Filipino wheat-paste street artist Brayan Barrios has been placing his work on the streets of Manilla since the 2000s and shares with BSA readers some of his recent work today. Illustrated in a hatched hand technique that may remind you of linotypes, Barrios creates one-off pieces that he places in doorways, on corrugated walls, abandoned lots and other marginal areas of the city. These are all his neighbors and he is documenting their lives.
An artist and activist, Barrios always has issues of social justice on his mind. He uses his posters to pay tribute to people in the community who inspire him, sharing a personal insight into the hardships of life and the character of the city. We asked him to tell us about his work on the streets and margins of Manilla.
BSA:The people whom you depict on your work are ordinary humans doing their work, resting or reading. Are these people whom you know personally. Did you ask them to pose for you? Brayan Barrios: Some of my subjects are people I know personally – like the woman with the sewing machine — a late community leader, and the child freeing a bird – whose mom is also a community leader. They are people I would regularly encounter during my volunteer work in Payatas, a community in Quezon City known to be the dump site and junk capital of the metro. Most of my subjects are studies from either photos I took or random sketches.
BSA: Could you please describe your technique for creating your work? BB: My ideas always come from the most common doings of the basic masses, especially the workers and peasants during my experience of interacting with them. I would brainstorm around such ideas and then draw them directly on what we call here a “Manila paper” which is somewhat similar with kraft paper and then paste them on the good spots where more people can see them.
BSA: By representing these individuals on the streets with your portraits of them are you giving them a place in society or celebrating their existence? BB: I chose these ordinary people from the grassroots sectors to celebrate their existence as a vital part of the society. In my recent works, subjects are reading books or newspapers to fight grave disinformation and an historic revisionism campaign perpetrated by the current and upcoming regime. I also love putting up images of working class like the one in the window, sipping coffee with the call to abolish Endo Contractualization on his shirt.
BSA: Are all the wheat-pastes in one city or do you travel the country to put art up elsewhere? BB: My recent works are around different cities in Metro Manila. But I would love for my artwork to be seen by people in more sitios, barangays, towns, or cities around the Philippines and beyond.
BSA:Your country just elected a new president. He’s from the same family that ruled the Philippines for many years. The outgoing president could be described as a tyrant. Do you use your art to express your disapproval of how politicians are handling the problems of your country? BB: Definitely. I take it as both a responsibility and an honor as an artist to use my work to expose and fight tyranny and all other forms of oppression, and most importantly, cherishing the people’s struggle.
Assemblage and collage don’t get much attention in the street art scene, let alone the graffiti scene, perhaps because these art-making techniques will not typically trigger police sirens and lights. You may be thoughtfully arranging a composition of found wood and metal elements from a nearby dumpster on the derelict wall of an abandoned building at 11 pm for no apparent reason – but that hardly reeks of vandalism. There’s no wild tagging scrawl, no aerosol cans, no bubbles, no drips, no silver fill, no dramatic fence-jumping. For that matter, this kind of work can look like fence-mending. Now that you think of it, assemblage and collage-making may be precisely an ideal vehicle for subversion.
Hyland Mather has been pounding together assemblages on the street for more than a decade – a gathering of the discarded of society into new relationships, new families. He’s been scanning the city horizon and collecting for a while – doing it so long that sometimes he feels like he may be a hoarder, but this search and rescue operation continues apace. His collections of objects are more like orphans given new homes, not discarded but simply lost. Whether drawn from city margins, dumpsters, post-industrial heaps, each element is adorned and joined with others. Maybe it is just an extension of the Western world’s consumerism of the last half-century, but perhaps it is also an inclusive practice of making sense from the chaos, finding great value and beauty in the discarded.
Now dividing his time between living in Portugal and in Amsterdam, and curating for STRAAT museum in Amsterdam, the Denver artist also collects and represents other artists and creates street-based artworks in many cities – a unique blending of elements, roles, and families that further evolves his profile. Here in a hotel lobby at the center of a Jersey City arts center revival, his found elements are appropriate; moving and mobile and newly combined and interconnected in an act of his ongoing global/local travels.
He calls the two-part installation his “Ocean of Being.” If their shapes, symbols, textures, and relationships are biographical, the stories are subterranean. Curated by DK Johnston for The Arts Fund, Mr. Mather tells us that it is an installation of two significant works named Viking Frolic Bar and Black Bottom/Foggy Eyes, “paired together for the first time as a massive installation of assemblage and collage.” Wood, acrylic, aerosol, objects, paper, canvas, frame; all gathered and working alongside, in tandem, in a constructed harmony unified by a calmed, natural palette and tied together with string, a “geometric component floating lightly above”.
Additional works completed in situ and for other projects are on display- gallery works and works on paper from what he calls his ‘Emblematum’ series.
“These text-based pieces use imagery harvested from the pre-war (1930’s) Dutch magazine, Panorama, and post-war (1950-1960) photography from period photo journals,” his description says. He was aiming to “create a dreamlike collage behind ambiguous but uplifting slogans like the project title, ‘Ocean of Being’.
BSA spoke to Hyland Mather about his work, his influences, his strings, and his new indoor exhibition.
BSA:Is this your first project in the USA after two years of the Covid Pandemic? If so how did you feel being able to travel again to execute your work as an artist?
Hyland Mather (HM): Actually, I guess you could say I was lucky, I had a bit of a ‘golden ticket’ in terms of travel documents during the height of the pandemic with a European residency permit and a US passport. I did a bunch of large mural projects in the States in 2020 and 2021 and was in Philadelphia for an exhibition at Paradigm last July. I will say it was an odd combo of super easy and super eerie traveling when the planes and airports were nearly empty.
BSA:“Ocean of Being,” which is the title of your exhibition, does it refer to seeking balance, silence, meditation? The oceans are vast, and one can imagine being in the middle of them in complete silence, but not necessarily at peace since they can be turbulent and dangerous.
HM: You’re pretty right on about this. I took the title from a Hindu idea, Brahman Ātman. Where Brahman represents the unfathomable, immeasurable vast ocean of space, consciousness, and time and Ātman represents a tiny sample, or a water droplet in that ocean. In the Lost Object installations, the objects in the install are a small sample representing a vast ocean of discarded objects that are around us everywhere, all the time.
In the text-based works on paper, the collage backgrounds under papercut slogans make a kind of balance, where the slogan itself is like a cup of water and the collage underneath represents a vast ocean of imagery associated with the words. The string paintings, Linea Pictura paintings, are also related to the Brahman Ātman meditation where the soft, loose, abstract backgrounds form the ocean upon which the crisp floating lines hover over…like a droplet of water in the air when waves collide.
BSA:Is your predilection for using found objects in your art purely as art materials or are you being conscientious about the environment by creating as much as you can with discarded objects?
HM: This is an awesome question, and I think about it a lot. In the beginning it was never about the environment, it was purely meditation and aesthetic. However, over time, especially working with recycling centers and junk yards when collecting materials, I’ve come to really see what’s going on with waste and it is, and I mean this sincerely, insane.
I remember once going into the recycling center at the University of Oregon and seeing a huge industrial size hospital style laundry basket just filled to the brim with old CD’s. The woman who ran the program was in shambles…she just pointed at the CD’s and said something like, ‘We’re a conscientious university town and there is just no way we can even begin to put a dent in how much recyclable trash there is even in our community’. It was pretty sad to see this front line activist super disheartened.
