vox populi or that they are the deliberate/ accidental tools of gentrification. We’ve written previously about the charges of cultural imperialism that these festivals sometimes bring as well where a presumed gratitude for new works by international painting superstars actually devolves into charges of hubris and disconnection with the local population who will live with the artwork for months and years after the artist catches a plane home.

Nonetheless, far from Street Arts transgressive and vandalous roots, the sheer number of Street Art/Urban Art/Mural Art festivals that have popped up – either freestanding or as adjuncts to multidiscipline “arts” festivals – is having the effect of creating a wider dialogue for art in the public sphere. As artists are invited and hosted and scissor lifts are rented and art-making materials are purchased, one quickly realizes that there are real costs associated with these big shows and the need for funding is equally genuine. Depending on the festival this funding may be private, public, institutional, corporate, or an equation that includes them all.

As you may expect, the encroachment of commercial interests is nearly exhaustive in some of these newer festivals, so eager are the merchants to harvest a scene they had little or no hand in planting. Conceived of as vehicles for corporate messaging, they custom-build responsive websites, interactive Apps, clouds of clever #hashtags, company logos, Instagram handles, branded events and viral lifestyle videos with logos sprinkled throughout the “content”. You may recognize these to be the leeching from an organic subculture, but in the case of this amorphous and still growing “Street Art Scene” no one yet knows what lasting scars this lifestyle packaging will leave on the Body Artistic, let alone civic life.

Stylistically these festivals can be a grab bag as well with curatorial rigor often taking a back seat to availability, accessibility, and the number of interested parties making nominations. While some festivals are clearly leaning toward more traditional graffiti schools, others are a hodgepodge of every discernable style from the past fifty years, sometimes producing an unpleasant sense of nausea or even tears over regrettable missed opportunity.

Clearly the quality is often uneven but, at the danger of sounding flip or callous, it’s nothing that is not easily remedied by a few coats of paint in the months afterward, and you’ll see plenty of that. Most art critics understand that the metrics used for measuring festival art are not meant to be the same as for a gallery or museum show. Perhaps because of the entirely un-curated nature of the organic Street Art scene from which these festivals evolved in some part, where no one asks for permission (and none is actually granted), we are at ease with a sense of happenstance and an uneven or lackluster presentation but are thrilled when concept, composition, and execution are seated firmly in a brilliant context.

Murals

Finally, murals have become big not just in size but popularity. Every week a street artist is exclaiming that this mural is the biggest they have every made. It is a newfound love, a heady honeymoon, a true resurgence of muralism. Even though you can’t rightly call this legal and sanctioned work true Street Art, many former and current Street Artists are making murals. Un-civically minded urban art rebels have inferred that Street Art has softened, perhaps capitulated to more mainstream tastes. As Dan Witz recently observed, “Murals are not a schism with Street Art as much as a natural outgrowth from it.”  We agree and add that these cheek-by-jowl displays of one mural after another are emulating the graffiti jams that have been taking place for years in large cities both organic and organized.

From illustration to abstraction to figurative to surreal and even letter-based, this eclectic injection of styles won’t bring to mind what one may typically associate with the homegrown community mural. Aside from the aforementioned festivals that are festooning neighborhoods, the growth in mural-making may be attributable to a trend of appreciation for Do It Yourself (D.I.Y.) approaches and the ‘makers’ movements, or a desire to add a personal aspect to an urban environment that feels unresponsive and disconnected.

Philadelphia has dedicated 30 years to their Mural Arts Program and relies on a time-tested method of community involvement for finalization of designs and most municipal murals have a certain tameness that pleases so many constituencies that no one particularly cares for them.

The New Muralism, as we have been calling it, that is popping up is often more autonomous and spirited in nature than community mural initiatives of the past with their ties to the socio-political or to historical figures and events. Here there are few middlemen and fewer debates. Artists and their advocates approach building owners directly, a conversation happens, and a mural goes up. In the case of upstart community programs like the Bushwick Collective in Brooklyn, one trusted local person is ambassador to a neighborhood, insuring that community norms about nudity or politics are respected but otherwise acts purely as facilitator and remains hands-off about the content.

