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The city of Essen, this year’s nominee as the European Capital of Culture, decided to take advantage of its position to start a radical change in the Rhur, the region where it is located in Germany. Essen for the Rhur 2010 is the name of the program, which aims is to create a new metropolis in Europe, the Rhur Metropolis: no more old an abandoned industrial areas, but art and culture centres instead.

Their slogan is “Change through Culture – Culture through Change!”, as to say, they want to transform the largest coal mine in Europe into a lively district through culture and art: for this aim, three hundreds projects will be realized in various cities and towns of the zone.

An example is Still life A40: the 18th of july a lunch event was organized on the highway 40 (the most intensively used highway in Europe), which stayed close all day long to celebrate the everyday culture of the Ruhr through music, food and performances.

Image taken from www.essen-fuer-das-ruhrgebiet.ruhr2010.de

Image taken from flickr.com/photos/gerd_burchard/

Another project is the Shaft Sign, made with balloons marking the spots of former coal-mines.

Images by WAZ FotoPool (Manfred Vollmer), taken from www.essen-fuer-das-ruhrgebiet.ruhr2010.de

But the most interesting project is the Light Ruhr 2010: artists, architects and designers created light installations in different places of the Ruhr, in order to show in a very visible (and visual) way the ongoing change of the area. Some of the works are installed into the coal mines, transformed into rich and lively public spaces, like in the Landschaftpark in Duisburg Nord, but also in other sites with a different quality of space like the Zentrum für Internationale LichtKunst in Unna.

Image taken from http://www.flickr.com/photos/34408161@N04/

Image taken from flickr.com/photos/everglade10/

The Landschaftpark in Duisburg Nord was an old steel and coal mine abandoned in 1985, then transformed between 1991 and 1999 into a landscape park by the architects Peter Latz+Partner. The new transformations create a strange relationship between industrial archeology, art and landscape, which looks charming and fascinating to our eyes.

Image taken from latzundpartner.de

Industrial archeology has come back to life. The Bechers would be proud.

In 2007 I went to the street art exhibition Back Jump #3, placed in the Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien in Berlin. The city (and expecially Kreuzberg), as always, was lively and full of initiatives and finding this old hospital, now transformed into an art and culture center, was like discovering the light source in the heart of the island after the bamboo forest…well ok, enough. Walls were painted by different artists and each room was committed to a different one. In a small one I found a work of the italian artist Blu. In his work he draw on the wall a visionary evolution of a little black man into a white giant, undergoing through strange changes. Every step was erased before drawing the next one, in order to create a process we could only enjoy through a stop-motion movie. In this room it was possible to see every sketch of the complex work and, also, the wall-painting animation on a screen. The really good work, named Walking, was for me a sort of lullaby, ipnotizing me, in my short stay in Berlin.

And then, one week ago, I found on the web this new Blu’s video, very different from the other one, but once more complex and noteworthy. Big Bang Big Boom shows us the unimaginable story of big bang and evolution, danced by animals, humans and things, acting their role in an ever-changing landscape.

Usually we don’t like to celebrate artists excessively, but for Blu we can make an exception.

Last november on the Abstract City blog of The New York Times a funny post appeared. His author, the illustrator Christoph Niemann, played with the concept of bio-diversity, modifying the shape of leaves in many different ways, producing not just the ordinary butterflies’ collection, but few original samples of very nice custumized leaves and fruits. Nothing else to say, just watch and enjoy!

Images taken from niemann.blogs.nytimes.com

We always talk about the relationship between art and nature and how the artists try to merge these two realities, but this time we’ll try to turn roles upside-down and show how Nature itself can be the real protagonist of the art scene thanks to the project Tree drawings of the british artist Tim Knowles. He describes his project as “A series of drawings produced using drawing implements attached to the tips of tree branches, the wind’s effects on the tree, recorded on paper.  Like signatures each drawing reveals the different qualities and characteristics of each tree.”. We believe his work clearly shows how it’s possible to cross the boundaries of contemporary art, turning the artist into a co-protagonist and “editor” of nature: if long time ago landscape was only painted on a canvas closed by a picture frame and later it started to dialogue with arts through land art and installations, nowadays it is becoming the indispensable condition for the realization of the works. The artist plays the role of the curator, leaving the tree full freedom of invention.

Images taken from timknowles.co.uk

COMMONStudio, based in Los Angeles, created a funny installation called Greenaid. They transformed a candy machine into a dispenser of seed bombs, making the “battle” of Guerrilla Gardening more accessible to everybody. Instead of useless small toys or unhealthy gummy bears, we would find an alternative way to make our cities greener. In the webpage of the studio it is possible to purchase a machine that you are supposed to “simply place […] at your local bar, business, school, park, or anywhere that you think it can have the most impact. We will then supply you with all the seed bombs you need to support the continued success of the initiative.”