I do have this dream project to work with some major player like Amazon, Ikea or Walmart to create a partnership where I make things with the mountains of stuff that they destroy when people return things. I just can’t wrap my head around how their PR departments would spin that … first they’d have to admit how much stuff is destroyed.
BSA: What’s is the process for your text-based series? Do you come out with the text first then you find the images for the background? Or is it the opposite?
HM: The text works (Emblematum) are about wide ideas expressed in simple language. An expression like ‘Under The Sun’ has so many possibilities for interpretation…like a pretty day at the beach, or wild flowers on the prairie, or something darker like desertification, or inmates busting up rocks. Almost always it’s the text first, then the collages underneath, but the collages themselves are often fun to compose separately. It’s an enlightening exercise digging through old magazines and gauging the temperature of culture from a time period that is not so far in the past.
I have a lot of old Dutch Panorama magazines from the 1930s and 1940s that I found behind an old book store in Amsterdam. Panorama was comparable to Cosmo or something like that… it’s crazy to look at one from say late 1939 or early 1940 and there is absolutely no temperature of the war that was already raging in Poland and Czechoslovakia, and in a few short months would overrun the Netherlands as well, yet it’s still just ads for toothpaste and puff pieces on fishing.
BSA: In your Linea Picture series one experiences the rigidity of the string and the beauty of the geometry but at the same time the soft yarn plays with the soft brushed, curvilinear work on the canvases. How would you describe this dual personality?
HM: This is such a flattering description, thank you. I’m happy with this work. This is the newest part of my practice and I feel like it’s taken me many years to arrive here. I’m not sure I can say it much better than you just did. String has been a tool I use in my work for a long time. I love how delicate it is and yet when stretched taut how precise it is. It’s kinda fetishy. The abstract painterly backgrounds are super meditative for me to make and put a great deal of peace into me as I’m working on them, but as artworks these pieces don’t feel complete for me until the string components are added, and a balance is achieved. I also really enjoy the shadow casting that the floating strings have on the surface of the canvases.
Ocean of Being is a project by artist Hyland Mather (@thelostobject), hosted by Canopy Hotel of Jersey City. The exhibition is curated by DK Johnston, founder of The Arts Fund.
A warmly modern and well-rounded direction today from graffiti writer and contemporary artist Augustine Kofie as his sampling mentality pauses over the O, a symbol of lasting inspiration for artists of many centuries, backgrounds, and mediums. Presenting a parallel between these new cuts of commercial pressboard and the relationships he has with expanding circles of people and culture, his influences and techniques of the assemblage are freshly discovered.
Preparing for his new exhibition “Rotationships” opening at Heron this weekend, Kofie likes to discuss his very disciplined approach to nearly obsessively collecting “pressboard, a heavy, multi-ply paper stock used in packaging and office supplies from the 1950s to the 1980s.” Culled from estate sales and flea markets primarily in the LA area, Augustine says he has a respect for the time period as well as the people who collected these modern relics of a genuinely middle-class age that is all but disappearing.
Viewers of the new show will instinctively adjoin with these sleek color palettes and clean diagrammatic renderings of lines, shapes, text. Each repurposed element here is related to its neighbor – chosen and applied in the instinctual way that a DJ isolates and reapplies sonic elements, spoken words, atmospherics, and rhythms when recreating aural compositions. Using these elements in their original state, he pulls and plays the appropriate hues, timbres, and materials from his archive. It’s a system he has developed over time, a meticulously ordered collection which he says is “archived by color palette, thickness, and category in vintage industrial file cabinets.”
The new player at the front of the show is the never-ending circle, previously having played a supporting role in his graffiti, murals, assemblages, and painting – now standing on its own, whole, balanced, and in charge of everything around it. It’s a solid direction, and a reassuring one, to see this self-made artist who learned how to hone his style from his graffiti forebears, now exploring the possibilities confidently and even coining words, like “Rotationships”.
BSÅ: We often think of you as a retro-futurist because of your distillation of imagery and text and patterns and color templates from mid-century Americana and the way you bring it forward. What do you think fascinates you about those times long before you were born?
AK: I have always had a very materials-driven aesthetic. I can relate that interest in materials from the past with a kind of archaeological or historical inclination, especially towards refuse—the things that histories don’t consider important enough to preserve. Sometimes nostalgia plays a role, but most the time it’s not about personal memories so much as respect for a time period and for the craftsmanship of that time, the respect for materials.
BSA: The focus of this show often revolves around the completed “O” shape – whether oblong, or squashed, or perfectly circular. It’s a family of shapes we don’t usually associate with your compositions of the past. How did it emerge – was it conscious? Was it sudden or gradual?
AK: Rounded corners, partial oblongs and circular forms have always found a way into my street and studio artwork, but they’ve always played a secondary role as a support system for sharper lines and more angular shapes. In this series, the rounded shapes are front and center, while the linear, ghosted patterns that appear in the background and help to construct the foreground are now the supporting cast.
Typically, when I would build a collage background before laying my painting on top, there was always this window of time looking at the work when I would think, ‘I would love to stop right here and leave it as it is, highlighting the varied materials. It took some time to suss out how to do it in a way that would allow the collage to stand on its own, and the circles became the way to do it. They anchor the work in a different way. Circles are also much harder to implement through this kind of collage because of the thickness of the materials, so there is a lot more of my hand in those shapes. Maybe I needed to find a place for that, since usually painting would be the place.
BSA: A central part of your art making is the disciplined process of collecting ephemera and materials and organizing and cataloguing them for future use. Can you talk about why this is so appealing?
AK: In a way, all of my artmaking stems from a deep need to make order out of chaos. Finding and then cataloguing ephemera is a perfect manifestation of that basic urge. It always finds its way back to hip-hop production, to the art of sampling records and plunderphonics, to deconstructing and overlaying sounds of the past to create new compositions and sound. It’s fascinating and limitless, and there is something about a sampling mentality that shapes everything I do. Over time, as I dove deeper into this kind of collecting, I became more knowledgeable of what was out there—what materials were made in different decades, what survived. I’ve also perfected my archiving system, which is part of the pleasure of it all. So I’ve been able to narrow in on my tastes and focus my collection, and all of that made this series possible.
BSA: How do you see your formative graffiti writing career as it continues to evolve into this fine art practice? Can you tell us about a through line that has continued in your work as it has grown in the last two decades?
AK: There’s a strong self-motivation and discipline that comes from pursuing your art on the streets. I didn’t study art in the academic space, but graffiti has its own art history, its own traditions. My through line was always to be respectful of the materials and the work, to respect those who came before, and to build something new, to establish my own space that allowed for creative expansion. I feel that this series does that.
A soundtrack for ’ROTATIONSHIPS’, a solo exhibition at Heron Arts San Francisco, March 12, 2022
For every solo exhibition, the artist creates a soundtrack. The music is assembled as part of the work process, which is both sonic and pictorial. This vaporware like mix blends late 80s ’skinemax’ era soundscapes, including up-cycled sophistso-pop saxophone and lo-fi telefilm intermissions and poignant dialogue relevant to the exhibition theme and tone.
All tracks re-recorded, chopped and mixed by: A. Kofie for 4x4Tracktor Mastered by &e @ BENDYmusic, Inglewood, Calif.
Up-to-the-moment street art today from Polish artist M-City (Mariusz Waras), who converts the façade of a Gdansk warehouse into a social media primer on how to support the people of Ukraine. Sharing a border with this post-Soviet state which has just been invaded by Russian forces, Poland is acutely affected by the implications of possible further aggression – as are the Baltic states and the rest of Europe.