On that topic, effectively a form of censoring often takes place with murals – another distinguishing characteristic from Street Art. Given the opportunity to fully realize an elaborate composition, normally wild-eyed and ornery aerosol rebels bend their vision to not offend. Sometimes an artist can have more latitude and you may find a mural may clearly advocate a political or social point of view, as in recent murals addressing police brutality, racism, and inequality in many US cities, anti-corruption sentiments in Mexico, and pro-marriage equality in France and Ireland.

This new romance with the mural is undoubtedly helping artists who would like to further explore their abilities in more labor-intensive, time absorbing works without having to look over their shoulder for an approaching officer of the law. It is a given that what they gain in polished presentation they may sacrifice as confrontational, radical, contraventional, even experimental. The resulting images are at times stunning and even revelatory, consistent with the work of highly skilled visionaries, as if a new generation of painters is maturing before our eyes in public space where we are all witness.

Moving Forward

Despite the rise in festivals and mural programs and the growing volume and sophistication of technology for sharing of the images, Street Art is still found in unexpected places and the decay of neglected spaces. As before and well into the future these self ordained ministers of mayhem will be showing their stuff in the margins, sometimes identified, sometimes anonymous, communicating with the individual who just happens to walk by and witness the work. The works will impart political or social messages, other times a simple declaration that says, “I’m here.”

Whatever its form, we will be looking for it.

Evan Pricco: Post Street-Art: When a Street Needs a Name

Post Street-Art: When a Street Needs a Name

Here’s our chance to reset and reimagine the contemporary moment.


Evan Pricco is the Editor-In-Chief of leading international contemporary art magazine, Juxtapoz, based in San Francisco, California. Prior to starting with Juxtapoz in 2006, Evan worked at SF-based gallery and apparel company, Upper Playground. He is the author of Juxtapoz’ continuing book series, including a brand new title, Juxtapoz Hyperrealism, out in stores in Fall 2014. He has contributed text to numerous books, as well as written for Playboy. He continues to champion Public Art everywhere he goes, and has been interviewed by Bloomberg News about the merits of Public Art and its financial impact. He now lives in Sausalito, California.

I’m not always someone who demands labels, and often find myself defending or even fighting against full-on definitions and brandings of artistic practices. That might be because I live amongst and in the midst of the Millennial generation, where, in essence, you can be what you want to be, where characteristics and definitions of self are fluid and evolving, that you are never this one thing. So I’m open to change. I want to be cool with the kids. And just as scientists recently declared that the Holocene era’s 12,000 year reign should now cede to the Anthropocene age dominated by human’s geological impact, we can finally, as curators, critics and artists, take on the task of examining Street Art, the dominating populous art form of the past 25 years, and give it a new name. For the first time in my literary life, I’m thanking science for the inspiration.

Mural by Henrik Uldalen.

When we talk about Street Art’s explosion over the past two decades, my interpretation is that we think of Street Art in the often-illegal, non-gallery form, rooted and influenced by the major precursors of revolutionary art movements of the century before it; the Dada, Futurist, Situationist, Punk, Hip-Hop and in a more direct way, Graffiti. At its core, Street Art as we celebrate it here at Nuart, changed the way we experience art in daily life, but also how we consume art. When done effectively, it creates nuanced discussion about the use of public space and curation of art, while challenging the gatekeeper mentality of art history. Maybe most importantly to its future, Street Art fosters creative populism that most contemporary art doesn’t experience. It brought people who maybe never cared about painting, galleries, or even museums into an art discussion. Film, and perhaps music, have dominated the pop-culture discussion of art in the past, but Street Art has brought contemporary art to a broader audience for the first time maybe ever. This is a big deal. The act of presenting on the streets for all to see, was refreshing and inspiring, the energy and rebellion seeping into the way artists began to distribute and make art. BLU, maybe this generation’s most political muralists, began making incredible stop-motion films. Banksy turned his process into monumental press events while still maintaining the wit and piquancy of good Street Art. Swoon transformed her wheatpastes into delicate and magical installations in museums. Major exhibitions like Beautiful Losers, Art in the Streets, and The Bridges of Graffiti elevated parts of the movement with historical heft, and mural festivals around the world emerged as platforms for a new generation of kids who were unlikely to make plans to ever step foot into a gallery. Blogs emerged for discussions of the daily happenings of Street Art around the world; magazines and zines were published in every language, social media expedited public dialogue, and academics like those joining Nuart each year began to contextualize the past, present and future of what was being seeing in real time. To be honest, it all seemed that Street Art wasn’t really just “art in the streets” anymore. Maybe it never was just that. It most de nitely came to de ne a particular energy and rebellion; a new way of approaching and making art. But it evolved into something else, something bigger, wider, more visible. It has sort of outgrown itself. And that is why it’s in need of a new label. Post-Street Art. Perfect. I find it most appropriate that Martyn Reed, founder of the most venerable of Street Art festivals, a curator and organizer who has continued to nurture the movement and keep it within the historical lineage of the Dadaists, Situationists and Graffiti, has declared it time to re-think this particular genre. Nuart champions such movements of rupture and transformation, placing 100 years of Dada in the same realm of Street Art. Time to reset the dialogue.