Images taken from thecommonstudio.com

We like this kind of initiatives, but we want also give to Caesar what is Ceasar’s. So, let’s jump a little back. In 2006, during the Design Expo in Milan, the artist Ettore Favini, working since years in the relationship between man and nature, was called to participate to Green Island workshop. He came out with an installation which aim was to make green more accessible on an everyday level. He put on the platform number eight of Garibaldi train station in Milan a machine selling transparent capsules, in which he previously placed seeds of different kinds of trees and a little piece of paper where he explained how to take care of the plants. He also wrote an e-mail address, where eventually people could send the coordinates of the place where the tree was planted, in order to create a map of the growing green. The installation tries to involve people, in a direct interaction, into a project of “reforestation”, inviting them to participate in the creation of  DIY green areas.

We believe that this form of interaction is a good choice for the health of our cities and, at the same time, gives the citiziens an important role as a protagonist and co-author of public space.

Image taken from verdecuratoda.it

Can Felipa Civic Centre, in the very heart of Poblenou in Barcelona, the old factory workers’ district, nowadays renewed and transformed into an art and culture centre, is hosting till 19 of june an interesting exhibition of young artists titled Paradis Perdut, alg(unes) mirades al voltant del jardì. The works exposed are built around the theme of the garden and the contemporary loss of “paradise” in our city, where a green space is often like a hidden treasure (expecially in Barcelona); all the works together contribute to write a redemption song calling for the lost paradise. What is shown is a series of thoughts about the idea of garden and about its contemporary condition.

We would like to focus especially over two particular projects of the exhibition. The first one is “Degradado, Jardin Ambulante” by Cecilia Martin, an installation made from five bins painted in a degrading color scale from black to white; in each bin stands a cypress tree, growing in height toghether with the bin growing in brightness, as a symbol of the meeting between industry and nature. It is literally a moving garden through Poblenou’s district, trying to start  a dialogue about the green areas and the intense urban renewal of an industrial space, mirror of the change of an economic paradigm.

The route of the garden consists of eight stops, all of them located in strategic places where, years ago, there were factories or workers’ housing.

Following the garden we can walk the path of the transformation of the spaces in the context of a contemporary-faced city, where the industrial past is only a (romantic?) memory, with a critical eye in front of the lackness of green.

Another work by the same artist, Natura Viva, reminds us the Mobile Garden of Tatfoo Tan, which we already described in this post.

Images taken from jardinambulante.blogspot.com

The second project we would like to talk about is Julie Houle‘s Patch; based on the concept of “object trouvet”, manipulated and repaired. In  a series of postcards we can find maps of the streets of Poblenou with a mark in every place where the artist stopped to repair parts of “broken” natural elements, such as trees, leaves or stones, with different materials. Examples of this patchworks are shown in the exhibitions inside glass boxes. Putting one beside the other natural and man-made materials, the artist wants to give a ludic and ironic sense to her work, revealing at the same time the uniqueness of nature. The apparently useless repair tries to make us indulge in a reflection about our environment, underlining with these little interventions the need to focus on bigger topics.

This work reminds us the one of Nina Katchadourian for “Platform 21”, who carefully repaired dozens of spiderwebs. We believe that the “repairing nature” is more than a work of art and helps us facing realities we have always ignored or considered as independent and self-sufficient, but that nowadays really need all of our attention.

Images taken from juliehoule.com

To find this documentary has been like a revelation, somehow the demonstration that there is someone else speaking our same language: The Subconscious art of Graffiti Removal is a 16 minutes documentary of 2002 directed by Matt McCormick, a young producer (but also an artist, a photographer and a musician) active since 1999. The topic of the short is, as the title successfully express, how the act of erasing graffiti by painting over it can be analyzed as an artistic practice of our contemporary.

The “subconscious art” is a product with artistic relevance that was created without conscious artistic intentions or commitment; the author tries to convince us that the traces produced removing graffiti can be compared with abstract impressionism, minimalism and russian constructivism, or even are seen as the most recent inheritance of these movements.

The unconscious artist doesn’t necessarily possess any artistic achievements or studies, but his work can indeed be compared to the complex art of Malevich, Rothko or Rauschenberg. The most interesting assertion is, we believe, the style analysis which ends up with a classification of the (anti-)graffitis in different classes, which respect a rule or a tendency as any of the artistic currents, such as “symmetrical”, “ghosting” and “radical”.

The short movie takes place in an industrial district of Portland (Oregon), which is becoming, it is said, the first graffiti-free zone. A woman passes biking through a lifeless industrial landscape, with containers, highways and big machines at work, but no human beings. This wired atmosphere is supported and enhanced by an electronic soundtrack, which gives to the short an almost aseptic feeling.

