AuthorNuart

Igor Ponosov

Rebirth of Russian Street art during the protest movement

Russian practice of coming-out in public space by avant-gardists1 in the beginning of the 20th century and by actionists of the 1990s2 was political by nature, similarly to contemporary street art though. This is largely due to the fact that Russian public space is always a place of tension and intersection of various interests: business, government, of ordinary citizens. That is why any access to the public space in Russia is a political gesture a priori.

Born in Nizhnevartovsk in Siberian Russia in 1980, Igor Ponosov is an artist, activist and author of several projects and publications relating to urban art. He began his artistic career in 1999 as a graffiti artist in Kiev and between 2005 and 2009 published three books on street art in Russia and the ex-USSR. From 2011 to 2013 he curated the project ‘The Wall’ at the Winzavod Centre for Contemporary Art in Moscow. In 2011 he founded the Partizaning.org website as a platform for exchange among activists, artists and urbanists, and from 2013 to 2016 he curated “Delai Sam” festival, which focused on grassroots indicatives and activism in Russia. He is also the author of the book “Art and the City” (2016).

He has undertaken residencies including the Global Art Lab public art residency in New York as part of the 2014 Arts Leadership Fellows as well as at the National Centre for Contemporary Arts, Moscow, in 2016. Ponosov currently lives in Moscow, where he works as an activist, artist and independent curator of multi-disciplinary projects, focusing on the social environment of the city and its transformation through the arts.

In winter 2011 there were compromised parliamentary elections that provoked numerous protests across the country, at the same time considered as the beginning of formation of more active and socially responsible civil consciousness in Russia. However, the desire for change was already felt in 2009-2010, when rapid development of social networks occurred, becoming a real tool for self-organization of activists and discussion of political issues. Through emergence of independent city media (The Village, Bolshoi gorod and others), Strelka Institute3 and a number of grassroots projects the discussion around a comfortable living in the city with its improvement was initiated. Basically, the question was raised about the “right to the city4“.

In 2012, when the atmosphere of protest movements was fueled with March presidential elections, the displeased mood of protesters reached its peak. In addition to demonstrations, one could see an outburst of self-organization initiatives (assemblies) on the streets, as well as illegal folk art, which was not supported by any artistic practices, but had a huge impact. Such informal folk activity enchanted and encouraged many people, including artists, who later also went to the city to protest.

For instance, at that time the practices of Moscow actionism of the 1990s were actively used by radical artists and art groups of a new wave such as Pussy Riot, Voina, and Piotr Pavlensky (b. 1984). In the same way as the actionists of the 1990s, they declared the issues the most provocative way. Thanks to media coverage, many of these actions became world famous, iconic, and for the West confirming the stereotype of the “wild” rough Russia.

However, these practices could be related to street art only indirectly, because their actions used public space merely as a medium for their statements, and not as full environment for creating their works.

In the street art community, a political agenda was not so explicit though. However, more and more street art artists were switching to political and social themes.

Above all, it can be traced through large-scale and media works by Yekaterinburg artist Tima Radya, who, while not having a graffiti background and not in fact following the way of understanding graffiti as a daily practice5, began to show quite recently, only in 2010. Over the next few years, Tima worked exclusively in street space so zealously that one can only envy the number of his works. Later, the artist became known thanks to political works “Loss of strength” (2011), “You were cheated” (2011) and “Figure # 1: Stability” (2012). Nowadays, working in the style of total street installation, often politically colored, the artist continues his line of critical statements.

In a symbolic opposition to Radya’s activity, but in unconditional ideological conjunction with him there were Moscow artists Kirill KTO and Pasha 183, both of whom started out more than 15 years ago as a graffiti writers. In contrast to Tima’s technically complex installations, works of Kirill and Pasha were largely spontaneous and therefore not as media-like and ambitious.

Kirill KTO had more existential and poetic work of textual nature, based on reflections of various personal and social processes, and sometimes relationship between them. His street comments could largely be seen as a motivational speech, an audience of which, however, was not always a casual viewer – sometimes his message was addressed to a specific person or just to himself.

Pasha 183 mostly worked in the style of street installations, first of which dated 2008. Until this moment Pasha mainly addressed everyday matters of existence in the city; in 2011 he created two politicized works: “To Incendiaries of Bridges” and “Truth to Truth”. In their turn, they underlined an anarchist and protest-like artist’s spirit that had been present in his works before but was never so obvious.

Hardly anyone of us now, having reached success, relationships, money, fame, is able to give up all of this. To burn the bridges and to destroy all your achievements for a new unknown, perhaps reckless and illogical life or death. This installation is dedicated to those who have gone beyond their own dusty corners and created a new world. To those who are able to deny themselves for the sake of a step forward6.

From the perspective of politicized content of works, one of the street series of artist Misha Most is also interesting.  Having solid experience of graffiti activity and being the founder of the project No Future Forever and a member of one of the first graffiti crews CGS, he creates works of social and post-apocalyptic nature. His series of Constitution Live (2013–2014) in many ways is a logical extension of his graffiti practices, and correlates equally with folk and civil graffiti usually occurring in an unstable political situation.

In the political field, there is also team Partizaning whose participants call for self-organization and change in urban spaces through urban interventions, and, using their website as an open online platform, try to mobilize the spirit of protesting and illegal street art. However, given that Partizaning is not so much an art project as a phenomenon of socially engaged street art, one can note significant impact of popularization of these ideas among activists and street art artists recently having come out in the urban space. Above all, it concerns new and young personalities and teams, often balancing between art and activism7.

Several other activist artistic practices based not on the change but on the study of the city in terms of the democratization of its spaces were activated. For example, in Moscow, a number of projects related to environmental state of the city were active. Among them, there were guerrilla gardening practices, along with projects of studies of flora and fauna generated by the city, such as Urban Fauna Lab, members of which primarily focused on invasive species of plants and animals. For the most part, these initiatives appeared spontaneous and self-organized. One of the most striking examples of self-organization was the art group ZIP, members of which were active in the south of Russia since 2009. In informal manner inherent to them, in their hometown of Krasnodar, they organized the Institute of Contemporary Art, a residence, a cultural center, and a public art festival that have become a real catalyst for a developed artistic life there.

Regardless of the dominant political agenda, works of several other Russian street artists – Stas Dobry (b. 1985), Artem Filatov (b. 1991), Vova Chernyshev (born in 1992), Grisha (b. 1989) and 0331C – seem interesting and socially significant. However, from time to time, reflection on various processes taking place in their native city, district or yard can be traced throughout their work.

For example, the most exemplary product of such reflection was one of joint works You can apologize as always, but respect the wallS, created by street artists Stas Dobry and 0331C in 2011. With this gesture, they indicated, on the one hand, the problem of demolition of buildings in Moscow, and on the other hand, informed participants of extensive graffiti community about caring for the historic heritage. Later, in a few of their other collaborations the house became an animated character, asking for protection, fighting with the flood of new construction.

In most cases, the works of artist 0331C by its nature were the most expressive and ambitious. In some ways, they were an extension to the graffiti intentions of the artist, but each time became a new step in rethinking of this phenomenon. His works are interesting because of such a pronounced expression and “wild” energy, a daily practice of urban space habitation, sometimes inherent in a graffiti artist only.

In public spaces of Russian cities, mainly where monumental murals festivals were organized (Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Vyksa, Nizhny Novgorod, etc.) there were also a number of authors working mostly in an abstract and illustrative style – Alexey Luka (b. 1983), Petro (b. 1984), Vova Nootk (b. 1981), Dmitry Aske, Akue (b. 1986), Zmogk (b. 1979), Morik (b. 1982), Nikita Nomerz, groups of artists Zuk Club, 310 squad, ‘Vitae vyazi’ and many others. Their works were in many ways complementary to scene design of urban space, embellished it, and, as a rule, were outside any social discourse. They occurred more and more frequently, thereby indicating a trend of “europeanization”8 of Russian cities, with their city management seeking to create a unique image recognizable around the world.

This trend was somewhat contrasting to politicized grassroots street art practices, which manifested themselves illegally and existed without any funding. Swiftly rushing in public space, monumental murals are in no way representation of the interests of citizens, and are located on the side of the state and business, dividing the territory of the facades between themselves today and subsequently using them as advertising and propaganda billboards.

Nevertheless, there were exceptions even among these festivals. For example, Nizhniy Novgorod festival ” New City: Ancient”, organized by Artem Filatov and his associates in 2014–2016, had a very specific socially important mission – protection of heritage and architectural monuments, mostly wooden. Closely interacting with the residents of these homes and discussing with them the jobs to be created in the framework of the festival, the organizers used street art to a greater extent in order to attract attention to these homes and to the problem in general. This, in turn, shaped a unique approach to working with city surfaces – a more cautious one, not violating the existing ecosystem of the city. One could say that today this approach is a specific style of Nizhny Novgorod street art and forms a “movement” of socially responsible street art.

In the Urals, an authentic “movement” of street art can also be mentioned that is significantly impacted by Arseny Sergeev (b. 1966) and Naila Allahverdiyev (b. 1978), who organized a series of art projects in public spaces in Yekaterinburg in the beginning of the 2000s. The focus of these projects was made on media art, but in 2003 the curators ran a more traditional for street art format of mural art on the walls – “Long stories”, which became one of the most large-scale and systematic projects of this kind. Having existed until 2010, the festival later moved to Perm, where a “cultural revolution”9 occurred at the moment, expressed in an outburst of various kinds of cultural activities, in particular, in a large-scale public art program developed in the city’s public spaces.

