Street Art

Some time ago I wrote a post describing an interesting and crazy documentary about the unconscious art of graffiti removal. Recently WAV (We Are Visual), urban activists and artists from Germany, made up a project which reminded me about this documentary. During a trip to Russia they documented all the buffed walls they found on the streets of St. Petersburg, creating this way a sort of alphabet or, as they said, an ABC of the city, their own way of reading the urban context. The common act of covering tag or graffiti can be charged with different meaning:  it can be read as an unconscious form of abstractionism or, as in this case, as a visual contemporary spelling-book.

Also, sometimes it is possible to play with these sad stains of colourless paint. The artist Mobrst for instance uses buffs as a base for his own pieces. He deliberately has fun of this practice by writing ironic and sarcastic short sentences on buffed walls. In his piece Playing with the buff man he tried to find an acceptable shade of grey, creating a “dialog” between himself and the buff man who, unconscious of the game, had to paint over the stencils, againg and again. Mobstr is putting an issue, like if he was challenging the municipality to a duel. In another of his pieces he also thanks the city council for their “obiedient collaboration”.

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Both artists are taking advantage of elements already present in the city frame, focusing attention on it in different way and, like in Mobstr’s case, underlining the absurd behave of a city who blindly act against any form of urban intervention without even looking at it.

After spending few days in jail for spray-painting graffiti on public walls, the street artist couple HOTTEA got redemption, and so decided to switch to knitting and started to do yarn-bombing actions around the city, changing paint for colorful threads.

“The HOTTEA knitting project was born after our journey in jail, but it was also heavily inspired by past experiences: A grandmother teaching the skill of knitting, anti-gay bullying from kids at school and, most importantly, the relationships that were developed along the way. The HOTTEA project embodies the similarities and differences in all of us. I wanted to base the project off an idea that had room for growth. We are always growing as people and the dynamic between us give birth to endless possibilities.”

We love knitting in the streets, from the classic yarn bombing applied to street furniture and plants (Magda Sayeg, Janet Morton and many others) to other actions like the ones HOTTEA performs: it is a simple, silent, playful and reversible technique to hack the streets and add some color to our urban panorama.

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What would McGyver do with tape? Probably he would save the world from a disaster. Instead, New York based artist Aakash Nihalani makes it his paintbrush to draw on the street. Using tape he builds geometric shapes, mainly isometric rectangles and squares, in order to show us the hidden geometry of the city, and of course to give it a touch of color and surprise.
His illusionistic, fluorescent drawings pop up from walls, sidewalks and windows, crawling upon the city’s structures and shapes, playing with any scenario which got chosen.

The great interaction between tape and its framework doesn’t end up within the city corners, involving people as well in the role of actors and part of the whole composition. Finding one of these installations is a face to face with the hacked side of the city, the one where street artists play and urban actors, like Aakash Nihalani, show us their truth, and that is probably why he points out that “people need to understand that how it is isn’t how it has to be”. He explains his work in this video, have a look!

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“Mr. Brainwash is a force of nature, he’s a phenomenon. And I don’t mean that in a good way.” With these words, the universally known street artist Banksy promoted in 2008 the first solo exhibition of Mr Brainwash. After seeing the movie Exit through the gift shop, we could not agree more with what he said. Once heard the story we came out astonished about Mister Brainwash’ ability, but not the one for making art, but for his extremely delicate taste for business. Not bad for a “mentally ill person with a camera” (cit. by Banksy). We tried not to write about this movie because too many people already did, but in the end we gave up, because the show was very nice.

Exit through the gift shop is a documentary about the strange evolutions in the life of a french filmmaker: Thierry Guetta, who found himself to be, all of a sudden, a famous street artist. The story provides an overview of the street art panorama, including some of its most popular protagonists, like Space Invaders, Shepard Fairey (we’re partial to his amazing work), and mainly Banksy, director of the movie.

As we read, the documentary wants to launch a critique towards the actually market-driven street art world, as the title underlines, but this critical vein is not what we noticed first. We were indeed much more involved by the funny story of Thierry, a character who would amaze any director without needing to act.

Even if we usually don’t freak out for him, it is time to give Banksy a chance, so please get out through the gift shop.

Later, we found online the complete documentary Beautifull Losers. Another story and another style. Maybe not that much fireworks but the same good feeling.

In may 2010, in Amsterdam, the garbage collectors decided to strike, in order to protest against the low salaries. The result of their action were streets full of trash bags and a postcard city transformed into an open air dump. In this circumstances, art took part in the city life, rendering the trash into something original and concealing its typical ugliness with a colored show. The artist Jesse Limmen decided to give a touch of color to the rubbish hills painting them with spray cans and creating an unusual splash of colors.

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It is interesting to notice that, not so far away, in Spain, in the city of Barcelona, lives an artist who uses garbage as the raw material of his art. Francisco de Pajaro uses the everyday rubbish found on the street to create particular and colored art works: he puts together pieces of different things (from old tables to doors, from monitors to refrigerators, from shoes to chairs, but also suitcases, simple cardboard boxes or garbage bags) and he draws on them, paints or writes his thoughts. Most of the times we can recognize his work for a small text which goes together with the work and says “El arte es basura”, literally “Art is trash”. In technical words it is true, his art is trash, but in a larger meaning this approach to art is, we believe, what is most far from trash. The tough message he leaves us suddenly reveals the strong, deep meaning of making art out of garbage, claiming without shame the origins (and the end) of his work to the frivolous mood of the more touristic streets, often far from the reality of the City.

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Evolution is what we believe in. So, when an artist changes the level with his or her work, refusing to crystalize it in a motionless reality, we are happy to let you know. The italian artist Moneyless managed to evolve, and that’s why we want to spend few words about him.

He chose his name because of his behavior, far – he lets us know – from the contemporary consumerism, and because he wants to express his need of simple life an essential values, also in his art. He explains that “the poverty of a simple shape is a true richness, because it represents the silence that makes thoughts come to light”.
Moneyless started his career as a writer, but then letters became for him like a strait-jacket and were paralyzing his creativity. So he changed his way of working, but keeping a special care to his main subject: geometric shapes, the centre of his research. Sometimes similar to russian Suprematism and Constructivism of the first twenty years of the XX century, his work gives importance to abstract shapes, “showing ideas of reality” – as he describes them-. The project that draws our attention is called Flying Graffiti. When he started to make art – he tells us – he used to consider only two dimensions, drawing on walls, paper, canvas or wood. But in this last project he discovered the third dimension, creating geometric solids flying in the air. He does it using strings or wool threads supported by nails and transparent nylon cable. In this way his drawings ‘jump’ off the background and start to float in the space, revealing us their tri-dimensional souls.

What is also interesting is the location of the works: moneyless chooses for his installations natural environment, like woods, or places in decay, like abandoned factories. The contrast between the location and the work makes his solids jump out even more: we’re in front of artificial, perfectly crafted shapes, located into a non-controlled environment, this produces in us a strange feeling, like a wrong piece of a puzzle. Moneyless explains that “these shapes can melt or do camouflage in these kind of sites (their background, ndr), but they always remain a stranger, an outstanding element. So, to found ourselves in these structures take us in ‘another place’ “.
We couldn’t agree more, we’re indeed playing with two realities, and we like the game.

Images taken from!/teomoneyless

Thanks to Moneyless for his precious help.

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.

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.

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