The short list asserts that many social media users may not be fully cognizant of the implications of their posting actions – especially during wartime. M-City took to the walls today to instruct some best practices in these painted advisory messages on how to create your digital ones.
In additional acts of irony, he posts these street art messages on his social media channels – and we publish them for the BSA audience as well.
BSA:Where is this located? M-City: It’s located in a very well-known building which part of Stocznia Gdańska, now Stocznia Cesarska. It is part of the Imperial Shipyard where the workers’ movement, Soliderność (Solidarity), was born.
BSA: What would you like people to understand? M-City: Our Social media landscape is full of fakes and is full of superficial messages. Because of this, many people have a bigger challenge to make their messages visible when they try to organize something and help the Ukrainians.
BSA:Did you create this for a local audience, or specifically an international audience. M-City: It’s in English because now this is a global problem. I wanted to create simple sentences so everyone can understand.
BSA:Are you personally affected by the invasion? M-City: No, it’s still far from us. But I have a lot of friends in Ukraine and I painted there a few times. Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus are next to our border. Many Ukrainian people are working here now. They arrived here mostly after the beginning of this conflict years ago.
Perhaps more studied than the typical aerosol vandal, Tuco Wallach works for days in studio to prepare his works that go into the public sphere. Stencils based on his merged photo collages emerge as wood cutout Humasks, a uniquely titled campaign of figures he puts out under cover of night, or out in broad daylight, in his hometown in France.
Sometimes alone, often as a project with friends or with his family, Tuco shares his ideas and the process of putting work in public with his two young boys and his wife and others who those close to him. His craftsmanship is meticulous, precise, and his mind is immersed in a fantastic world that lies just inside one thin slice of yours.
He carefully cuts and finishes these “woodshapes”, and they are never far from him. “I always have a few ‘woodshapes’ with me and shoot them in streets or landscapes,” he says.
This summer his characters were stuck to walls, or posed in natural scenes long enough for him to photograph them, the magic captured for posterity. Tuco’s is an ongoing practice, one that entertains him and connects him with people, rather than separates him. Because his characters are shy, perhaps, they like to wear masks. He calls them “humasks”
We asked Tuco a few questions about his new campaign:
BSA:What is the new campaign “humasks” about? Tuco Wallach: After mixing for a long time humans and animals (“manimals”), I wanted to explore a new area : the masks and humans. I’ve always been very interested about masks in popular culture, movies, music… the subject is “infinite” for me. I began to make my first “humasks” just before the pandemic… Maybe the meaning has changed now. Perhaps it sounds a little “cliché”, but I wonder who’s behind the mask? We all are always wearing different masks with family, friends, and colleagues.
BSA:What is the process for selecting a figure for whom you will create a humask? Tuco Wallach: It depends – but my process doesn’t really change. All my drawings come from my pictures (not necessarily the masks). I shoot unknown people and I add a mask to their figure later, and create my stencil from that result. Sometimes the mask influences me regarding how I choose a figure, sometimes it’s the contrary. I make tests and and at some point, I feel it’s right.
BSA:When you have added the mask, does the figure become a new character? Tuco Wallach: Definitely it does for me. Each time the new figures become my ‘little friends”. They have a parallel life in my mind, like super heroes 🙂
BSA:There is a certain anonymity in putting street art up in public places. Do you wear a mask sometimes in public as well? Tuco Wallach: No. Just my cap and my bike. If I was wearing a mask when pastings my “humasks” I think it may become too complicated.
Developing a library of personal alphabets, coded symbols, muscle memory and intended meanings.
New York street artist Modomatic is finding his way among a crowded field of new additions to the conversation on the streets. His stylistic leanings are being road-tested, as it were, and he is developing his vocabulary before your eyes. We are pleased to have the opportunity to ask him about his sculptural works, his illustrative/diagrammatic works, and how he finds the space in between worlds that he inhabits to be a street artist in New York today.
BSA: The output on the streets is varied. You have what we think are 3D sculptures, wheat pastes with abstract forms, and a take on the pre-Hispanic codices, etc… Are you one artist with a busy mind or are you a collective of artists?
Modomatic: I’m one artist, with a busy mind and ways to extend working time. I constantly explore different ways of expressing myself and along the way created various forms of art, but basically, they’re all coming out of my imagination and started in my sketchbook. I produced a lot of kinds of work during the pandemic, and now using the street to distribute them, because I can’t keep them all. I used a lot of my existing art. I adjust them for the streets, enhancing them so that they can be viewed a little bit further away. Also, for example, the use of brighter and fluorescent colors. I’m still learning about street art, learning about the culture, the type of artwork, the artists, and the way people are installing their art and where they’re installing it. That actually informs, in a way, how to evolve my art to fit more into the environment and the street culture.
BSA:The 3D sculptures are usually human figures interconnected in dance-like movement. The pieces have words as well and sometimes they feature a staircase. Are the figures dancing? Or preventing each other from falling off the staircase? How do you select the text? Does the text follow the image or is it the opposite?
Modomatic: There are two different series of works on this 3D sculpture. One I called “Chasing the Unicorn.” This one has the stairs with a person (mostly a single person) climbing onto the end of the stairs. Chasing a unicorn for me is almost like you are climbing all the way up to the top at full speed, without knowing really, how far the stairs will go, so reaching the top could also mean reaching the end. I styled it to looked like the person is about to jump or about to, you know, desperately stop from falling.
The second series of 3d sculptures are showing a small crowd of people supporting each other. They are holding each other in a group hug or propping up someone. The messages are positive and supportive of mental health. I am saying that we are not alone and they are aware of the problem and show that there is a willingness of others to help. The 3D people are not originally created for the piece – but they are being used to convey the message. I created the sculpture element for some other projects. As I said before, I have a body of work that I created during the last lockdown and these are the result of one of the experimentations I did with figures. So I created this series.
BSA:The inclusion of the staircase, in particular, is interesting to us. Do you care to elaborate a bit on its symbolism?
Modomatic: For me, the stairs are representing the effort that we take to get somewhere, to reach our goals, whether they are being successful, healthy, wealthy, or just getting out of the holes we are in. Usually, you know exactly the height that you’re going to climb, and what is at the end of it. But sometimes, as depicted in this series, when chasing the unicorn, you just go as fast as you can to climb to the top – not knowing where it ends.
Not knowing how far do you have to go also may mean risking overshooting the stairs. This could happen to us who are trying to get as much as possible, as fast as possible, by any means necessary.
In some pieces, I placed the stairs, upside down. For that moment in time when one is at the end of the stairs, going back down takes as much effort as it was going up.
Positioning yourself in between those times is kind of being invisible. People are going about ending their day, and starting their evening and you are somewhere in between.
BSA: Your wheat-pasted posters have an abstract/mystic aesthetic; with figures, numbers, and words. Is there a secret code to the message?
Modomatic: When I do the sketches, the original drawings, yes. There is some form of messaging that I wanted to get across with the symbols. In the sketchbook, I pretended to create a series of personal alphabets, coded symbols, or simple marks, each with the intended meaning. Then the collection becomes a library, like an icon library. The icons either stay imprinted in my mind, in my sketchbooks or are preserved for my digital work. As I started to produce artwork like posters and other different forms, in 3D or 2D, large or small, I started to use those elements and just basically created the composition.
BSA:We do see an influence from what appear to be Aztec Codex symbols in your work, sometimes mixed with modern war machines. What’s the genesis for this “fusion”?