It is important to note that for a long period Arseny and Nailia worked not only on organization of art festivals in Yekaterinburg (and later in Perm), but also on an educational program, within the framework of which renowned street artists were invited with master classes and lectures. This program was part of their school ArtPolitika, organized in Yekaterinburg in 2005. Over the years, some of now famous Yekaterinburg street artists were students of this program. Thanks to this systematic work, in today’s Yekaterinburg street art is not only developed as an illegal activity, but is also integrated into a number of institutional formats. For example, from time to time, Ural branch of the National Center for Contemporary Arts (NCCA) supports street art; since 2010, a large-scale street art festival Stenograffia operates; and in 2014 a gallery Sweater specializing exclusively in representing street art opened.

The products of such diverse and complex activities can be considered a strong Ural’s street art movement. The most outstanding representatives of this movement can be considered Tima Radya, Slava PTRK (b. 1990) and the art group Zlye. Vitya Fructy and Udmurt have an interesting approach to understanding of urban phenomena.

A special style can also be traced in St. Petersburg, where art activism is a predominant activity. This is confirmed not only with bright examples of actionist practices by already known artists and activists such as the group Voina and Peter Pavlensky, but also with a large community of artists of platform Chto Delat (“What is to be done?” in English)<sup>10</sup> comprising today not only a website and a newspaper, but also a school and even a house of culture. Since 2003, members of the team Chto Delat have periodically conducted certain actions in public space, representing both psychogeographic walks and urban performances. Regardless of these, but often in conjunction with them, there have also been other initiatives, such as, for example, Street University, which is a self-organized educational project, or street art team Gandhi, the female members of which are more focused on the issue of gender and social inequality.


  1. The first calls for the coming-out of artists in the streets could be heard in poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893–1930), public lectures/discussions by Ilya Zdanevich (1894–1975), Mikhail Matyushin (1861–1934), David Burliuk (1882–1967), Kazimir Malevich (1879–1935), Alexei Kruchenykh (1886–1968). The most integral vision of art “invasion” can be considered the decree No 1 “On the democratization of art” formulated in 1918 by a group of Russian Futurists, including, besides Vladimir Mayakovsky, David Burliuk and Vasily Kamensky (1884–1961). The first actual attempts at reclaiming public spaces by various artistic trends were linked to a greater extent to the celebrations to mark the anniversary of the October Revolution. Since 1918, a festive atmosphere in the style of easel painting had been created mainly in Petrograd (later Leningrad) and Moscow.
  2. Over the 1990s E.T.I. movement organized actions on the Red Square for freedom of speech and on the issue of parliamentary elections; Oleg Kulik (b. 1961) deliberately chose the image of an animal’s life to show horrific conditions of existence of the Russians. By building barricades in the centre of Moscow, Anatoly Osmolovsky (b. 1969) as a member of E.T.I. movement updated the practice of Situationists of the 1960s. Avdey Ter-Oganyan (b. 1961) and Oleg Mavromatti (b. 1965) later touched on the subject of religion and were prosecuted by the authorities for that.  These and many other provocations on entirely diverse vital topics, from politics to religion, were the agenda of the day of modern life in Moscow in the 1990s. Sharp and radical actions marked the first step towards the return of informal activity on the streets of our cities.
  3. Institute for Media, Architecture and Design, founded in 2009.
  4. The right to the city is an idea and a slogan that was first proposed by Henri Lefebvre in his 1968 book Le Droit à la ville. Lefebvre summarizes the idea as a “demand… [for] a transformed and renewed access to urban life”. David Harvey described it as follows:  “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights”.
  5. One of the most important practices of understanding of the urban space is tagging and graffiti as practices of permanent interaction with the urban infrastructure. In many ways, this is why many of the contemporary manifestations of street art have their roots in the graffiti subculture that allowed them to open a new perspective on the city.
  6. Pasha 183 on the work “To Incendiaries of Bridges”. Artist Website: 183art.ru
  7. Such practices are covered a series of materials “New cheerful ones” on the project website: partizaning.org.
  8. The era of active transformation of public spaces was most pronounced in Moscow, where between 2011 and 2014 the so-called “cultural revolution”, which consisted in a humanization of the urban environment, was carried out. Changes were made with the active participation of the mayor S. Sobyanin and head of the Department of Culture S. Kapkov (resigned in 2014).
  9. “Cultural Revolution” in Perm started in autumn 2008 with the opening of the exhibition “Russian Povera” in the former River Station building, which was soon transformed into the Museum of Modern Art PERMM. Over the next 4.5 years a number of cultural programs was held in the city: from exhibitions, festivals, theatre performances to large-scale public art program and integrated project of design of the urban environment. With the departure of the governor Oleg Chirkunov in 2012, almost all the cultural programs were curtailed.
  10. The collective Chto Delat (What is to be done?) was founded in early 2003 in Petersburg by a workgroup of artists, critics, philosophers, and writers from St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Nizhny Novgorod with the goal of merging political theory, art, and activism. To find more on the projects of the platform, please check their website: chtodelat.org

Emma Arnold

Women’s Right to the City

The greatest impact we can make in the city is to leave our mark upon it. So writes Henri Lefebvre in 1945: “Everyday life is not unchangeable; it can decline, therefore it changes. And moreover the only genuine, profound human changes are those which cut into this substance and make their mark upon it”1. Henri Lefebvre is the French Marxist sociologist and philosopher best known for his conceptualisation on the ‘right to the city’2 and whose ideas on the urban continue to resonate. Though the right to the city as a concept is experiencing a resurgence, there is a significant omission in Lefebvre’s articulations and its myriad interpretations. Not everyone has the same access to the city. Race, gender, ability, sexuality, and other dimensions of difference in uence mobilities and access to the city. Ignoring difference is problematic for it reproduces inequalities in the city and its capitalist and patriarchal power structures.

Emma Arnold is a dual Canadian and British citizen who has lived and studied in Canada, Greece, Hungary, Norway, and Sweden. She is a cultural geographer with a background in environmental geography, environmental impact assessment, and environmental policy. She has previously worked as a policy analyst developing environmental legislation and regulation for the Canadian government. She is currently a doctoral research fellow at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography at the University of Oslo, where her research focusses on environmental aesthetics, graffiti and street art, and urban space.

It is in Lefebvre’s key ideas on the critiques of the everyday where the Situationists certainly took inspiration. The Situationists, an organisation of avant-garde artists and theorists active in the 1950s and 1960s, believed that in intervening in everyday spaces of the city where capitalism is made and remade, capitalist forces shaping everyday life and society might be ruptured3. The Situationists’ psychogeographic wanderings and artistic practices in the city were charged with political and creative energies4 which are re ected in the works of many contemporary urban artists. In making marks in the street, the elite space of the gallery may be (momentarily) circumvented and the machinations of the art market challenged. Though art markets have indeed embraced and subsumed urban aesthetics and subversions of the street, pieces in the city still gain their meanings from their geography as much as their aesthetics. One might argue that gra ti writers and street artists intervening in the everyday embrace so well and in many ways exemplify Lefebvre’s right to the city which involves the rights to appropriate, use, and participate in urban space5.

Women have not had the same opportunities as men, however, to appropriate, use, and participate in urban space. The city has long been seen as a place for men while domestic spaces of the home have been reserved for women6. This gendered division between public and private spheres perseveres despite feminist strides. Men move more easily throughout the city while women’s mobilities are wholly di erent, often adjusted and mediated by time of day and type of space7. The city at night is frequently considered unsafe, leading women to consequently alter their routes through the city8. Street harassment, threats, and fears of sexual assault and violence keep women from the city at night, and at the very least in uence how they navigate it. Women’s bodies in the city at night are also sexualised; euphemisms such as “women of the night” and “street walkers” hint at how women’s presence in the city at night has been historically for sexual consumption by men9.

[Figure 1]
Littlestarchild with 52hz as part of the OFFmuralES10 movement, contesting the male dominated artist line-up for Montréal’s first Muralfest, Montréal (2013)

Graffiti, and perhaps to some extent street art, are often framed as masculine activities11. To succeed in such environments, it has frequently been masculine traits which are favoured and valorised, such as strength, bravery, and toughness. Though women are involved and have been since the very beginning, they have not been written into the subculture’s history in the same ways as men. The myth of the male vandal has bene ted politicians, particularly in contexts of strict policies against gra ti in which portraying writers as aggressive and male has facilitated public support for wars on gra ti. Indeed, wars on gra ti under regimes of strict or zero tolerance have also had gendered rami cations on the city. What began as a culture open to women became less accessible as security intensi ed and penalties became more severe in many cities12. Women have been less prone to take risks in such environments13.

Graffiti writers and street artists, particularly when working illegally, appropriate space and remake the city. This is often done at night and in spaces which are not always safe, particularly not for women. As such, women do not have the same ease of access to create and intervene in the city. Institutions surrounding these cultures are also male dominated. Street art and mural festivals are habitually organised and managed by men and dominated by male artists. Scholars writing on urban issues, including those writing on graffiti and street art, are also most often men. Despite underrepresentation, there are nevertheless very many female artists working in the streets though they are a minority and work under different conditions.

