Street Art

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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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.

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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.

Everyone can be an artist and every location an atelier: this is the project of Windowzoo, a new typology of urban landscape intervention. Till Bay, a software architect from Zurich, found in the stickers his art and in the glass his medium: his work consists in leaving animal-shaped stickers upon the windows of the cities. Thanks to him, we can see birds, bears or sharks on the glass of a bus stop, on a bar’s window, in a museum, at the stadium, at the aquarium and even  at the top of Milan’s cathedral dome.

The peculiarity of these stickers is their interaction in different scales with the landscape beyond the glass, so, if watched from a certain perspective, we can see, for example, a flamingo balancing on a fence, or some sea horses swimming among skyscrapers. The photographic medium is of course very important in traslating these small installations in the way the artist planned to do. Also, the context becomes indispensable for the work of art itself.

In these years Windowzoo became a community art project, everyone can download a little photo-manual to create other new birds and set them free in many other countries. So far, the project involved 603 cities all around the world and all the actions are connected thanks to the web.

Hitchcock was right, the Birds started their migration.

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