Modomatic: I’d like to consider myself a collector. I take great pleasure in mixing things I collect to create something new. In creating some of my symbols I used scripts like Hindi, Arabic, Chinese characters, Japanese Hiragana and Katakana, and other ancient scripts. I practice my hand on them, and then at one point, they become just muscle memories. The fusion happens in the process of creation.
BSA:One piece, in particular, resembles the international space station to us, or perhaps a satellite. It also brings to mind Legos. Were you obsessed with Legos? Or maybe still are?
Modomatic: I think you are referring to my series AstroSnout. My kids and I love to play with Legos and other construction toys and their modularity is perhaps carried to these artworks. And recently we’ve been paying a lot of attention to the commercial space industries, with Space X and that sparks our imaginations. I do a lot of my art with my kids, and this is one of our fascinations. You can see that this group of works are more playful.
BSA:Did you like getting up in the streets of NYC during the initial Covid lockdowns when the streets were empty and nobody was around? What pushes you to share your work in the streets?
Modomatic: I get up in the street either early in the evening in the dusk, or early in the morning (5 am) where people are just coming out. I like that it is quiet but it’s not dead quiet. The early evening is when there’s just the confusion of time, between the receding of busy work and the starting of the nightlife. Positioning yourself in between those times is kind of being invisible. People are going about ending their day, and starting their evening and you are somewhere in between.
I share my art on the street because I think that it’s like the best gallery in the city.
You are the artist, you are also the curator, the gallery owner – well not really – but the gallery director and art installer. There’s a lot to figure out; where to put your art, how to position it with other art. I use proximity, as a form of admiration, so sometimes I put my art close to the other artists or work that I admire. I considered light and shadow, especially for the 3D art pieces. I also have to consider the fact that it might be taken down, or covered-up.
I love to find my 3D art has been painted over, finding it become part of the fixtures is my goal. I also love to see it emerging later on when the art covering it has decayed or been removed, and my piece started to reveal itself again.
I don’t hate that sometimes my art is taken away. I’d like to think that somebody liked them, not because they hate them.
I learned that’s the street, and I love that. I appreciate it.
Something completely fresh today from artist Adele Renault, who tells us she is thinking about the beauty of nature more than ever. With this new mural of green leafy covering in Liège, Belgium, she is beginning a series she will call Plantasia (#plantasia) and will be developing into a new solo gallery show focusing on the plant world. It’s as old as the hills and the forests, but this new focus feels fresh to this aerosol master. We asked Adele how this new direction began to grow.
BSA: Millions of people worldwide are finally venturing out without masks, and many countries are opening up after a horrific year during the Pandemic. You are not an exception. You are painting murals again—only this time with a new direction. Now you are painting plants. Did the lockdown and the isolation make you re-think the direction of your career?
Adele Renault: I never really stopped painting, luckily murals were considered like construction, and most murals could still go ahead; we are fortunate. It’s probably the only cultural sector that hasn’t been completely devastated. Traveling was an issue, of course, and many events got canceled or perpetually postponed. What the lockdown allowed me to do (just like everyone else) was to slow down a bit, and for me, that meant more time for gardening/planting. That’s a passion that’s literally been “growing” my whole life without me even being aware of it.
As a kid, I always had to help my mum in her large vegetable garden, sometimes fun, sometimes felt more like a chore. But I was subconsciously gathering up all that information being passed down to me—the moon calendar, what to plant when, how to prepare the earth. And then, like so many, I lived in cities where gardening didn’t have a place.
Until I moved to L.A. and was fascinated by the vegetation at every street corner, everything and anything seemed to be growing. And then a revelation came when I realized I was enjoying growing things in pots, didn’t even need to have a patch or a backyard.
I occasionally went to help my friend Ron Finley in his garden, and that’s where I realized you could have a massive garden, all growing in pots if you are surrounded by concrete. And pots are actually fun; you can compose pots like a painting, put together different things that grow at different speeds or heights, play with colors and textures. So right now, I spend a lot of time growing stuff indoors in pots and veggies outside.
BSA:Why did you choose plants as your subjects? AR: I’ve always painted the mundane, whatever was around me. People, pigeons. I see beauty everywhere and in everything, and for me, it was always about showing beauty where you least expect it, but the subject could have been anything. It never had to be “special” to be painted. Now, yet again, the subject chose me rather than the other way around. I spend more time looking at plants from up close, and so I end up painting plants. But it’s not an overnight decision. The seed was planted a long time ago, quite literally.
BSA: Will you paint plant life that is native to the country or city where you will be creating? AR: Probably, but not always. I will repaint the mundane, like stinging nettles or a cabbage leaf. Of course, I will sometimes make site-specific installations, but I also paint what speaks to me or fits a building. Right now, I am starting to work on a solo show. It will be in Belgium, and I am in Europe now, but I miss Los Angeles a lot, so I will probably end up painting some California plants.
BSA:What are your feelings about the color green? You’ll be using gallons of it moving forward. AR: I wouldn’t say I like green. When I buy clothes or shoes, I would never buy something green. Or paint the walls inside my house green! But I love green in nature. I think everybody does instinctively like green nature, green plants. And in a way, when I cover a building in a green leaf, well, I m quite literally letting nature envelop and reclaim a bit of manufactured concrete. Even though it’s not eco graffiti and spray paint isn’t quite “green nature” taking over, but it can at least symbolize it and inspire people for a greener future. I am obviously not the first or last person to paint plants, and I think it’s one of the natural subject matters, just like portraiture. But I hope to bring something new with my approach.
French Street Artist Julien de Casabianca is debuting a new series of photographs that may appear as a surprising departure from his previous multi-year multi-city OUTINGS project, but a closer examination contains many similarities between that one and “Grand Mozeur Feukeur”.
The street artist’s pastings for his OUTINGS Project featured scenes from figurative artworks, classical and modern, from museum collections. Julien de Casabianca wanted the images displayed on facades of buildings in public view rather than hidden away for a limited audience. By bringing outside these selected artworks from cultural institutions worldwide, the artist created a genuinely new category of street art, which doesn’t occur with the frequency you might expect.
From Poland to Mexico to Palestine and Vietnam, OUTINGS expanded to be many things at once, including a form of public service that exposed passersby to cloistered artists whose works were prized but generally unseen by the everyday citizen, therefore unconsidered. Everyone was required to re-think the artworks as well as their pre-conceptions of propriety.
Sometimes partnering directly with local art institutions, Casabianca traveled the world, bringing images into the light of day. Considered anew in this city street context, these excised images took on newly discovered relevance, weights, and character. While some appeared as ghosts of the past, others were remarkably contemporary in these modern surroundings. With the implied or explicit imprimatur of academics and art institutions, his novel approach to art on the streets was timely and of our time, short-circuiting convention and garnering countless press articles in cities and cultures widespread.
For one campaign, he selected only “sex scenes,” as he calls them. Motivated by his disappointment at the lack of sexual themes in the street art scene, Julien de Casabianca isolated duos and polyamorous parties engaged in the erotic arts. “It was my first step of questioning sex, gender, and body in street art,” he tells us in an exclusive interview. A redefining of the street art scene, which can be ironically conventional considering its unconventional origins, was necessary.
“My pasting work used characters taken directly from classical paintings – and I put them in the streets,” he says. “There were dozen of sex scenes – heterosexuals and homosexuals – extracted from classical paintings.”
