Category: Nuart Plus

Martyn Reed: One, Two, Three … Swing!

One, Two, Three … Swing!

On “Duality” BLACKWHITE for Autodidact Magazine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speaking of the body…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not everything is always so black & white.

Original text for Autodidact Magazine Dec 2017.

Martyn Reed: Laugh Now


I was working on a project recently with an artist, when he turned to me and said, “please don’t mention that I’m a street artist in the press release, say I’m a neo-muralist”. I felt the hairs on my arms raise. He’d said this in spite of my knowing that he’d spent the last ten years nurturing a “street art” profile, a subculture that was almost the antithesis of this new municipality sanctioned corporate mural culture he wanted to be seen to be embracing.

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).

Now, I’m not against muralism as such, it’s a powerful medium with a rich history, particularly in the America’s, with at times, strong associations with social justice issues and community building. The communities being “built” and associated with street art now however, tend to be from the top down and integrate a type of generic muralism involving artists unaware or unashamed of abandoning street art’s original rhetoric of transgressive spontaneity. Developers favouring a kind of colourful and premeditated faux subversion to anything genuinely “street” or authentic.

They still put art on the streets for people to # and enjoy, so what’s the problem you might ask.

The problem of course, is the same one that Street Art initially set out to challenge, that is, the mechanism and conduits to power within public space and “culture” overseen by neo liberal courtiers to the elite. The same mechanisms that desire an ever more passive audience primed to consume #muralart in the same manner as they consume other disposable goods and product. Street Art of course, for better or worse, set out to challenge this.

In a culture of globalised brands and neo-liberal ideology, this new one-size fits all style of public mural art is ideal for clone developments & gentrification projects, it’s middle of the road, middle class and middle-brow. Like public art of old, it is fast becoming the Mumford and Sons of street art, creating a culture that seeks nothing more than your uncritical attention and adoration.

All of this got me to thinking, what can be done to wrestle back “Street Art” from corporate property speculators and those organisations and institutions dedicated to simply profiting from it. Living parasitically, from a culture predicated on resisting this onslaught of power wrought by capital. Can the coming tsunami of big budget bucket paint and cherry picker productions destined to rewrite what constitutes “street art” be averted, and if not, what should all of those concerned with this development do about it. Last year, in order to broaden the palette, we toyed with the term “post street art”, but perhaps this years adoption of the term “critical street art” is where the future lay. Try it, “Critical Street Art”. Sounds good ?  better than “neo muralism” right ?

Authentic Street Art’s impending demise, or at least the death of any meaning ascribed to the term, made me recall the first piece of street art, that first stencil, that hit me with an impact like no mural ever has, or probably ever will. Like a song that cuts to the bone, it contained that same lyrical power that makes you want to leave your small town and small life for bigger and better things, it sprinkled both art and activism into eyes tired from the smog of advertising I’d experienced in the taxi ride from the airport to Shoreditch, where I was to Dj that night. As I lugged my pre EDM record box (yes, vinyl people) from the back of the cab, I was confronted with a slightly less than lifesized single layer stencil of a disgruntled looking chimpanzee holding a sandwich board that boldly stated “Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”. It appeared at a time when transgression was not simply a marketing technique and whose immediate cultural value far exceeded any possible commercial value I could think of, there were no street level stencil art marketing campaigns I was aware of at the time, so it was undoubtedly art. But what sort of art was this, who had created it, was it animal rights related, was I the monkey, was the monkey the working class or the creative class, was it public art, did it relate to graffiti?

Stripped of any references, it left me momentarily lost, and like all good art, it had pushed me down a rabbit hole to live for a moment in a different world. A world away from the cab, the city, my dislocated self and the information overload I’d just experienced.

It was 2000, and It was of course, Banksy’s “Laugh Now”.

This wild counterpoint to the overly regulated distribution of images and signs that i’d experienced on the way in, triggered a life long obsession with Street Art. It has, in its most authentic form, never lost the power of that first defiant punch, a punch that instantly knocked the art education out of me. It acted as a trigger not only to thought, but to action, and that same year, I established the Nuart Festival.

Stencil art, is the tool that those without power, already possess. It enables us to speak of the times in the language of the times, leaving traces of the familiar in often unfamiliar surroundings. Unlike contemporary art, I realized it was not a mirror, but a compass to show us the way, though we seem to have lost our bearings a little recently. It isn’t produced for a community, but is a shout out to create a community. Some mural artists, often through necessity, have to be nuanced in the way they communicate politics, but I’m tired of nuance, and the stencil is very direct in all it’s hand cut black and white glory. There are people, companies and organisations out there quite prepared to use mural artists as the shock troops of gentrification, moving into an area and clearing a path for developers, mine stripping the culture of its relevance as it goes. We need to be prepared to offer and fight for alternative platforms, spaces, patrons, finance and events if the culture is to maintain any authentic link to its radical roots. In the meantime, it’s the anonymous and unsung heroes of Stencil Art that we need to once again, focus on and celebrate. Those nameless champions of multiple series of small and human scale works whose lifestyle’s and rebellions have avoided keying into the corporate world. Unnamed, unsanctioned, unauthorized, unart as opposed to nuart perhaps.

In a culture where anti-authoritarianism can be “diagnosed” as a “disorder” and medicated against , one where contemporary art is in thrall to the market, we need quick, simple and very public transgressive acts, and a lot of them. It’s the stencil that offers us this, a form that echoes Joseph Beuys famous statement “everyone an artist”, in the most literal of senses.

In the beginning, you’ll feel like a fraud, an imposter, a faker, and you can damn well bet you’ll be inauthentic. But continue, and somewhere along the line, you may just create an incantation that reverberates with the now, a song of ourselves, a trigger that spurs others to action generating a belief in the idea of art, love and community. As “Laugh Now” did for me, you could do for others.

As critic and author Robert Hughes said in the 1980s tome, The Shock of the New: “What does one prefer? An art that struggles to change the social contract but fails? Or one that seeks to please and amuse and succeeds?”

I’ll leave it to readers to decide which is which.

Laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge.

Martyn Reed

Originally written for Juxtapox Magazine Nov 2017

Xavier Ballaz

Barcelona: The Legal Turn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlo McCormick: Learning to Play Along the Battle Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven P. Harrington & Jaime Rojo

Technology, Festivals and Murals as Nuart turns 15

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

Whatever its form, we will be looking for it.

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

Post Street-Art: When a Street Needs a Name

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

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

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

Mural by Henrik Uldalen.

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

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

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

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

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 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:
  7. Such practices are covered a series of materials “New cheerful ones” on the project website:
  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:

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

  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.
  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

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.