Neoliberal urban governance has done little to improve women’s right to the city. Zero tolerance as a policy approach is emblematic of neoliberal trends in cities as are the increased public-private partnerships which bring advertising giants like ClearChannel and JCDecaux into virtually every space of the city. In regimes in which graffiti and street art are habitually cleansed from the city, an atmosphere in which advertising flourishes is created. In these advertising spaces on walls and sidewalks, buses and trams, and all manner of public infrastructure, idealised and sexualised images of women are also brought into the city. These images intensify the masculine city, allowing women to serve as not only decoration for the heteronormative male gaze but also contributing to a worrying sexualising of space. In low ambient light, these backlit images dominate urban spaces at night, at times when women are most at risk and fearful.

[Figures 2 and 3]
Effects of sexualised advertising in the city exacerbated at night, Oslo (2015)

It is not just the idealised representations of women’s bodies, predominantly thin and white, which are problematic in outdoor advertising. These depictions in advertising and popular culture are well known to have negative impacts on women’s sense of self and body. The sexualised images of women in advertising are harmful in other ways. Women in various states of undress in sexually suggestive poses, intimating everything from masturbation to fellatio, reinforce dominant and mainstream ideas of heteronormative sexuality which keep women in subordinate positions and for male consumption(14). The presence of these images in the city present a whole new set of problems15, for outdoor advertising is situated in everyday spaces which we cannot avoid, further implicating women’s right to the city16.

Graffiti and street art offer opportunities to resist and disrupt this increasing commodification of urban space. The alternative aesthetics offer a diversion from the images of advertising which take over vital public space. Women’s different access to the city has certainly affected their participation in the culture of urban art. Yet, women’s actions are needed now more than ever. If Lefebvre wrote that we might contest capitalism though making marks and intervening in the city – a capitalism patriarchal in its very nature – it is women intervening in the city whose actions may contest the patriarchal nature of an urban space which is persistently masculine and ever sexualised.

Emma Arnold

Footnotes
  1. Lefebvre, Henri. 1945. Critique of Everyday Life: The Three Volume Text by Henri Lefebvre (2014). Verso: London
  2. Lefebvre, Henri. 1968. Right to the city. In Writings on Cities (1996). Eds Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford:147–159
  3. Pinder, David. 2009. Situationism/situationist geography. In International Encyclopedia of Human Geography. Eds Rob Kitchin and Nigel Thrift. Volume 10. Elsevier, Oxford: 144–150
  4. Debord, Guy. 1963. New forms of action in politics and art. In Situationist International Anthology. Ed Ken Knabb. Bureau of Public Secrets, Berkeley: 62–66
  5. Purcell, Mark. 2003. Citizenship and the right to the global city: Reimagining the capitalist world order. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 27(3): 564–590
  6. Fenster, Tovi. 2005. The right to the gendered city: Different formations of belonging in everyday life. Journal of Gender Studies. 14(3): 217–231
  7. Cresswell, Tim and Uteng, Tanu Priya. 2008. Chapter 1. Gendered mobilities: Towards an holistic understanding. In Gendered Mobilities, Eds Tim Cresswell and Tanu Priya Uteng. Ashgate, Aldershot: 1–12
  8. Valentine, Gill. 1989. The geography of women’s fear. Area. 21(4): 385–390
  9. Solnit, Rebecca. 2014. Wanderlust: A History of Walking. London: Granta
  10. Mairet, Aline. 2013. Off-Murales, a feminist vision of street art in Montreal, Canada. Vandalog. https://blog.vandalog.com/2013/08/off-murales-a-feminist-vision-of-street-art-in-montreal-canada/
  11. Gélinas, Éliane. 2013. The myth of the graffiti whore: Women’s bodies in a masculinist subculture. Yiara Magazine. 1:32–36
  12. Dickinson, Maggie. 2008. The making of space, race and place: New York City’s war on graffiti, 1970–the present. Critique of Anthropology. 28: 27–45
  13. Macdonald, Nancy. 2001. The Graffiti Subculture: Youth, Masculinity, and Identity in London and New York. New York: Palgrave Macmillan
  14. Blloshmi, Ana. 2013. Advertising in post-feminism: The return of sexism in visual culture? Journal of Promotional Communications. 1(1): 4–28
  15. Rosewarne, Lauren. 2005. The men’s gallery. Outdoor advertising and public space: Gender, fear, and feminism. Women’s Studies International Forum. 28: 67–78
  16. Arnold, Emma. 2016. Invisible walls: Sexualising the city through outdoor advertising. Manuscript submitted for publication

Susan Hansen

The Right to Write the City:
Breaking the Law of Untouchability

Street art is a form of democratic conversation not captured by conventional understandings of how art works. It provides a point of potential connection with others, and a sense of attachment within a potentially dehumanizing urban space. The fleeting moments when we are ‘arrested’ by work on the street may in turn afford the potential for ethical engagement and indeed the radical realization of one’s own right to write the city. Street art’s invitation to engage in the city’s ephemeral dialogue is antithetical to traditional heritage frameworks, although this may fit within an understanding of street art as a living tradition, or as intangible cultural heritage.

Susan Hansen (UK) is Convenor of the Visual Methods Group and Chair of the Forensic Psychology Research Group in the Department of Psychology at Middlesex University, London. She has research interests in viewers’ material engagements with, and affective responses to, street art and graffiti; in the analysis of street art and graffiti as a form of visual dialogue; and in the promise of an archaeological approach to understanding uncommissioned independent public art.

With Phil Healey, Head of Visual Art at London’s Middlesex University, Susan recently convened a symposium on Creative Responses to the Urban Environment (https://www.ica.org.uk/whats-on/symposium-art-streets). Held at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and open to the public, this interdisciplinary symposium explored the diversity of creative responses to our urban landscape – from street art and graffiti to yarn bombing and urban photography. The symposium brought together leading international contemporary researchers, curators, artists and photographers in the field of urban creativity.

A traditional understanding of the ways in which we make sense of art assumes the reception of a transhistorical singular meaning identical with the artist’s intention. The philosopher Jacques Rancière refers to this as a model of stultification that sees meaning as conveyed via the logic of cause and effect, with the transmission of the artist’s intention to the spectator positioning viewers as passive recipients. However, graffiti and street art accord the citizen-viewer radically different possibilities in terms of their active participation and engagement with art.

Art historian Anna Waclawek asserts that the viewer of work on the street, in the act of encountering the work, achieves its “transitory completion,” and that the authorship of street art is thus a “community affair.” Of course, the notion that the act of reception and interpretation implies a form of participatory authorship is not unique to street art and graffiti. Indeed, the literature on contemporary art also makes use of this notion, with Martha Buskirk arguing that a work of art is created through the viewer’s “experience of the work as a series of unfolding encounters”; Howard Becker claiming that a work’s completion is continually determined anew by its reception; and Pierre Bourdieu maintaining that the plurality of re-readings inherent in the reception of an art object engender its recurrent recreation.

Rancière asserts that viewers are not passive and thus do not need to be encouraged or shown how to actively engage with work, as they are already involved in an active process of interpretation and appropriation:

«[B]eing a spectator is not some passive condition that we should transform into activity. It is our normal situation. . .we have to recognize… the activity peculiar to the spectator…[which] requires spectators who play the role of active interpreters, who develop their own translation in order to appropriate the “story” and make it their own story.»

Beyond this form of immaterial participation through reception, aesthetic experience and interpretation, it may be argued that street art offers viewers a more active role in inviting them to consider materially engaging with the work on the street by making their own marks in response. This too has a parallel in the contemporary art world, in work on audience participation and viewer interaction. Art critic Nicolas Bourriaud’s influential framework of relational aesthetics presents a utopic reading of the possibilities inherent in work that aims to encourage the interaction of viewers. He asserts that this may provide for the formation of new micro-communities, novel social experiments and enriched interpersonal relations. However, the institutional context of the museum closes down the likelihood of such emancipatory principles translating into democratic practice, as these “new micro-communities” are in fact dialogues occurring within the established networks of the communities of practice peculiar to the art world which neglect the site “specificity of local art and cultural production and political disputes within and between communities.”

Frames from 1247 Days on Whymark Avenue (2017)
© Susan Hansen

While commissioned public art often positions its “user groups” as inherently passive, requiring solicited invitation to participate and experience the work — street art arrests the passing viewer without prior consultation, involvement or forewarning. Street art’s distinct aesthetic of display accords viewers the right to interact differently to the ways in which they might engage with art in institutional contexts. Derrida described graffiti’s “aesthetic of the outside” as “an aesthetic of touching” that stands in contrast to the regulated interactions permitted in museums, where touching the exhibits is forbidden, or in the case of “interactive” works, highly circumscribed and monitored. For Derrida, graffiti breaks the “law of untouchability” in that it invites viewers to touch – and even to leave one’s own trace on the wall.