The impulse to expose audiences to these images was liberating, leading him to publish a manifesto on the streets of his home city, Paris. The long screed excoriated his fellow street artists worldwide for what he perceived as their lack of bravery and possibly hypocrisy by avoiding explicitly sexual scenes.
One excerpt says, “What’s wrong with you guys? Street artists are the purest of them all, then? The least ballsy, apparently. The least boobsy too.”
Today, following his own counsel, Casabianca presents a personal campaign in photographs that again introduces themes infrequently seen on the street, this time using himself as muse and canvas. As LGBTQ issues have mingled with a volley of newly coined terms and freshly minted (often self-appointed) experts in the academy, the media, and the street, many everyday persons have continued to navigate through life with seemingly new definitions of gender identity. This new campaign may clarify, or not.
As an artist familiar with both public display and figurative artwork, Casabianca models here his unique flair for fashion. He also displays a previously little-known relationship with gender, sexuality, and our coding guidelines for classification of each. In this new project, he models dresses that he has collected, each endowed with several associations and assumptions.
As in the OUTINGS project, these photographs are excised from their original intended context, if you will, and given a new venue for consideration. Along with the quality of materials and construction, the viewer will evaluate categories such as “day” or “evening,” occasion, income level, social status, age, gender, sexuality, sexual availability, and degrees of masculinity or femininity.
“This new series of pictures presents my body as a form of street art. I do not see the body used in street art either, but I believe it can be a kind of contemporary art performance,” he says in his description of the new project he’s calling “Grand Mozeur Feukeur.”
Paired with footwear that is not typical for the styles of dress, he poses with some deadpan expressions, occasionally appearing as solicitous, coy, non-plussed, or decisive. You may even say they are a parody of the poses in classical antiquity or fashion magazines. This is a very personal act of self-exposure, and the project reveals his questioning of identity and the paradox of self-expression – and society’s propensity for categorizing.
In total, “Grand Mozeur Feukeur” is a very intimate, provocative presentation that may surprise and draw closer examination by viewers. Grand, severe, and even humorous, the performer/muse/artist places himself against a “typical” scene of urban aerosol graffiti tags on walls. – It’s not exactly street art, yet you can imagine some of these images may end up on the street in a city near you.
“This work questions gender,” he says. “There is a malaise in the masculine aspect in our society at this moment, and I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexually attracted to people who identify as this as well. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. I may be something like a cross-dyke, because “dyke” at one time was a slang term for a well-dressed man. A well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.”
BSA interviewed Julien de Casabianca about his new project:
Brooklyn Street Art (BSA): Can you talk about what led you from your previous street art project to this new one? A number of those pasted works focused on sexual and erotic themes. Is the new project related to each other in any way?
Julien de Casabianca (JC): My OUTINGS work uses characters removed from classical paintings to paste them in the streets. I pasted a dozen sex scenes extracted from classical paintings in Paris streets, and I published the series in Nuart Journal. Some were heterosexuals in nature, and some were homosexual. So this was my first step in questioning sex and gender in street art. And I discovered how sex and gender are rare in street art.
Sexuality is seldom discussed, except in a way meant to be comical. Homosexuality is rarely addressed, except in a political way, in defense of visibility, for example. Rarely are these themes presented for just what they are: sex and love. So once I realized this, it opened my eyes, and I decided to continue to work on these queer questions.
BSA: The dresses present a traditional look at female gender roles. Here they are contrasted with perhaps more modern classic male presentation. How is a costume/dress selected?
JC: These are only “old lady” dresses, grand-mother style. I’m fascinated by kitsch and how there can be a beautiful state in the sublimation of ugly. I think these dresses fit me really well. Since I was 15 years old, I always wore these dresses when I went to a queer party. I did not intend it as a travesty or an absurdity, not just to “dress up.” It is just because I’m beautiful in it! I don’t act like a girl. I’m a man, with my virility intact, and I’m absolutely not androgynous. And some are funny, yes. I have a huge collection, around 150.
BSA: The footwear and socks are frequently well-matched to the color scheme of the dress, yet they are not directly related to the style. Is this intentional?
JC: Yes, I’m a sneaker addict, and I always wear sneakers, even in a dress. And I’m in urban style all the time, and it’s my job, so I wanted absolutely to create this mix between old-school and contemporary.
BSA: Does posing before heavily graffitied walls make these modeling sessions more “street” or “urban”?
JC: Yes, I’m a street artist, and this wall is in my home. There are two ways to connect this series of photography in the continuity of my street art work: the urban style association of the sneakers and the walls covered in graff.
BSA:Are you challenging gender roles and definitions, or are you expressing identity and sexuality?
JC: This work questions gender. There is a malaise in the masculine in our society. I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the typical heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexual attracted to people who identify as this. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. Maybe I am something like a cross-dyke, because people used to use “dyke” as slang for a well-dressed man. And a well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.
BSA: Is there comedy here?
JC: There is comedy too, sometimes, because I’m funny in my life and the photographs are my work. But these styles are from my nightlife. At my house, my decor is full of old-lady stuff. I’m in love with those things. They are deeply moving.
BSA: In terms of society and your personal evolution, could this project have occurred in 1991? 2001? Or is there something about 2021 that makes it feel “right”?
JC: It has been an incredible evolution in the last few years in the overall recognition by people of the variety of genders that exist. Ten years ago, people would have regarded my looks as travesty or comedy, period. I’m not either one, not traditionally hetero. I’m queer. During the day, I wear what could be considered a “heterosexual urban” style – maybe androgynous. At night I’m wearing old lady dresses while keeping my virility and masculine behavior.
We’re honored to be interviewed by Miss Rosen in the photography magazine Blind. Here is the introduction of her article with a link to the full story.
By Miss Rosen for Blind Magazine.
“If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal,” street artist Banksy said. Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art reflect on the relationship between street art, activism, and photography.
Though we are surrounded by omens portending the future before it occurs, many refuse to read “the writing on the wall.” The confluence of graffiti and political action dates back to the Biblical story of Belshazzar’s feast when a disembodied hand scrawled words on the palace wall in a language no one could understand. According to the Book of Daniel, the young hero deciphered the message and warned the king the great empire of Babylon was going to fall.
The parable, contained within the larger story of apocalypse, is uncannily timely given the resurgence of graffiti and street art, two of the most vital, viral forms of contemporary art. Long intertwined with photography and activism, today’s “writing on the wall” has become the medium of the proletariat in the fight against the oppressive power structures dominating everyday life around the globe.
Throughout history artists have taken to the streets to draw attention to the issues at stake in the hopes of radicalizing the populace. From the use of wheat-pasted posters in the 1910 Mexican Revolution and John Heartfield’s anti-Nazi and anti-Stalinist crusades of the 1930s to 1968 student uprisings in Paris and Mexico City, artists have long taken to the streets to expose the corruption of political institutions. Although their works are local and temporal, photography has played an integral role in preserving and distributing their messages far and wide.
“Humans have always had the urgency to leave their mark behind. Walls and rocks have been their canvases for millennia,” say photographer Jaime Rojo and editor Steven P. Harrington of Brooklyn Street Art. “By the 1980s, graffiti writers like Lee Quiñones routinely addressed social and political topics when using New York City subway trains as canvases. Likewise, street art in 2020 has referenced police brutality, structural racism, feelings of alienation, disgust with politicians and a vast economic chasm that is shredding the fabric of society.”
