CategoryUtopia

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

Post Street-Art: When a Street Needs a Name

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


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

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

Mural by Henrik Uldalen.

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

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

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

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

Pedro Soares Neves: Street Art Between Words

1. My concerns

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

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

1.1

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

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

1.2

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

1.3

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

2. Why changing

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

2.1

The intention for adopting a new terminology is key

2.1.1

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

2.1.2

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

3. Contributions

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

3.1 Complexity and contradiction in post-modernist architecture

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

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

3.2

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

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

4. Conclusion

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

Emma Arnold

Women’s Right to the City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emma Arnold

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

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