For the 2016 edition of Nuart, the curation sees a few artists that help foster the Post-Street Art discussion, two of which I will be sitting down to discuss process with: Jeff Gillette and Henrik Uldalen. I found their inclusion, at first, to be fascinating, but quite apt. Gillette’s work speaks to not only the beauty of the utopian/dystopian experience, but of despair in the modern landscape of consumerism and consumption. In Uldalen’s work, although these solitary characters have the feeling of longing and loneliness, they become emboldened as the subject of a powerful painting. Both artists speak to empowerment in an otherwise powerless situation, of Utopias and realism, and through traditional studio practices, not only encapsulate the themes of Street Art, but provide the bridge in this conversation of what Post Street Art entails and who it informs. Art and everyday life, reality and utopia. Gillette and Uldalen help connect the dots. What seems like an unconventional curation is in fact crucial to where this movement goes next.

That’s why we are here, 100 years later, like those early Dadaists, experimenting with language, context, with what Street Art is. We gather in academic settings, festivals, on blogs, on social media, we create magazines, zines and books on the subject of street art, just like Duchamp and friends created “The Blind Man” magazine and their own methods of defining and deconstructing what it is they were doing. They were rewriting rules and making up, for lack of a better phrase, good shit along the way. And so are we. And maybe our scope is larger, the world smaller, and there are naysayers and those that think Street Art is just a fad and will fade, but it’s more than that. It’s a spirit that takes over 100 years of art dissent and reexamines how art should be part of your life. The spirit lives on, and with a need to help quantify what it is we have witnessed over the past few decades, Post-Street Art allows the movement to move forward without hesitation and questioning.

I’m hoping that Street Art becomes like Dadaism, an anti-establishment movement about deconformity that, 100 years later, turns the likes of Banksy, BLU, Swoon and others into intellectual pioneers like Duchamp, Richter and Breton. Of course, you want to believe you live in important times, that you live amongst important movements and contribute to the discussion. So perhaps selfishly, it’s inspiring to convene together and discuss the possibilities of a landmark shift in this contemporary art movement. So maybe it’s okay then, that for the first time in my life, I’m excited about labels.

Pedro Soares Neves: Street Art Between Words

1. My concerns

I have two main concerns that drive my contribution to Street Art research in general and in this essay I will try to use them to analyze the “Post-Street Art” definition, as proposed by Nuart Festival.

Pedro Soares Neves, 1976, multidisciplinary and post graduate academic training in Design and Urbanism (Lisbon, Barcelona and Rome). Urban designer and consultant of several municipality and national wide institutions in their approaches to informal visual signs production (Graffiti, Street Art, Urban Creativity). Experienced practitioner and academic,  co-organizer of the Lisbon Street Art & Urban Creativity Conference and ongoing Scientific Journal and International Research Topic (Urbancreativity.org).

1.1

My first concern is about the street; the urban fabric; the city; the landscape; open air; the outside; the “nature”; the physical “things” that surround us collectively and the space between buildings (including the building’s “skin” i.e. walls, floor (as stage and support for life), objects, and visual signs).