Work on the street offers an invitation to engage in the city’s incessant ephemeral dialogue. As Lachlan MacDowall has noted, any particular piece of street art creates the conditions for its own interactivity, ‘authorizing’ further unauthorized use of urban space, and thus often provoking a series of works in situ. Alison Young suggests further that street art may afford unexpected opportunities for ethical engagement as it arrests our otherwise smooth motion through urban space, which may provide productive fissures in our ordinary ways of seeing, and being with others, in the city. Conceived as a “tangle in the smooth spaces of the city out of which comes the potential for enchantment,” this moment of “arrest” need not necessarily involve visual pleasure, but may indeed be experienced as troubling, unsettling or unheimlich. Enchantment may afford a moment of seeing other possible ways of being in the city that may fall outside of viewers’ conventional expectations. The enchantment of street art provides a point of potential connection with others, or a sense of attachment within a potentially dehumanizing urban space. In this sense, a “moment of enchantment” may afford the potential for ethical, material, and political engagement.

Street art provides the conditions of possibility for new forms of ethical engagement and indeed the radical realization of one’s own right to write the city. However, this invitation to engage in ‘destructive’ democratic dialogue is antithetical to both conventional notions of the passive reception of art and to traditional heritage frameworks that attempt to ‘protect’ particular works of value against such destruction – although this may be congruent with an understanding of street art as a living tradition, or as intangible cultural heritage. In a forthcoming book (with Lachlan MacDowall and Sam Merrill) on The Contested Heritages of Graffiti and Street Art, we critically examine the implications of an understanding of street art as a form of intangible cultural heritage for recognising its essentially ephemeral nature – as the collective expression of a living culture that places a high value on the fleeting nature of its material traces.1

References
  • Becker, Howard. Art Worlds. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982.
  • Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Paris: Presses du Reel, 2002.
  • Buskirk, Martha. The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003.
  • Derrida, Jacques. “Le Toucher: Touch/To Touch Him.” Paragraph: A Journal of Modern Critical Theory 16.2 (1993): 122–57.
  • Ranciere, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator. London: Verso, 2009.
  • Waclawek, Anne. Graffiti and Street Art. London: Thames & Hudson, 2011.
  • Young, Alison. Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination. London: Routledge, 2014.

1 An earlier version of sections of this discussion appeared in Public Art Dialogue.

Pedro Soares Neves

Economical Power:
Lisbon Urban Art case study

In “O Banqueiro Anarquista” by Fernando Pessoa, the banker states that he is in fact the real anarchist, while all others are just theorists; pseudo-anarchists. This philosophical tale by Pessoa carries particular significance today.

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).

Economic value in the field of art and culture has never been an easy topic but the apparent freedom and anarchy in fields which have more economic impact, such as the financial system, are also taboo. In recent times, the subject appears to have been publicly exposed: the financial system was revealed to go beyond the rules, behaving anarchically, and underground or criminal art movements such as graffiti and street art found a path to the market like never seen before.

This essay highlights elements of a larger research topic on the cultural values of Urban Art, specifically those relating to economic value.

Context

The perfect financial storm hit’s Lisbon in the early 21st century, in a context were the city was still finding out how to convert its infrastructure from one of decay to renewal.

After Portugal’s mural renaissance in the late 70’s – a consequence of democratic freedom and low cost communication strategies – the 80’s heralded a period of inactivity in terms of art on walls. In the 90’s however informal discourses associated with “hip-hop” sub cultures (imported from New York via Paris) began to appear. Many of this first generation of taggers and writers are still active today and share reference points with a new generation that in the 21st century started to stimulate more eclectic discourses associated with street art, graphic design and illustration.

In this context, and after the 98 world expo’s multi-million budgets for public art had been expended, the public art paradigm had to change. The time for low budget productions arrived in 2008, when Lisbon city council assumed a strategy for (graffiti related) Urban Art. A number of factors allowed space for this strategy: decayed buildings serving as canvases, the city’s existent graffiti scene (which required a program), and an increasingly mature body of authors/writers.

The strategy included two main components, the first one related to tourism, city branding and public relations. The second was the creation of an entrepreneurial ecosystem somehow connected with the idea of the ‘creative city’.

Tourism/city breaks

The desirability of short term ‘city breaks’ depends on visibility, widely achieved through IT developments and trends. The political and security issues of the destination are also relevant, as is accessibility, which should be fast and cheap (e.g. low cost flights).

However, there’s also the 3.0 consumer or the ‘prosumers’ needs, which should be taken into consideration. When combining city breaks with this human need for creation you have the perfect ingredients for graffiti and street art development. Lisbon Street Art Tour, The Real Lisbon Street Art Tour, and Underdogs Tours, are just some examples of ongoing services that are taking advantage of this fact. Exemplifying the union of creativity and business, while aligned with the city’s wider cultural policy of financing low cost public art.

Looking up-close

In Lisbon 30% of jobs are connected to the creative sector: 47% of GVA (Gross Value Added) is generated by 22,000 companies from the creative sector. The city boasts more than 100 teaching institutions that on average produce 33,000 graduates a year.

Graffiti and street-art related formal and business oriented initiatives dating back to 2008 (the year when Lisbon City Council formally started interacting with the graffiti and street art community) include: Visual Street Performance (2008, 2009); Project CRONO (2010); Writer’s Delight (2011, 2014); Book a Street Artist (2011); Underdogs Gallery (2013); APAURB (2013); Mistaker Maker (2014); Lisbon Street – Art and Urban Creativity (2014); André in MUDE (2014); Vhils in EDP (2014); Street Art Lisbon guidebook (2014); Lata 65 (2015); and Urban-Art (interior decoration) (2015).

Conclusion

Just mentioning the most relevant initiatives alongside the wider picture of cultural (and other integrated) local policies, there’s clearly a cluster of actors within the Lisbon creative sector specifically dealing with graffiti and street art.

But the reality is not uniform. This investment consisted of a very limited amount of resources for the promotion of graffiti and street art practices. An analysis of the available public data from 2008 – 2016 shows overall investment in the city’s Urban Art strategy as averaging 28.000EUR per year.

Even with the knowledge that the ‘real’ value of this investment is much bigger, it is still less than 2% of the municipalities estimated budget for graffiti removal – a 3-year program that is being implemented with a budget 1.3million EUR per year.

Although there’s been some overtures and resources invested in cultural initiatives, the infrastructural approach is still “blind” to the added value that graffiti, street art and urban creativity brings to the urban landscape.

Acting in an apparent contradictory manner, it’s more important than ever that the institutional forces that deal with this phenomenon are supplied with impartial research data in such a way that could better decide how to proceed tackling the subject of graffiti and street art: either as a menace or as bringing added value to the city.

* this case study was presented in “State of urban art, Oxymores III” October 2016, Paris

Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen

Theses on art, alienation and revolution

Art is revolutionary. Art necessarily has an antagonistic relationship with capitalism that at one and the same time conditions and limits art. Capitalism not only gives shape to the world in which art – the institution of art, the art work and the artist – emerges into, capitalism also dominates this world and retains it in its image. Therefore, art has necessarily to reject capitalism and its dominance.

Mikkel Bolt is an art historian and writer. He has published a number of books most recently Samtidskunstens metamorfose (2016) and Trumps kontrarevolution (2017) and contributed to journals like e-flux journal, Rethinking Marxism and Third Text. He is editor of K&K and Mr Antipyrine. Bolt is an Associate Professor at the Department of Arts and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen.

Art is an effect and a result of a break. The dissection of life into separate spheres. Art’s autonomy is the result of a social process in which political economy is also separated and turned into an autonomous sphere. The self-sufficiency is parallel; art is meaning without reality, political economy is reality without meaning. Art’s ideality thus supplements the materiality of the economy. This is the starting point of art, this is the relation art always tries to process and reject. And this is why modern art has taken the form of an endless series of fantastic and ridiculous escape attempt and suicides. This is why ‘Death to Art!’ has been art’s motto all the way from Jean Paul to Rimbaud to Warhol to Debord and onwards to Luther Blissett.

Art distinguishes itself by a consistent self-critique. As no other praxis art is constantly and always pushing the boundaries and capable of expansion and connecting to other discourses. The expansion of art is a learning-process in self-alienation and hospitability. And because art is conditioned by capitalism, this self-critique also includes a critique of capitalism.

Art is an attempt to reach beyond. Beyond itself, but also beyond capitalism. To create another world. This is the lesson of the avant-garde; that it is necessary to break free from art and create connections with other anti-capitalist practices on the other side of art. It is in this way that art acquires signification. Art must necessarily test autonomy, not doing so would amount to not addressing the fundamental conditions concerning art and capitalism. It is that simple.

As an autonomous and privileged form, art is separate from life. It is and remains locked inside capitalist society. Artistic praxis is the visible expression of capitalist society’s alienated praxis. Art is creativity that is allowed in as much as it does not question the fundamental separation of work and art. Instead of realizing its needs in everyday life, art abstains and withdraws to its autonomy. Art’s freedom without efficiency equals the efficiency of work without freedom. Capitalism and art are two sides of the same mode of production or the same society.

Art is a break, a rejection of any kind of synthesis or harmonic fusion of opposites. Art and capitalism does not come right, just as proletariat and capital does not come right and just as communism and capitalism cannot be joined but is each-others opposite. One becomes two and two does not become one. The false whole is split up. And no two splits look the same. Shocked into abstraction.

Art is the visible expression of an alienated activity. Even when art is anti-artistic and intervenes outside the institution of art it only confirms alienation. Its satisfaction of needs always has to do with alienated needs.

