CategoryNuart

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

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

Poesia & Ekg

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

A Major Minority: An Intercontinental Survey of Othercontemporary Urban Art

Exhibition Statement written by Poesia and Ekg.

Poesia (US)

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

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

EKG (US)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carlo McCormick: Learning to Play Along the Battle Lines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pedro Soares Neves: Street Art Between Words

1. My concerns

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

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

1.1

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

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

1.2

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

1.3

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

2. Why changing

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

2.1

The intention for adopting a new terminology is key

2.1.1

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

2.1.2

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

3. Contributions

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

3.1 Complexity and contradiction in post-modernist architecture

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

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

3.2

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

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

4. Conclusion

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

Susan Hansen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pedro Soares Neves

Economical Power:
Lisbon Urban Art case study

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

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

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

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

Context

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

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

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

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

Tourism/city breaks

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

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

Looking up-close

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mikkel Bolt Rasmussen

Theses on art, alienation and revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Martyn Reed

Rise Up!

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

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

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

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

The Real Power of Street Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laima Nomeikaite

Street Art as Heritage:
Right to the City?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heritage approaches for street art and graffiti

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

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

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

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


References
  • Avery, T. (2009). Values not Shared: the Street Art of Melbourne’s City Laneways. In L. Gibson & J. Pendlebury (Eds.), Valuing Historic Environments (pp. 139-156). Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Auclair, E. (2015). Ordinary Heritage, Participation and Social Cohesion. The Suburbs of Paris. In E. Auclair & G. Fairclough (Eds.), Theory and Practice in Heritage and Sustainability – between Past and Future. London: Routledge.
  • Bates, C. (2013). Video diaries: audio-visual research methods and the elusive body. Visual studies, 28(1), 29-37.
  • Crouch, D. (2010). The Perpetual Performance and Emergence of Heritage. In E. Waterton & S. Watson (Eds.), Culture, heritage and representation: perspectives on visuality and the past. Farnham: Ashgate.
  • Dovey, Kim, Simon Wollan, and Ian Woodcock. 2012. “Placing graffiti: Creating and contesting character in inner-city Melbourne.”  Journal of urban design 17 (1):21-41.
  • Edensor, T. (2012). Geographies of Rhythm: Nature, Place, Mobilities and Bodies. Farnham: Ashgate
  • Haldrup, M., & Boerenholdt, J. O. (2015). Heritage as performance The Palgrave handbook of contemporary heritage research (pp. 52-68): Springer.
  • Hansen, S. (2016). “Pleasure stolen from the poor”: Community discourse on the ‘theft’of a Banksy. Crime, Media, Culture, 12(3), 289-307.
  • Hansen, S., & Danny, F. (2015). ‘This is not a Banksy!’: street art as aesthetic protest. Continuum, 29(6), 898-912.
  • Henshaw, V. (2013). Urban Smellscapes: Understanding and Designing City Smell Environments. New York: Routledge.
  • Lefebvre, Henri. 1968. Right to the city. In Writings on Cities (1996). Eds Eleonore Kofman and Elizabeth Lebas. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford:147–159
  • MacDowall, L. (2006). In praise of 70K: Cultural heritage and Graffiti Style. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 20(4), 471-484.
  • Paquette, D., & McCartney, A. (2012). Soundwalking and the Bodily Exploration of Places. Canadian Journal of Communication, 37(1), 135.
  • Smith, L. (2006). Uses of Heritage. London: Routledge.
  • Schofield, J. (2009). Being Autocentric: Towards Symmetry in Heritage Management Practices. In L. Gibson & J. Pendlebury (Eds.), Valuing Historic Environments (Vol. 39, pp. 93). Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
  • Schofield, J. (2016). Heritage Expertise and the Everyday: Citizens and Authority in the Twenty-first Century. In J. Schofield (Ed.), Who Needs Experts?: Counter-mapping Cultural Heritage (pp. 1). Farnham: Ashgate
  • Zieleniec, A. (2016). The right to write the city: Lefebvre and graffiti. Environnement Urbain/Urban Environment(Volume 10).

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