Click HERE to continue reading the full article in Blind Magazine…
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in magazines and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, as well as books by Janette Beckman, Joe Conzo, Jane Dickson, Arlene Gottfried, and Allan Tannenbaum. As publisher of Miss Rosen Editions, she has produced books including the legendary hip-hop epic Wild Style: The Sampler by Charlie Ahearn (2007), Do Not Give Way to Evil: Photographs of the South Bronx, 1979–1987 by Lisa Kahane (2008), and New York State of Mind by Martha Cooper (2007).
Blind is a magazine that invites you to take the time to see, read and understand the language of photographers. Photography reveals not just what our senses perceive, but also how our sensibility acts: what moves us, touches us, and binds us.
Steering away from potentially inflammatory political content or street beef of the past on this high-profile wall with a New York street art/graffiti history, the current occupants of the Houston Bowery Wall are more focused on allegory, and community. Featuring a fleet of volunteers and a mural full of history and aspiration, Raul Ayala thinks of this wall as a teachable moment. The artist employed many of the 21 days that this mural took to complete to do just that: teach.
With ten talented young artists/activists from the locally-based Groundswell NYC community organization, Ayala planned and painted various phases of the mural together while under the gaze of curious New Yorkers who paraded by hour after hour while the artists painted. Included in that team were Gabriela Balderas, Charlize Beltre, Brandon Bendter, Junior Steven Clavijo, Jennifer Contreras, Maria Belen Flores, Hafsa Habib, Cipta Hussain, Karina Linares and Gabriel Pala.
Ayala describes the piece as “opening a portal,” and you quickly realize that it is a portal of the mind to imagination and inspiration. “For me, building imagination and sharing knowledge alongside a younger generation of artists is a great manifestation of the fruits of this shift,” he says. “With this mural, we are also bringing inter-generational participation into a future that honors our past while actively creating a different path of existence.”
BSA talked to Raul about the mural and his experience painting it. Below is the interview:
BSA: At both ends of the mural you have depicted two masked characters. One on the left is wearing what seems to be an Aztec mask with the skyline of Manhattan in the background as he pulls down a monument. The one on the right is a black man at the moment when he is either about to put an African mask on or at the moment when he’s taking it off. Could you please describe the significance of both characters and how they relate to each other in the mural?
RA: Masks have always been a part of culture and are the recipients of many powerful archetypes; they are a space of connection to different realms of existence. In recent times, due to the pandemic, the mask has become necessary protective gear and is part of the current cultural landscape. With the masks depicted in the mural, I wanted to drive the conversation towards a more ample understanding of the mask as it relates to specific cultural heritages. Black, brown and indigenous solidarity is a constant effort in my practice. I strive to practice solidarity in the themes I paint and also in the way a lot of my murals are made. I think of mural-making as a learning space, where I get to have conversations with my peers and my students. African and Indigenous (Wirarika/Huichol) inspired masks have a lot in common, as one of the proposals for the idea of “opening portals” that is the overarching theme of the mural.
also a symbolic connection. In the Andes, where I come from, the Jaguar is a
very powerful spirit animal related to water. The Black Panther as a representation
of Black Power has a lot of cultural relevance as well and I wanted to hint to
those connections. Many passersby have referenced one of the masked people as
Chadwick Boseman. Even though it was not necessarily my intention, I love that people
-especially younger generations- read that on the mural.
BSA: There’s a skeleton with his arm around a skull character in a suit holding what seems to be a scepter. What are these two doing in the mural and who are they?
RA: The whole mural is an allegory of our current times. For me, part of the work that needs to happen is to address systemic oppression and white supremacy as prevalent forces that are endangering our relationships to each other, to our ancestry, and to the natural world. The two characters represent these forces. There are also a lot of symbols relating to these structural powers: There is a big fish eating small fish and an Icarus falling, both as cautionary tales of a late capitalist society and its extractive, individualistic strategies.
BSA: Can you talk about the women that are making a quilt? Who are they? What do they represent? Why are they making a quilt?
RA: Textile arts at large, including practices like Quilting Bees have been spaces not only of resistance and resilience but also spaces to pass on knowledge between generations. I wanted to depict a pluricultural, multigenerational circle of women. I believe these are great examples of the kind of relationships that will sustain and create health in these times. Additionally, the designs are another type of “portal.” They are traditional symbols in different cultures; the women in the back are creating a “tree of life,” a traditional African American quilting design. The women at the fore are holding a Chakana, which is a very important symbol of the Andean cosmogony.
The central character is dressed in a Whipala, an emblem that represents indigenous peoples from the Andes. The animals that are coming out of the designs (with the exception of the hummingbird, which is a migratory bird) were part of the ecosystem of that very location before colonization. I took the information from the Welikia Project, a map that overlays the city with the ecosystem of Mahannata before 1609. I would also like to acknowledge that my partner Fernanda Espinosa, an oral historian and cultural organizer has been a great help in imagining this side of the piece, and with who I often collaborate.
BSA: The flowers on the mural are very similar to the Moon flowers one sees in NYC in full bloom at night during the summer. Are these Moon Flowers?
RA: It is great to hear all the different readings the public has. In the end, it is about what people take and interpret themselves, I love that the flowers can also be Moon Flowers. I wanted to bring the idea of passing on traditional knowledge through generations. The plant depicted is Guanto, a plant that has been used as medicine in the Americas for millennia.
BSA: The female character holding a seed or a seedling. Can you talk about her and the seed she is holding?
RA: This is another allegorical character that is both using plants as medicine and holding the seed as a symbol. For me, it talks about the idea of the future. The title of the piece is “To Open A Portal,” this seed may be seen as a sort of key to that portal; a key that requires sustained care so the fruits of the labor can be enjoyed in a possible future.
In Kichwa, one of the indigenous languages of the Andes, we can say that we are living through a Warmi (female) Pacha (time/space) Kuti (shift). These seeds also represent that Warmi Pachakuti. In a way, this speculative approach to the future that has a strong female character at the center is an homage to Octavia Butler’s oeuvre. The figure above is also a historical character, Harriet Tubman. These are proposals to enter a new monumental landscape, not necessarily to depict one main person, but the sets of relationships and changes they have created through their actions.
was your experience painting in such a prominent spot with so much noise and
RA: I really enjoy working in public space! The conversations that I witnessed and that the mural and activity sparked were very interesting. A lot of people told me that they see themselves in the characters and that was one of the biggest compliments I have received. There were also some people triggered by what was perceived as an attack on “white culture.” For me to question white supremacy and celebrate protests in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, allow us to place this shift in the context of History. When monuments are brought down, a sort of portal to a different reality is being created. I see this seemingly aggressive act also as an opportunity to manifest different futures: when a symbol that stands for the values of civilization is put into question, domination and power imbalances are being contested too. This portal allows us to walk through the pain and find futures where we consider the way in which we are not only connected but also dependent on each other.
BSA: Your assistants were also your students. Where do you teach?
RA: While I am a visual artist, teaching has always been an important part of my practice and one that I center often. I started first teaching art in a project I started in detention centers in Quito many years ago. Since then, I have taught with multiple projects and organizations. With Groundswell, I have had the pleasure to teach for about 7 years. This project was in collaboration with them and it really was the only way it made sense for me to do this wall. I have been witnessing the growth of these young artists for some time now and I feel very proud of them and what we have done together. My responsibility as an artist is also to educate the younger generations of artists of color.
Street artist and conceptual artist John Fekner participated in student demonstrations and peaceful moratoriums in New York in the 1960s, with his first outdoor work completed in 1968. When younger generations of artists are feeling inflamed about this spring and summers’ demonstrations it is helpful to remember that artists of each generation have been a crucial part of many, if not most, movements of social and political change.