Art is anti-capitalist. In order for art to become itself art has to reject capitalism and the capitalist society. If art fuses with capitalism, it disappears (as Marcuse writes). Therefore, art is forced into trying to supersede capitalism and abolish it in its entirety. This has of course taken place in a number of different ways throughout the history of art but it is a constitutive condition for art that it is engaged in this undertaking and tries to move against capitalism. From romanticism though aestheticism and the avant-gardes to high-modernism and on, art has been a continuous testing of capitalism, simultaneously production of art as an autonomous phenomenon and the rejection of art’s function within a larger process of de-differentiation characterized by the appearance of relative autonomous discourses.

Capitalism is both art’s condition of possibility and its limit. No matter what designation we use – the bourgeois capitalist world, modern, late-modern or post-modern society, integrated world-capitalism, the society of control, empire or the specific capitalist mode of production – capitalism sets the frame for art.

In its neoliberal phase the dominance of capitalism tends to become total. Neoliberal capitalism not only uses art as a model for new forms of work and consumption, art is also being sponsored by banks, firms and cities that in exchange acquire a smarter or socially concerned brand adapted to the ruling idea of social responsibility.

As an institutional activity art has no critical function. When the formal innovations of art become norm it is only in the institution of art that art has any kind of ‘critical’ function. When this happens, when the avant-garde becomes tradition, art not only stops being negative, it also stops being art and turns into industry.

Art is situated between ideas and ideals. Like moral, religion and metaphysics art is a mystical fog in the mind of wo/man. It has no independent existence but is attached to its material presuppositions. In that regard art is just a reflex or an echo of human life processes. Art appears to be autonomous and disconnected from the primary material life production but serves to uphold the symbolic relations in the social organisation.

Art is artificial. Art is not a natural testing of capitalism but a negation of capitalism. An attempt to get away.

Art has to question the already produced world and open passages towards another world. It constantly has to visualize the continuous catastrophe of capitalism. And it has to haunt the already created world with representations of another life. It should not only shake all familiarities and interpret the world differently: it has to transform the world. This is the starting point for the idea of art, this is the dream, this is the hope that continues to haunt art. Art is thus an attempt to envision modernity differently. Art always has to do with an idea of an ending of existing capitalism, whether this takes a grandiose form as in Constant’s New Babylon-project, is tragicomic as in Syberberg’s Hitler-film, hysteric as in Bataille’s novels, distracted as in Walser’s micrograms or just damned ironic as in post-post-neo-avant-garde projects like Bernadette Corporation.

Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should remain silent about art. As a modern phenomenon art is indissociably related to the capitalist mode of production and the de-differentiation process of capitalist modernisation. Art shaped the world art emerged into and art appeared as an autonomous sphere in the violent and comprehensive transformation of the world that took place in the 18th and 19th century where more and more aspects of human life were subsumed under capitalist relations of production.

The artwork’s autonomy cannot function as a model through which the abolition of wage labour can take place, it can only function as a model for a communist praxis after the abolition of capitalist wage labour (Adorno), meaning after the abolition of art. This is the positive side of the fact that 30 % of the German youth want to be artists. They of course intuitively understand art as an escape, to be an artist is a possibility of escaping capitalism’s depressive cycle of production and consumption where everything is mediated or turned into a commodity including one-self. What they don’t necessarily understand it that art’s potential will only be realized though the supersession of art. The abolition of alienated labour is the same thing as the supersession of art, as Debord wrote on two of his Directives in 1963.

Martyn Reed

Rise Up!

Nuart produces both temporary and long-term public artworks as well as facilitates dialogue and action between a global network of artists, academics, journalists and policy makers surrounding street art practice. Our core goal is to help redefine how we experience both contemporary and public art practice: to bring art out of museums, galleries and public institutions onto the city streets and to use emerging technologies, to activate a sense of public agency in the shaping of our cities.

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).

Outside of Nuart Festival, our growing portfolio of projects represents an on-going art and education program that seeks to improve the conditions for, and skills to produce, new forms of public art both in Stavanger and further afield. For us, public spaces outside conventional arts venues offer one of the richest, most diverse and rewarding contexts in which this can happen.

Our work is guided by our belief in the capacity for the arts to positively change, enhance and inform the way we think about and interact with each other and the City.

The Real Power of Street Art

Nuart festival presents an annual paradigm of hybridity in global sanctioned and unsanctioned street art practice. Through a series of large and human scale public artworks, murals, performances, art tours, workshops, academic debates, education programs, film screenings and urban interventions, supported by a month long exhibition of installations, Nuart explores the convergence points between art, public space and the emergent technologies that are giving voice and agency to a new and more creative civilian identity, an identity that exists somewhere between citizen, artist and activist.

The real power of “street art” is being played out daily on walls, buildings, ad shelters and city squares the world over, and it’s now obvious that state institutions can neither contain nor adequately represent the fluidity of this transgressive new movement. As the rest of the world begins to accept the multiplicity of new public art genres, it is becoming more apparent, that street art resists both classification and containment. The question is, not how can this inherently public art movement be modified or replicated to fit within the confines of a civic institutional or gallery model, but how can the current model for contemporary art museums, galleries and formulaic public art programs, be re-examined to conform with the energy of this revolutionary new movement in visual art practice.

In the 1990’s, Situationist concepts developed by philosopher Guy Debord, surrounding the nature of “The City”, “Play” and the “Spectacle”, alongside sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s theories exploring the rights to shape our own public and mental space, came together to form an emergent adbusting “artivism”, which now forms the foundation of street art practice. Radical cultural geographer David Harvey has stated, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources, it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city”.

It is here, at the intersection between philosophy, geography, architecture, sociology, politics and urbanism, that Nuart situates itself, it exists as a critique of the colonization of everyday life by commodity and consumerism, whilst recognizing that one of the only radical responses left, is to jettison the hegemonic, discursive and gated institutional response to capitalism, and engage it directly where it breeds and infects the most, in our urban centers.

The challenge for a new and relevant public art isn’t to attempt to negate capitalisms neoliberal market logics with an ever more dominant liberal discourse, both are ultimately mired in a conflict that on the surface simply serves to feed the polarization and spectacle that we’re attempting to transcend. What we need is the active participation of citizens in the creation of their own holistically imagined environments, both physical and mental, a direct and collective response to space that leads to the shaping of place. A place in which the disengaged and passive citizens desired and ever more manipulated by market forces, are inspired to re-make themselves. Nuart proposes that the production of art in public spaces outside conventional arts venues offers the community, not only the most practical, but also the richest, most relevant and rewarding contexts in which this can happen.

It is in this “remaking” of self, this deep desire to engage with the world, to develop civic agency and purpose, that transcends identity, gender and class, and enables those locked out of the arts by a post-Adorno obscurant lexicon (eh?), that street art delivers. It offers an opportunity to reconnect, not only with art, but also with each other. Hundreds of people covering a vast swathe of demographics, from toddlers and single moms to refugees and property barons, on a street art tour conversing with each other, are testament to this.

We believe that when you want to challenge the powerful, you must change the story, it’s this DIY narrative embedded within street art practice, that forms the bonding agent for stronger social cohesion between citizens from a multiplicity of cultures, as our lead artist for 2017, Bahia Shehab will attest. It is this narrative, that is acting as the catalytic agent towards street art becoming a vehicle capable of generating changes in politics as well as urban consciousness.

The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from what kind of person we want to be. The transformation of urban space creates changes in urban life, the transformation of one, being bound to the transformation of the other. What social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies, art and aesthetic values we desire, are closely linked to the spaces we inhabit. The “banalization” of current city space, combined with the numbing effect of digital devices that guide us from A to B, have rendered us passive. Consumer cows sucking at the teat of capital trapped in a dichotomy between left and right, instead of right and wrong. And for the most, the hegemonic islands of sanitised cultural dissent we call Art Institutions, are either unable or uninterested, in engaging with the general public in any meaningful way.

In the early 2000’s, the evocative power of certain already existing and often crumbling industrial interzones, including that of Tou Scene, our main exhibition space, one that we were instrumental in establishing, gave rise to a new form of engagement with art in urban spaces that is only now being fully recognized and exploited. Street Art is at times of course co-opted and complicit with the “creative destruction” that the gentrification process engenders, but Capitalism’s continuous attempt to “instrumentalize” everything, including our relationship to art should be vigorously resisted. It is these “Stalker-esque” zones of poetic resistance, that initially gave shelter to one of the first truly democratic , non-hierarchical and anti-capitalist art forms, and unlike most cultural institutions, it is still, for the most, unafraid to voice this opinion, important in a time when even our art institutions are beginning to resemble houses of frenzied consumption. Street art exists to contest rather than bolster the prevailing status quo. As such, it is picking up as many enemies as friends within the field of public art.

By attempting to transform the city, street art attempts to transform life, and though by no means is all street art overtly political, it does, in it’s unsanctioned form at least, challenge norms and conventions regulating what is acceptable use of public space. In particular, it opposes commercial advertising’s dominion over urban surfaces, an area that Nuart are active in “taking over” throughout the year and in particular during the festival period. Our curating initiatives not only aim to encourage a re-evaluation of how we relate to our urban surroundings, but to also question our habitual modes of thinking and acting in those spaces. Street art is not just art using the streets as an artistic resource, but also an art that is questioning our habitual use of public space. Street art doesn’t simply take art out of the context of the museum, it does so whilst hacking spaces for art within our daily lives that encourage agency and direct participation from the public, “Everyone an artist” as Joseph Beuys would have it, and if it is accussed of being produced without academic rigour, we are reminded that he also asked, “Do we want a revolution without laughter?”.