What concerns me about space is how we deal with it so that we can address our needs. How did we do it in the past, how do we do it now, and how will we do it in the future? How do planning and usage interact, both historically and today? This raises questions of durability; environmental awareness; sensitive construction of space; tension between conflicting usage; territorial narratives; organizational social structures; norms; and the absence of rules as policy. Without going into too much detail on the subject here the limits of open and closed space is also one of the most fascinating discussions in architecture and urbanism, and one that can be useful for the relation of Street Art (or Post-Street Art) in the context of a cultural institution such as a gallery or museum.

1.2

My second concern is about research methods; consolidation of knowledge; understanding where the most concrete and objective facts are; gathering knowledge about Graffiti and Street Art; looking upon planning and usage; and how all these factors interact with academic tools focused on Graffiti, Street Art and urban creativity in general.

1.3

Both concerns go in the same direction, generically tending to help us build a better environment or, in other words, using the resources available in the best way possible. Both foster ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ encounters. This dynamic of ‘top down’ and ‘bottom up’ has been developed by several galleries, museums and cultural infrastructures towards Graffiti and Street Art to find ways of building knowledge and bridges for encouraging dialogue. But the purposes are very diversified: from ethnographic, to commercial, to conservationist you can find a full range of adopted approaches. This diversity and engagement contains risks, and one of the most evident is the unclear definition of concepts such as Graffiti and Street Art.

2. Why changing

Generally it can be argued that a stable, consensual new definition is needed for all that is happening an and around Street Art. Misunderstandings can be exacerbated by less informed organizations and events, and various solutions have been used to fill the gap, ultimately contributing to the instability of the concept and in constant negotiation of the terms ‘Street Art’, ‘Urban Art’, muralism, or even placing Street Art in wider discussions such as public art, or just contemporary art.

2.1

The intention for adopting a new terminology is key

2.1.1

‘Post-Street Art’ is something that can be read in opposition to Street Art. Although not necessarily interpreted in this sense, the historical usage of the “post-something” prefix in arts and architecture is often in opposition to the past.

2.1.2

‘Post-Street Art’ as something with specificities (such as ‘commissioned’) can be another thing, generating doubt about the kind of relationship that exists between Post-Street Art and Street Art. But who manages this relationship?

3. Contributions

In an attempt to avoid further confusing the issue, I share two concrete cases that emerge from my two concerns outlined above: post-modernism in Architecture and Post-Graffiti.

3.1 Complexity and contradiction in post-modernist architecture

To cut a long history short, Mies maxim of “Less is more” was replaced by Venturi as “Less is a bore” in his attempt to define post-modern architecture. In his writings Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture and Learning from Las Vegas, Venturi constructs some of the main theories of post-modernist architecture, where it’s mentioned that ornamental and decorative elements “accommodate existing needs for variety and communication”.

For the purpose and length of this essay, it can be extracted that in the case of post-modern architecture there’s a clear position against the functional and pragmatic modernist architecture. It’s interesting to note that Street Art also “accommodates existing needs for variety and communication”.

3.2

Post-graffiti as research thesis
In the PhD thesis El Post-Graffiti, su escenario y sus raíces: Graffiti, punk, skate y contrapublicidad. Madrid, 2010, Francisco Javier Abarca Sanchís (in 200 pages dedicated only to the Post-Graffiti concept) delineates typologies, methods, and aesthetics, among many other factors. To synthesize this in one sentence is not possible, but for the purpose of this essay maybe the factor that’s most relevant is that Javier identifies post-Graffiti as a ‘consequence’: a successor to Graffiti.

So, in this case we have the usage of the word “post” as a consequence: a successor of a certain subject. The relevance of Post-Graffiti in relation to the analysis of Post-Street Art is that if Post-Graffiti is synonymous with Street Art, so Post-Street Art will certainly be something else.

4. Conclusion

Post as “commissioned” or “after” depends on the intention. There are examples of very distinct approaches to the “post” usage. Designations that try to encapsulate the distinction between Graffiti, Street Art, and commissioned “Street Art” are already abundant. They reply to the need that it’s deemed necessary to protect Graffiti and Street Art’s particular characteristics. Nuart is one of the places were the Post-Street Art definition can emerge with structure, and this will be useful for designating (commissioned, detached or bought) traces of the unnamable, intrinsically human, non-commissioned, environmental, and visual signs that come to my mind when we are talking about Graffiti and Street Art.

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