With his new mini-retrospective in a space limited by Covid-19 considerations the exhibition is available to see only by appointment in Bayside, Queens, you can see that Fekner’s dedication to drawing our attention to our behaviors as citizens, cities, politicians, and corporations lies at the root of his advocacy.
Putting your mark on
society is an ironic way of describing the literal act artists and vandals engage
in when putting their work on the streets. While “getting up” for many is an
act of self-promotion or marking of territory, Fekner has often used his spray
paint and stencils to critique, to call-out the failure of societies to care or
take responsibility for their actions or inactions, and may trigger you to bear
Spraying “DECAY” on a rusting hunk of detritus breaks through the psychological defense systems you may array against “seeing” history and outcome. A blunt aesthetic written in a large format makes an impression – the simple act of tagging objects and surfaces of industrial and urban neglect is radical, a defiant gesture that calls the state and the citizen to account. By drawing attention, even cryptically, you may cause one to question – or even to regard these layers of debris as violence toward others, toward the natural world.
For A CHANGE, the show takes his 1981 painting and applies it broadly
to the running narrative throughout his work, as a proponent of self-reflection
and advocate of positive change.
“The economic imbalance,
the energy crisis, health insurance, pollution, and global warming increase
exponentially every day,” Fekner says in an overview of the exhibition, “all
compounded by the coronavirus pandemic. Many of our issues boil below the
surface, making it convenient to turn a blind eye.”
Meticulously curated, the exhibition is showcasing a selection of Fekner’s paintings, mixed media sculpture, and ephemera as well as a “sampling of art objects, photographs, books, and a glimpse into Fekner’s personal archive spanning a fifty-year timeline,” viewers can get a broader overview of the artists’ sincere belief that his art in the streets has the power to affect the world. “Although some of the work is decades old, their relevance resonates today, maybe with even greater urgency,” says his description.
BSA had the opportunity to ask Mr. Fekner about his work and worldview as we appear at a nexus of profound change.
Brooklyn Street Art: Looking back on the issues you contemplated fifty years ago, we can’t deny that things have indeed changed – but we are also discovering that things really didn’t change, especially when it pertains to race and poverty. How do you, as an artist confront this reality? Are you despondent?
John Fekner: The greatest ferment of change, I believe, is the risks that people are willing to take in the face of tremendous setbacks. This has been true throughout history whether it’s the storming of the Bastille to the toppling of Confederate monuments. I’m heartened by the courage I see today and despondent art doesn’t help.
BSA:What do you think about the concept of “voluntary human extinction”. Is it possible to just simply stop making more humans to save the earth?
John Fekner: I believe that optimism and the survival of the human race are hard-wired into our nature.
BSA:Rich countries are on a heavy diet of “consumerism” fueled by the endless appetite of tech giants for quarterly profits to appease shareholders. People spend money they don’t have. Most people don’t have savings and live paycheck to paycheck. What went wrong?
John Fekner: This is nothing new. The exploitation of the poor by the rich is the perennial struggle of humanity and will probably always be. There is no reason to stop fighting. We should never lose our courage and vigilance.
BSA:On Wednesday the CEO’s of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google will testify before Congress. If you were the one asking the questions what would you ask them?
John Fekner: The greatest safeguard of capitalism in our country has always been the resistance to monopolies. My question would be: ‘What are you going to do to insure that your companies don’t monopolize and dominate every market?’
BSA: Can we still have hope? Is there still time to change course to save our communities?
John Fekner: If I didn’t have hope, I would stop making art.
Mr. Fekner asks us to “remind everyone they have to REGISTER in order to VOTE. Do It. Make A Change.”
You have been seeing a number of rooms in this old Victorian home regaled and reimagined by a number of artists over the past few weeks as we have featured the installations for a unique exhibition called disConnect. Today we have artist Aida Wilde who speaks extensively here about every aspect of her installation and world view and how she created her work for this project .
“The inaugural exhibition at Schoeni Projects’ London space, a Victorian townhouse in South West London, the exhibition, Titled disCONNECT, transforms the period building – currently under renovation – with new site-specific works from ten urban artists working across seven countries.”
BSA: First tell us which room(s) were designated to you?
Aida Wilde: We were sent very concise floor plans and video of the house as were initially asked to state out preferences to which rooms we would like to take over.
From the off-set, I
was drawn to the most unusual and challenging spots in the house, like the walk
in master cupboard which was a little narrow with mirrors along it and a window
at the end of the little annex ….I also liked the wallpaper in the library but
again, that was a pretty conventional room- I’m not a big fan of the 4 walls/
window/box formula in spaces that I show art work in.
I like working with a
space that can interact and speak with the work… also sometimes I find that a
space can enhance and influence the kind of work being made…. They should go
hand in hand for me, especially when it comes to this kind of installation- in
a house….& if it doesn’t, it can shift context/perception and only be seen
conversations about stair cases and toilets which I have been know to have been
drawn to in the past so Nicole had suggested the downstairs loo (That she had
previously dubbed as the Nanny Loo) and it’s surrounding area which I was very
open to- so I began work based on the photos and videos I had been send. It
wasn’t until the very socially distanced site visit to the space that I knew we
had made the right decision. Everything clicked and was perfect for me.
BSA: Were the spaces intimidating, challenging, hunting or a walk in the park?
Aida Wilde: The spaces weren’t intimidating….I was more concerned about trying to execute the ideas that I had in a middle of a global pandemic, with a lot of the resources that I needed were either closed or operating on a skeleton capacity. There are still a couple things I could fabricate just because what I need was closed.
Fortunately for me, I
have a fully self-contained print studio to work from so I at least I knew that
I would be able to make most of the work here.
BSA: What first came to mind when you saw the space? Did you change your approach to the space a number of times?
Aida Wilde: I was very excited by the space, in particular the fixings and fixtures that were already there….. I had initially completely dismissed the small cupboard under the stairs, until the site visit and where I saw the big heavy safe inside. I don’t know a lot of houses/people who have a safe like that inside their house, so that sparked a lot of ideas about what I could put inside. I started playing with the idea of being safe/locked in/out, and that is when I came up with the idea of the “Pandemik Panik Room”. A contradiction in itself…. Where you would let out all your fears whilst still locked in inside…. But also, a place for safety, hiding and taking refuge inside of it, under the stairs. Made me chuckle.
It was always my intention from the beginning, that I would be doing asking people to be involved with the installation, initially via my social media platforms but later as lock down started to ease in the UK, I was able to run a Panik & Fear poster workshop for my neighbours. I live in a pretty sheltered artist warehouse complex, so I spread the word, put some posters up and people turned up outside my place on the day to get involved and make me posters to go inside the “Panik Room”. It was a beautiful sunny day, we shared, talked, created, laughed and got a little emotional, a very rewarding day. I love the fact that it is not only my voice in the house.
BSA: How did you arrive at the final concept?
Aida Wilde: In all honesty, it was very quick and organic. After initial conversations and half jokingly coming up with names like Nanny Loo and Granny Alley, these things already sparked off a lot of ideas. Dissecting the space into “Zones” / areas also helped with creating a pandemic narrative. I wanted each zone to represent a different idea and feeling that most of us might have gone through during our time in lock-down. There are several personal and emotional elements in the narrative like the Red flower/text pieces transcending up the stairs towards the light from the big window. Those pieces are my exploration of my thoughts about life, love and hope, mixed in with verses from the Persian poet and philosopher Rumi. I guess, it’s all about observation, silence, stillness and contemplation (which came with being in lockdown)
The Staying Alert
serigraphs were mostly sparked off by what I read and saw in the news… I call
these your infomercial doctor/school, you know the ones you may see in a
waiting room….warning you against the perils.