Nuart’s programs are designed specifically to explore and silently challenge the mechanisms of power and politics in public space. Increasingly, we see the rights to the city falling into the hands of private and special interest groups, and yet, we have no real coherent opposition to the worst of it. The 20th Century was replete with radical Utopic manifestos calling for change, from Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto of 1909 to Murakami’s “Superflat” of 2000. Nuart’s annual academic symposium, Nuart Plus, acts as a platform for a resurgency in utopic thinking around both city development and public art practice, and whilst recognizing that street art is often co-opted and discredited by capital, it also recognises that even the most amateur work, is indispensable in stimulating debate and change in a Modern society that has developed bureaucracies resistant to seeing art, once more, as part of our everyday life.

As the Situationst graffiti scrawled on Parisian walls in 1968 stated, Beauty is in the streets, so Rise Up! and support those dedicated to unleashing one of the most powerful communicative practices known to mankind, there’s work for art to be done in the world amongst the living.

Laima Nomeikaite

Street Art as Heritage:
Right to the City?

In recent years individual street artwork and graffiti have been framed as cultural heritage.  However, attempts to integrate street art and graffiti into heritage frameworks have not provided answers to the philosophical and practical problems of the preservation of street art.

Laima Nomeikaite is human geographer, urban planner and physical improviser. She works at the Norwegian Institute for Cultural heritage Research, where she researches on street art as intangible heritage. Her research interests center on the interplay between heritage, arts, city and space/place. She together with her friends have led for several years festival ‘Matgilde mot Hungersnød’ (Feast against Famine) in Bergen, the project has closely collaborated with the street art collective Bart at that time. Laima is taking also part of the improvisation company ‘På Stående Fot’ led by the chorographer Kristine Nilsen Oma.

One of the limitations of those framings is that unsanctioned street art and graffiti value “right to the city” and its components; such as “the right to everyday experience”, illegality, transcendence and anti-commercialism, have tended to be not considered. Andrzej Zieleniec (2016, pp. 10-11) asserts that unsanctioned graffiti and street art can be understood as an “expression or embodiment of Lefevre’s cry and demand for the “right to the city”, the right to appropriate, appreciate, know and use its spaces and places (…) a free art or politics which challenges the normal, banal, functionalized and increasingly commodified and privatized space”. With the “right to the city” concept, Henri Lefebvre (1996)  had aimed to provide an alternative vision for a city in which inhabitants  are entitled to the right to manage urban space for themselves,  a possible city beyond the state, capitalism and consumer society.

David Crouch (2010, 57) asserts that “the problem is not with heritage, but the way it is thought about and institutionalized in contemporary culture, often through dominant visual representations”.  Laurajane Smith (2006) presents that the key limitation with institutionalized or conventional heritage is related to “authorized heritage discourse” (AHD). In her conception of AHD the UN World Heritage Conventions and all other authoritative bodies in the heritage field are included.  Such discourse is steered by officials or experts with the power to define and legitimize the meaning and understanding of heritage. Here, the emphasis on preserving material things often marginalizes the practices and beliefs of source communities. AHD focuses attention on the aesthetically pleasing material objects to be protected for its national significance; justifies tourist value as a support for the economic promotion, and defines heritage as material and non-renewable (ibid). AHD is path-dependent, which continues shaping perceptions and dissonant conceptions of heritage.

The AHD can be identified within the case of street art and graffiti, although the experts in charge of preservation or removal are not only experts within the heritage field, but also private actors and various state and city authorities. The most classical approaches of AHD were applied to street art and graffiti such as tangible framing (e.g. covering an artwork with Plexiglas or Perspex), preservation of ascribed historical, aesthetic and touristic value, and legal heritage frameworks. The academic literature illustrates that local authorities and heritage experts most commonly use value-based systems and tangible preservation techniques to justify the preservation of street art and graffiti (Avery, 2009, MacDowall 2006, Hansen 2016, Hansen and Danny 2015, Dovey, Wollan, and Woodcock 2012). However, street art or graffiti values like illegality, the ‘everyday’, public space, anti-commercialism and transience are usually not considered. Susan Hansen and Danny Flynn (2015, 898) specify that local councils tend to preserve street artworks of famous street artists by fixing Perspex over the works; this marks them as ‘being of value’, ‘adding value’ and being worthy of conservation. However, they fail to consider its anti-commercial and “the right to everyday experience” value. They fail to understand that unsanctioned graffiti and street arts role is beyond bureaucratic or capitalist systems, beyond the elite space of the art gallery; a free form of art, which can be made by everybody and for everybody. For this reason, the tangible preservation strategy has proven harmful to street art and graffiti as it reinforces a division of high and local culture, and encourages vandalism rather than safeguarding (Hansen and Danny 2015, 899).

Street art and graffiti has traditionally fought for the urban commons and been intentionally accessible. Framing street artworks deprives citizens of the right to experience them (in the public space and ephemerally) in daily life and the broader right to engage with the city; it stimulates the privatization and commodification of culture, which street art by its nature is opposed to. Moreover, AHD tends to averse the meanings of certain street artworks neither does it consider the opinions of local people.

The photo below shows the consequence of the preservation of Argus’ Stencil “Smiley” with Plexiglass in Bergen, Norway. Smiley was a famous city character; Smiley symbolizes the free expression of the choice to live on the streets of Bergen, his lifestyle represents the right to a different experience and the right to the city. The figure (who also belongs on the street) is very close to the essence of the philosophy of street art. Despite the symbolical meaning of the painting and despite the negative reactions by local people against tangible preservation, which were expressed in local media with the titles “The ugliest gallery in the city” (Bergens Tidende 03 February 2014) and “City council prisons street art” (Bergens Tidende 20 November 2014) street artworks by Argus (‘Smiley’ and ‘Otto’) are continuing to be imprisoned with Plexiglass.

Argus ‘Smiley’ stencil before and after framing.
Source: Argus/argusgate.wordpress.com. Permission obtained from Argus.
The framed photo on the right is taken by Laima Nomeikaite.

Heritage approaches for street art and graffiti

In order to protect the value “right to the city” of unsanctioned street art and graffiti, there is a need to move away from formal heritage frameworks, tangible preservation techniques and expert-based approaches which attempt to legitimize the meaning of heritage. Firstly it needs to be understood, as Laurajane Smith (2006, 44) argues, that ‘heritage is not a “thing”; it is not a “site”, building or other material object with defined meanings and values’; rather, heritage must be experienced, and ‘heritage is the experience’ (Smith 2006, 45- 47). Furthermore, drawing on the theoretical position of the more-than-representational aspects of social life, Laurajane Smith (2006, Chap. 2) provides a new understanding of heritage as a process or a performance. Conception of heritage as a process refers to a shift from material representations, static objects and sites, towards heritage as a relational and socio-cultural process in the present.  Thus, heritage is always in the remaking process, it is re/ created, it is a cultural process or performance in which the values and meanings are identified and negotiated; this process always emerges in the present not the past (Smith 2006). Heritage is vital, changeable and relational, as David Crouch (2010, 64) presents that heritage closely engages in dwelling, identity and belonging (…) “a dynamic process through which heritage emerges at particular times, moments, durations and feelings of belonging”.

Instead of focusing on formal heritage frameworks, value based systems and stakeholder approaches to street art and graffiti, heritage management practice could engage with the performative everyday practice. The turn towards “practice” in heritage studies emphasizes the ways in which people interact routinely at heritage sites, landscapes and museum spaces in everyday life (Auclair, 2015; Crouch, 2010; Haldrup & Boerenholdt, 2015; Schofield, 2009). John Schofield (2009) expresses that, in order to achieve more inclusive heritage management, researchers must analyse the interactions between people and their physical environment in everyday life. In his opinion, ‘[t]he heritage should be about: the everyday, the everywhere and something for (and of) everybody’ (Schofield 2009: 112). Schofield asserts that studying the everyday is a symmetric approach to heritage conservation, accommodating multiple views and perspectives; everyday practice provides the views about heritage as people actively engage with it rather than a selective heritage expert group managing the change.

Graffiti and street art is not only imagery, but it also concerns urban life – its atmosphere, its public space and its ‘everyday’ sensory, affective and embodied experience. Thus, there is a need to engage with the multiple views and perspectives related to not only street art images, but also to its relations to the cityscape. Performative and affect-based approaches might capture different perceptions and sensory experiences of street artwork and its relationship to the physical environment. Performative research methods were developed for exploring performative practice and the sensory inventory of urban life, including ‘soundwalks’ and bodily interactions (Paquette & McCartney, 2012); ‘smellwalks’ (Henshaw, 2013); and rhythm (Edensor, 2012). Charlotte Bates (2013), for example, uses video diaries to capture embodied experience in everyday life.

To conclude, street art and graffiti does not need to be managed by experts, the law or Plexiglas; instead, there is a need to engage with multiple views and perspectives and to understand the role and the relationships between street art/graffiti and its place, people and space. Following Guy Debord’s (1957) statement that ‘what changes our way of seeing the streets is more important than what changes our way of seeing painting’, in the context of heritage management practice it could be said that: what changes our way of approaching heritage is more important than managing said change.