Berlin is like the Pandora’s box of street art and urban interventions. If you look inside you can see endless different realities. Between these, Mentalgassi is one of the most noteworthy: it’s an anonymous collective who tries to give an identity to city public spaces. One of their most common actions consist in pasting oversized pictures of funny expressive faces, covering street furniture from ticket-validating machines to water tanks or recycling bins.

“Mentalgassi create street art to open your eyes…” says one of their slogan. Thanks to their installations people notice, maybe for the first time, the often invisible city furniture that anonimously surrounds us everyday.

Another project, less known  than the first one but indeed interesting, is called Public Intimacy: their aim is to recreate the typical home atmosphere in the middle of a street, switching a phone box to a shower or a metro station into a comfortable living room with curtains and carpet. This work is a major break in the sameness of urban context, surely noteworthy in the contemporary street intervention panorama.

All images taken from mentalgassi.blogspot.com

The Guerrilla Gardening phenomenon is slowly getting known and media are starting to get interested. But what is exactly the Guerrilla Gardening? It is said that is a spontaneous movement, kept on by common people who, tired of the decay of their streets, meet trying to revalue urban or suburban abandoned spaces through unauthorized gardening actions. The first group who recognized itself under this definition was born in London in 2004, thanks to Richard Reynolds.

The movement has no leader or manifesto, every group of activists is free to act in its own way and is autonomous from the others. However, there are actually some forms of “green attack” which are more common. The seed bombs, for instance, are little “bombs” made by wet soil, gritty compost and flowers’ seeds.  They have been created for he first time in 1970 by the activists of Green Guerrillas in New York. A renewed form of seed bombs are the Seed Guns, a work of the artists/activists Christopher Humes and Noah Scalin, who, in 2004, gave them the shape of 9 mm gun: red clay powder, dry organic humus compost, seed mixture and water are the ingredients of this peaceful weapon.

Image taken from blog.alrdesign.com

Seed Gun wants to be a memorial for all the homicide’s victims dead in Richmond, Virginia, place of birth of the two artists. But, beside from the meaning that the artist wants to attribute to his work, what is most interesting is the perfect fusion between a gardening instrument and an artwork. The concept of weapon itself is shown from the shape and, at the same time, denied by its funcion. Soil and seeds express  the slow, respectful and nonviolent nature of Guerrilla Gardening.

Watching this work, people are looking at a gun, but this gun is nothing more than natural elements: this is somehow the same that René Magritte tried to express in Cecì n’est pas un pipe, where he upsets the ordinary way of looking at the reality, telling us that what we see is not a pipe and arguing the process which ties similarity and assertion.

Seed Gun was inspired by the philosophy of the japanese radical gardener Masanobu Fukuoka, who said “The ultimate goal of farming is not growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”. This is exactly what the Guerrilla Gardening wants to do: improving our landscape, it improves, at the same time, ourselves.

Another interesting kind of seed bombs are the Seedbom: they have a grenade shape and one more time they express through an oxymoron their peaceful nature.

Anyone can create seed bombs thanks to manuals and instructions found in the web and join the GG battle. This is an open source urban intervention and, we believe, an open source kind of art.

Image taken from kabloo.co.uk

The definition of Street Art contains in itself different realities, but what I am always happy to find out are DIY urban interventions with different kinds of installations and performances, rather than the typical and most common street art made of stencils and graffiti.

I am usually not interested in the work of most of the street artists (but I do recognize some of them as great, like Shepard Fairy: we are all thankful not only for the Barak Obama “Hope”, but also for the tribute to Johnny Cash with the Walk The Line  movie cover), however, in this huge crowd, I’d like to mention a canadian street artist, Peter Gibson, known as Roadsworth.

What It’s noteworthy in his work is the playful game between stencils and the road marks, that goes straight to that level of interaction that performances and installations usually provide.

Image taken from http://roadsworth.com

What I see in his language is the willing to improve the limited language of city’s street by adding elements of visual information that transform boring signs into funny images, in order to catch people’s attention. Painting over city asphalt marks with his stencils, he gives the roads a new face to play with.

In his drawings, he prefers to use a subtile irony rather than the abundant violence we so often find in much of the works of street artists. As he explain in his website “In the spirit of Marcel Duchamps, all I had to do was paint a mustache on the Mona Lisa so to speak, to introduce a glitch in the matrix”.

In 2009, a movie about Roadsworth was realized, titled Crossing the Line. Making movies about street art, in these last years, looks like something fashion and I am worried it could be ephemeral (from Beautiful Loser to The Ephemeral Rebellion, from Bomb It to Exit Through The Gift Shop), but maybe we can give it a chance.