Also, I had started
to pick up a lot of discarded objects and materials that people were leaving
out on the street during the “Lockdown Spring Clean”. I know the thought of
bringing something inside your house left outside in a pandemic is absurd, but
it was good stuff and I had a little ritual where I would obviously pick them
up with gloves, bag them then disinfect immediately once I got them home. A lot
of the things I found also determined what I made them into and how I used them
in the installation.
I was going to print
some of my wallpaper poems to act like banners in the house on paper but I
found a big bag of beautiful white lace curtains one day… so this idea evolved
and I finally wrote them on the curtains which look so beautiful and haunting
on the lace with the light shining through them- They are like ghosts, so I
called them “Notes From A Phantom”
I think the curtains
are a great example of how ideas grew and evolved just by the substrate and I
love what they symbolise & the initial function of what curtains are
supposed to do…. So many correlations between lockdown and the outside world
and taking these curtains and placing them somewhere where they are completely
dysfunctional yet representing an ideology.
BSA: The wall papers are all so ornate…until you look closer…then all sinks in. Who would have thought terror could look so decorative. Like candy in a Florida motel. Did you have fun designing the wall papers?
Aida Wilde: I tend to have a lot of hidden sinister meanings behind most of my work- My fine art editions have undertone references to class, colonialism and the taboo. I also like to dissect things within my work. I want to make people stop and look a little bit harder. You know, we’re so used to everything being fast, especially visually; scrolling/swiping etc….. but this has been the perfect time for everyone to slow down and take in the things that we may have dismissed a million times before….so it’s a little bit about discovery and a surprise in the everyday. I wanted to capture this idea in the install. LOOK HARDER.
And I guess when you’re making work about a deadly invisible killer, you can’t instill any more fear and hysteria into people can you! I’m always striving to find a balance between creating something to communicate as well as making it desirable enough for you to want. I want my work to communicate in the most digestible, relatable and clearest way as possible. Art needn’t come with an instruction manual for you to understand it and feel it.
The “Pink Pop Spots”
as I call them have been with me for almost 15 years, they’re kinda my calling
card on the street as I don’t sign any of my work that’s put out, but people generally
recognise its me through them, and it was totally serendipitous that they resembled
the Covid-19 virus cells, and this is how we turned them into these little
mutating playful things. Forever involving.
With the emoji “Pandemik Mausoleum” wallpaper, I wanted to make something that was a nod to the houses past and complemented the original wallpapers that were already within it, but take it into 2020 obviously. As mentioned before, I really like the damask wallpaper in the library, so that sparked the idea of designing something based on the traditional damask design. Fortunately for me, my degree was in Printed Surface Design where I specialised in pattern for textiles and wallpaper, so again, this was a very comfortable and organic process for me.
I have been using Instagram and emoji subtly through out some of my street work for a few years now- For me, they are the ultimate universal world language to communicate through. From young to old, even my mother sends me an array of emoji based text messages. I had a terrible vision that what if the human population got wiped out because of Covid and a small section of my wallpaper was found some years later…. What would they be able to decipher from it?
A bit like the hieroglyphics you know, what information could you extract, so that was what was going through my mind when I was making it. It was very challenging to get the initial shape and repeat to the way that I wanted it. It did take weeks to complete but I had so many laughs along the way, the mere fact that I was sitting there making an emoji based design with a yellow man clutching a loo roll and Poo’s coming out of a toilet being showered was just ridiculous and surreal, I laughed a lot, still am. One of the hardest challenges was that I wanted to include so much more of the emojis that I really love, but I had to be very brutal and concise with the story that I wanted to tell, it was hard to strip it way back to what it is now. I am happy with it… it seems balanced.
systematic racism have been brought to the forefront causing further
questioning of our institutions and causing rifts between friends and even family
members. The global balance is definitely shifting with internal instability on
the rise. With the usual
deterrents of conflict on the decline, a possible uprising could take place globally…
so warfare indeed.
BSA: How can you explain that a Pandemic can devolve into political warfare? Shouldn’t it all be left to the scientists and the doctors?
AW: This is a very thought provoking question so thank you for asking this as I haven’t talked about the piece of work in the installation that you are referencing.
Seemingly a very accessible and disposable substrate, but a t-shirt has a multi-faceted role which can bring forth and highlight personal or political ideals… even becoming a walking billboard in the communication of subcultures and beliefs etc… I always say, “never underestimate the political power of a T-shirt.” Obviously, how you present the said T-shirt as part of an installation is another matter- In this case, I have displayed it in a zip lock Vacuum Seal bag which is supposed to encase and preserve it in a “germ and dust free” environment.
The original design
referring to ‘Germ Warfare’ was
made by Keith Haring in 1987 in reference to the AIDS epidemic and we even had
to consult Annelise Ream the director of collections at the Haring Foundation
to clarify the origins etc… as I could not find any information during my
research into the t-shirt. It really spoke to me and I was very clear that I
needed to adapt this design and bring it into 2020. There were just too many
similarities and circumstances between the epidemic and the virus that struck
an unnerving chord. Shivers…. It was very emotional.
Regarding the scientists…
we are at the mercy of them and on our leaders. Yes, we are in a race, the race
for a vaccine and a cure. We really don’t know the atmosphere and tension
that’s going on behind those secure lab doors but what I feel is that imagining
once a vaccine is discovered! The first question is going to be “who” &
“Where”. The next thing is going to be, will they share this finding freely, and
at what cost? Is it going to become about POWER & control, commodity and
ownership? It’s a bit like someone knowing how to make gold! The power is going
to lie with the people/country, which will discover the vaccine first.
I really don’t want
to think about the worse case scenario & which country finds it first-
because if it is the US and if in particular still under it’s current
leadership- WE ARE ALL FUCKED.
Perhaps not a germ
warfare but a political one for sure, especially in regards to disparity, who
and what is effected and deaths. We need to consider the demographics too…. Those
living in poverty, women, the youth & the displaced like the refugees all
come into mind.
With this great
power, conflict may arise- we have already witnessed what took place in our
shops & the carnage of empty shelves, the fights, the diversion and looting
of PPE/Masks from airports etc… so imagine what conflicts can arise from
someone finding a vaccine.
If things like democracy and economic independence have been keeping the peace thus far, the global recession and depression caused by the virus; these degradations could shift the economic balance within many countries, affecting trade and peace within nations. Especially with the fall of trade, Trump has already waged trade wars as we speak with reconfiguring the US supply chains from China and defunding WHO and widening the economic inequalities, which are a direct consequence of the pandemic.
BSA: How best would you describe your installation besides the obvious messages?
Aida Wilde: I would like it to be seen as a narrative. It’s a time capsule that captures a moment, thoughts, emotions, loneliness, pain, love and politics. It’s about collaboration, community and the voice of the many. The work will speak and shout…. And I really hope it stands the test of time. I tried my best to present a sympathetic and mindful view of what many of us have experienced during these unsettling and unpredictable time in our history. Our individual experiences, memories and traumas have been so varied, so I hope there is something in there that people can relate to individually. I also hope that I have brought some light & humour into the installation- We need to remember how to feel laughter again.