References
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  • Henshaw, V. (2013). Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments. New York: Routledge.
  • Lefebvre, Henri. 1968. Right to the city. In Writings on Cities (1996). Eds Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford:147–159
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  • Schofield, J. (2016). Heritage Expertise and the Everyday: Citizens and Authority in the Twenty-first Century. In J. Schofield (Ed.), Who Needs Experts?: Counter-mapping Cultural Heritage (pp. 1). Farnham: Ashgate
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Javier Abarca

Some notes on street art, murals and power in public space

Today’s huge institutional murals have very little to do with the ephemeral, contextualised, human-scale pieces scattered across the landscape we used to call street art some years ago. These are two very different practices with diametrically opposite roles regarding power in public space.

Javier Abarca (Madrid 1973) is an artist, researcher and educator in the fields of graffiti and street art. A leading figure from the first generation of Spanish graffiti, he taught a class on graffiti and street art at the Complutense University of Madrid between 2006 and 2015. He founded the website Urbanario in 2008. His teaching, curating and writing have been commissioned by museums and institutions in Spain and across Europe.

Questioning limits

Due to the unregulated nature of their practice, street artists can ignore the boundaries dictated by property that determine where they can or cannot act. A piece of street art can simultaneously cover two or more contiguous surfaces belonging to different properties, thus ignoring the division of matter and space demarcated by money. Street art can make visible how these limits of action and physical demarcations are arbitrary and cultural. It can take space and matter back to its natural state, when everything was for everybody to use, and nobody actually owned anything.

Murals, conversely, confirm the limits demarcated by money. They validate the status quo by arranging themselves obediently where architecture and property dictate. Instead of questioning the logic of money, they visibly reaffirm it.

While power uses architectural materials to try and make its division of the world into a permanent physical reality, street art typically uses humble, temporary materials such as paint or paper, which transform space merely at a symbolic level. For this reason it can be read as a sort of parody of this allegedly permanent capitalist arrangement of the world, this presumptuous order that inescapably goes back to the amalgam from which it started. Street art can therefore be a sort of foretelling of the future state of a building. This is one of the reasons why it can be disturbing, because it can make visible how a prideful building is in essence just a miserable ruin.

Inhabiting margins

In the process of creating and searching for street art pieces, both the artist and the viewer often get to explore parts of the city they would rarely visit otherwise. Places such as alleys or empty lots, dead spaces below or around bridges and other infrastructures, even off-limits terrains such as abandoned buildings or tunnels. French theorist Guilles Clement describes how the distinctive value of these places resides in them being the only parts of the city free from the control of money, and how they thus become the only chance for the city dweller to find space for natural and human qualities such as indetermination or imagination.

For both artist and viewer street art can end up being an excuse to discover and visit these kinds of ignored places, to follow unfrequented paths across the city. Being on the look out for street art consequently widens and enriches the viewers’ awareness of their environment. Murals, conversely, tend to appear within the predictable spaces of power. They take the viewer along the official paths, through the alienating urban spaces of production and consumption.

Time

A street art piece mutates and evolves like everything around it, including its viewers. It naturally intertwines with the evolution of its context and with the life of the people that repeatedly come across it. Murals, instead, are generally meant to remain. They exist in a plane different to that of the viewer. They are frozen in the atemporal dimension of the monument, of power, far detached from the real life going on around them.

The human scale

Street art always works within a scale related to the human body. It can only go as big as the body allows. An artist can reach beyond that by using a ladder or a pole, but these portable tools work only as extensions of the body, therefore the scale of the resulting artwork is still visibly human. Artists can also take advantage of the features of the architecture surrounding a chosen spot, for example climbing up a ledge or leaning out a window. But, again, this takes place within discernibly human limits. A street art piece is the visible presence of a fellow human being.

Murals, conversely, exist in an inhuman, monumental scale, very far from the viewer. When producing a mural, artists are not forced to understand their working environment, because they do not need to adapt to it. Murals are deployed with superhuman devices such as scaffoldings or cranes, which operate on a scale that allows the artist to ignore the context of the artwork. Instead of coming from below, a mural comes from above.

A piece of street art is necessarily created in a way analogous to the way a path appears on a landscape. A path needs to adapt to the features of the terrain, it is the result of a dialogue between these features and the scale and potential of the human body. A mural, on the other hand, works as a highway or a viaduct, ignoring by its very nature all but the most prominent characteristics that define a place. A similar analogy could be drawn between a piece of street art and a medieval street, which takes form based on the features of the terrain and the decisions of its inhabitants, and between a mural and a Haussmannian avenue, deployed with the help of superhuman machines and blatantly blind to any human or natural characteristic of the place it appears on. A mural is, from this point of view, yet another instrument for exerting control over the environment and its population.

A mural reveals nothing about the possibilities and limitations of the relation between the human body and the built environment. It is no longer a portrait of the relation between a person and his or her surroundings, which is necessarily open to dialogue. It is, instead, a portrait of the way in which power relates to the environment, which is most often a blind, imposed monologue.

Viewers can respond to a piece of street art. They can, for example, correct it or paint over it. Street art is a call to action – it empowers the viewer. It brings us back to the time when each person was able to rearrange his or her surroundings as far as his or her bodily potential would allow, before the power of a few would start to determine the limits of action of everyone else. It evokes this inherently human reality whose repression has created the alienating scenario we now live in. In light of this, it is only natural that street art, and particularly the neighbouring practice of graffiti, have become more prominent and violent as the control over the environment exerted by architecture and advertising has become stronger.

As opposed to the empowering nature of street art, murals force a passive position on the viewer. Like architecture or advertising, murals are a monologue that the viewer cannot respond to. Murals make clear that the viewer is a passive spectator, and a consumer. Street art can be a dialogue between people, while murals are essentially a one-way communication channel monopolised by power.

***

Excerpted from “From street art to murals, what have we lost?”, Street Art and Urban Creativity Scientific Journal Vol 2 Nº2, 2016.

Evan Pricco

Fall on Me

“Me, on the other hand… I’m an optimist. So, when I see this, I don’t think the sky is falling. I think that, sir, is the sound of opportunity knocking.”

—Mike Milligan, Fargo, Season Two

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 going to start this essay off by trying to connect the best written TV season ever, Fargo Season Two, and the concept of street art and power. There is a big part of me that sees the sky falling. Everywhere, not just here in America. Shit is falling apart. You can just feel it. We had these eight standout years that were, obviously, not without struggle, conflict and frustration with power and those in charge. But you felt like the conversation was moving forward; that we were evolving and beginning to understand the nuances of race, sex, gender, justice, climate change, and simply language itself. We were (and the “we” here is those of us who constantly think of the evolution of these previously listed nuances no matter what leaders are in charge) beginning to feel empowered to really challenge the status quos and turn our space in the world into a place where everyone could begin to feel included. And then, well, we took a few steps back this past November.

I’m speaking for America, but it applies to a lot of people and places. The sky is falling. Not everyone was ready to have these nuanced conversations. A lot of people, Europe, Asia, America, still digest information in simple platitudes, banal expressions and ignorant speech. We’ve gone back to the language of 1984 while living in Brave New World. We are distracted. We have toys. We have gadgets. We have a celebrity president whose catchphrase was gas station memorabilia in the early 2000s. So the attempted progress of a few years ago is sort of back to square one.

But… but! I’m going to be like MIke Milligan here. Don’t think of the sky falling. Think of what this means in terms of how we now have to fight against power. This is an opportunity for the arts. This is a time where we really need to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, to retool our arsenal about how we compete with and challenge the power structures in the world around us. This year’s Nuart Festival is based around this theme of power, or, as they note, “…questioning who has it, who doesn’t, and how sanctioned and unsanctioned street and public art can challenge prevailing mechanisms of control.” What Nuart has successfully accomplished in past years is putting street art and graffiti into the pantheon of historically relevant political interventions. Whether those interventions come in the form of revolutionizing the way we look at art itself, or how we look at dissident behavior, or how we challenge power structures, Nuart has always attempted to connect these dots.

When the theme of “Power” was raised for the 2017 edition, I immediately thought of this classic Milligan line: we are in a time of opportunity. It’s our time to question. What have we done well in the past? What can we do in the future? How did the power structures form, and how do we fight back and infiltrate these systems with better ideas and plans to make the world, if not better, more sustainable and equal. Using the idea of public space, as Nuart bases its whole program on, is the best place to start. It’s where we shop, eat, drink, gather, wander; it’s the place we all share. If we begin to share ideas here, or challenge the notion of shared space in the face of powerful entities that control what we see and what we buy, this is us challenging the system. Or, challenging the man, shall we say?

While we are at it, let’s not talk about Tweeting. Don’t show me your iPhone photos from a protest. Don’t Snapchat or Instagram that you passively care about a cause. Let’s not discuss social media’s impact on challenging these power structures. These new modes of communication are owned and operated by the definition of power. These are, by Wall Street definition, the man, man. I love that these mediums connect us with causes around the world, allowing us to find like-minded struggles in far-off places, that they teach us new ways to challenge this idea of power. But Nuart is about discussing and doing. Street art and graffiti, when it’s great and subversive, is about the action on the actual street. When you get on Instagram and see something that challenges the way mainstream audiences think about the world, when you see something that is in direct conflict with power structures and you start to feel empowered yourself, it is generally right next to a photo of a kitten. I love kittens. They are my favorite thing on Earth. But when I want to feel enabled and strong when I see equal rights rallies in Korea, or Occupy Wall Street protests in NYC, I don’t need comfort. I want that unease. I want to see and feel something new in my consciousness.

Yes, I went from Fargo, to power, to Instagram, to kittens—but my point is that we live in a tremendous moment in time where we constantly see progress nullified by grabs of power that leave us feeling defenseless and hopeless. We have always had wonderful tools to grapple with these feelings, whether it be through Street Art, protest, social justice reform, human rights, and activist platforms brought to the forefront through the campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. Sometimes we needs these reminders to fight back. To understand what the power structures mean. Where Nuart takes this discussion, from the way the streets are owned and operated, to the way museums control our art history, I see an opportunity to equip ourselves for the intellectual and ideological battles ahead. The sky is falling, and we are ready.

Carlo McCormick

To the Streets

An ode, not a battle cry.

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.

Nuart is calling and there is urgency to their tone. Things are heating up, battle lines are being drawn, and I still don’t know where I stand. Martyn writes me- “The festival theme is Power, who has it, why and how do they use it, what are the conduits to it and the mechanisms that control it, specifically as it relates to public/private space and the shaping of art and the city… We’re having huge challenges here with the art establishment, public art and public space and public funding being the new battleground. I’d love to keep focus here and champion street art.”

Indeed there is cause for concern, and I’m no help because I’m still jumping down rabbit holes of cultural obscurity, looking for what? A way out, or maybe I’m just ducking for cover. He wants me to address these pressing issues with the polemics I once brought to these things, back when the streets offered so much novelty and discovery for all of us that the possibilities seemed endless. But I still remember that time too well, and even the time before that when we had the cities to ourselves, wastelands of social abandonment so fecund for growing culture. There was a time when artists played in the streets unattended, without adult supervision like those great photos Martha Cooper and many others were taking in the Seventies and Eighties of kids inventing their own play out of rubble strewn vacant lots framed by the shells of burnt out buildings. And it’s not nostalgia to remember that- it wasn’t that great a time to begin with and the urban landscape is far too embattled now to dwell on the past- but it is vital to know how the topography has changed so we can figure out our place in it.

I don’t have a manifesto for the new city, sorry Nuart, just the odd musings of an old flaneur still lost in the crowd, as Baudelaire described “in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and infinite.” This is the city we all inhabit, all the more so now that the long trend of depopulation has reversed itself and it’s all become that much more busy and crowded. Where do we find a place for art in the new city of prosperity and privilege? More importantly, what kind of art do we need there? Now seems hardly the time to reward and ratify such status with aesthetic bling. In New York City, where I live, the trend for luxury dwellings is to commission major works by artists like Anish Kapoor and Yayoi Kusama, so it might be more important that ever to resist these baubles of vulgar wealth in our public spaces, like Paris- a place that allowed us to fall in love with what a city might be- confronts the extravagance of Koons poisonously baited public art gift. Urbanism increasingly seeks to adapt strategies for bringing utility to the disused zones of our cities, to bring order and rationality to the chaos. Have we forgotten so quickly the lessons of Jane Jacobs who told us in no uncertain terms; “There is a quality even meaner than outright ugliness or disorder, and this meaner quality is the dishonest mask of pretended order, achieved by ignoring or suppressing the real order that is struggling to exist and to be served.” If the city is to have a public art in needs to embrace and even celebrate this ugliness and disorder, not to deny it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I kind of love the idea of public art, but does it have to be so God damn horrible? More than thirty years ago, when I was still young enough to entertain my follies, I had the idea of doing a guidebook of all the very worst public monuments cluttering our towns and cities. Though I knew far less of the world then, and far fewer people than now, I was immediately inundated by people trying to communicate to me how the ugly statuary they walked by daily, commemorating some figure few remembered and fewer yet cared about, deserved the dishonor of such a wretched inventory. And this was before the Internet. Could we presume the cultural clutter of our landscape has gotten any better? Hardly. It sure doesn’t help that the ever-avaricious contemporary art market has gotten into the game. Municipal and corporate bureaucracies have no idea of what we need or want, they simply find consensus in mediocrity. Community-based mural programs hardly have a better record of creative vitality; rather they strangle authentic vision and artistic idiosyncrasy through some wishy-washy negotiation through the petty concerns and imaginative bankruptcy of the many. Surely this is the kind of asshole thinking one should expect of an art critic, but let’s face it, art in the streets does not beg for an overlying authority, it rejects it.

A few years back, stumbling upon an ugly rock inscribed in 1664 as testament to the Danish traitor Corfitz Ulfedt “To his eternal shame, disgrace and infamy,” I thought it possible to define a new kind of monument, to make public shame rather than heroes. I’ve not had much luck in my search since then, though I am somewhat heartened by the establishment of the Fallen Monument Park in Moscow, the Memento Park in Budapest and Stalin’s World near Vilnius, Lithuania. The Soviet Empire has much to contribute to the litany of atrocious public art, but we too have plenty of historical and artistic missteps to fill similar parks of our own. Maybe in the United States this could be the solution to all the suddenly contested monuments to the Confederacy. I’d bet there are plenty of states in the south with ample room for such a hateful assembly and that something like this would be immensely popular with tourists. Let’s too consider a space for all the empty signifiers and boring banalities from the fine art world that populate our public spaces, or even a lot of what street art has given us by a similar measure. There’s plenty of kitsch to go around, so it’s a good project for one of you out there, and I’d be happy to serve on your advisory board, though with my shifting attitudes towards such monumentality I might have to spell that as bored.

Personally, I’m happy to see so many of my friends doing so well in career and life with this global muralist movement. Indeed, in many ways this art is making our cities better. Honestly however, that is not what I got into street art for. Murals, for all their glory, have come too often to work with the city as a commodified space, representations of renewal and hipness that serve a gentrification process which pays little heed to the diversity which makes cities great, landmarks for a new kind of cultural tourism that while laudable have become so prolific we risk the heart of their authenticity; to express the locality of space and not simply play an alternate tune of the same global hegemony perpetrated by multinational franchises.

So what am I looking at these days? I’m trying to reconsider the kind of art that was made when the city was a great canvas precisely because it was abandoned and reviled. I want an art that grows in the forlorn and forbidden, like it was for my generation with the first graffiti masters and those proto-street artists like Haring and SAMO who took their cues from that movement, but also oddities on the periphery of my memory like the wheat field Agnes Denes grew in lower Manhattan in the landfill that would become Battery Park where I used to woo my sweethearts in that brief time before I was married. I’m remembering the early work of Roa, who I came to late in the game but fell in love with when I understood how those murals were about bringing beauty to a place everyone hated, and how that transformation can be something physical and of the heart. I’ve been checking out the work of John Divola, now getting some serious recognition in the art world for his wonderfully abject vandalisms in abandoned spaces in southern California during the Seventies. Scott Hocking too, who is also one of the blessed few to be getting real attention in the art world, was not just one of the leading figures of what we’ve come to recognize Detroit’s great age of “Ruins Porn” wasn’t simply a terrific photographic trespasser but a great sculptor building magical interventions in the mighty vacant cathedrals of America’s industrial collapse.

Nuart 2015: Bordalo II
Photo: © Ian Cox

As usual I’m looking at a lot of garbage, but with a purpose this time. Oh, I don’t mean those “in”formalist heaps of trash that we see piling in MFA programs, galleries, and museums (though I remain beholden to their antecedents in Dada and Schwitters), but artists who are actually confronting the filth itself outside the white cube. Since doing this show called Magic City I’ve been looking for rats that thrive in our rubbish, thanks in this to the help of Christian Omodeo, tracking them from Christy Rupp’s street posters in 1979 through the likes of Blek le Rat and Banksy, but appreciating them too as the union organized protests using inflatables called Scabby the Rat as well as coming to terms with how the unwanted, such as Jews in Europe, have often been depicted as rats, more prevalent now that my country turns to a demagogic vilification of the other. I can’t stop thinking about El Seed’s mural for the garbage collectors in Cairo, or all the work Merle Laderman Ukeles has done with the sanitation department in my hometown since the Seventies. And there’s this wonderful piece “Pink Trash” done in 1982 by Maren Hassinger where she went through Central Park lovingly hand-painting every bit of garbage in her path pink and then placing it back just where she found it. Now that’s fucking alchemy.

I’m totally smitten by the art of this young Polish friend of mine named Adrian Kondratowicz who works in Harlem and the Bronx (as well as further afield in places like India) where he makes decorative trash bags to organize communities to clean up their polluted environments. I was happy to share with him recently the “cultural exchange” organized by the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers in 1969 where they brought up all the garbage piling up in my neighborhood by subway to dump upon the then recently built Lincoln Center. In fact, I asked Nuart if I could just trash-talk my address so to speak, but well, they quite rightly didn’t think there was any place to go from there if their keynote address was so lowly. I still don’t know what I might talk about, but if by chance it sounds uplifting, understand my mind and heart remains in the gutter.

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