The Founder of Nuart, Nordic Jewel of Street Art
The small but very expensive (if you are not a resident) and oil rich Coastal town of Stavenger in Norway must be feeling a bit blue right now. Nuart 2010 artists cleaned up, packed up their tools and left after two weeks of painting monumental murals for the town’s folk to enjoy during the long, dark winter months ahead. This years’ Street Artists included Dotmasters, Dolk, EVOL, Sten & Lex, Vhils, and ROA, among others. As in the past 5 years under this curator, the ’10 group is a stellar selection of talent that is helping define what direction Street Art is heading.
The offerings this year were super sized and in many cases bold in color. All of the participants this year were painters, masters at their craft and supremely independent. Martyn Reed, curator and visionary engine behind this elaborate but accessible street art festival doesn’t limit himself to one large festival – instead he marries it with a prestigious electronic-based music festival he created as a result of his years as a DJ. This years’ NuMusic festival featured performances by luminaries like Krautrock grandaddies Neu! and American hip-hop cornerstone Grandmaster Flash.
The affable bad boy Reed took a moment this week to look at his route to success so far and tell BSA about what the Nuart festival is and why it is important to him.
Brooklyn Street Art: Putting on a festival of this magnitude must be a big task. How do you do it?
Martyn Reed: Actually, this year, though the largest in scale, was a much easier production than we’ve been used to. We’ve learned so much from previous events that this year things ran incredibly smoothly. The biggest challenge was the weather in the second week. A good 90% of the walls required cherry pickers, these are obviously booked well in advance, set up, artists arrives and yeah.. we’re on. The walls that required scaffold are rigged by professionals and we made sure that all of this years artists were painters. So once set up, people were pretty autonomous. It helped that we spread out the production period to cover two weeks and also that we had Marte, a Nuart regular, on an internship for a month during the planning phase.
Brooklyn Street Art: What has been the town folks’ main reaction when they see all the big creatures on the walls of their city?
Martyn Reed: It’s incredible, there’s nothing but love for Nuart in this city, and it’s spread across a really broad demographic, from toddlers to grandparents, and from bakers to the city mayor.
It’s interesting because in a city this size anything new, any new developments in culture for example, are judged on their intrinsic merits and not due to media hype or “trends”. The city has a population of 120,000 and though a few will be aware of Banksy, Dolk etc..that will it. The art isn’t really tied to a “culture”, to Juxtapoz or hipsters or the gallery set or limited edition sneakers and vinyl toys and all the other commercial detritus that’s blossomed around the scene. It’s simply art on the street, big bold beautiful artworks that noticeably improve the surroundings. It’s astonishing to me that more city councils around the world haven’t yet embraced and recognized the value of Street Art.
Brooklyn Street Art: You have combined music with the plastic arts. Is there a cross-over between the two? Does one influence the other when curating the festival?
Martyn Reed: Interesting question, but the short answer is no, not anymore. Interesting in that Nuart was established to explore the questions you raise.
The Numusic festival, like many other European electronic music festivals, was born from an involvement in early rave and club culture. Arts graduates social life’s began to merge with their studies and aspects of academic pursuits began to influence club culture, especially with Vj’s, the early web, digital arts and new media. This proved an especially fertile and creative arena for subversives and artistic outsiders who naturally gravitate to these still lawless new frontiers. Nuart was initially set up as a sister festival to Numusic back in 2001 to provide a platform for “cutting edge” digital arts and new media, which of course had parallels with Numusic which at the time was billed as “Scandinavia’s leading festival of Electronic music”. New Media quickly became the baby of Arts Councils and funding bodies around the globe with new departments established to support and fund the medium. Art and New Technology grants were everywhere and as a Techno Dj and promoter with a degree in fine art, I was ideally placed to take advantage of the situation. I wrote the applications and we hired in various freelance curators between 2001 and 2005 and opened up the galleries during the club nights mixing up the art and the music.
I’d had an interest in Street Art through Banksy having Dj’d at Cargo in London where he had his first UK show, 2001 I think. It hadn’t occurred to me until 2005 when I took over curating Nuart, that Street Art was occupying the same ground as these early digital pioneers had previously, with a similar message, greater coverage, mass appeal and for the price of a craft knife and Internet connection. Suddenly new media looked like the bloated expensive state sanctioned art-form it was, obsessed with the technology of production when the real technological revolution was in its ability to distribute. I’d already worked with C6/Dotmasters on a new media show which led to Graffiti Research Lab etc so in 2005 I made an application to the arts council with a view to pushing things into a more street art orientated direction. And of course it was rejected outright..We thought ‘fuck it’, took out a private bank loan and did it anyway.. that was the start of Nuart in it’s current form. I guess the only similarities with movements in music is how the form is distributed, though it’s interesting to note a few artists, Faile in particular, messing with “remix” culture.
Brooklyn Street Art: You have to deal with painters and musicians. How do you see their differences as artists and do you approach them differently?
Martyn Reed: We treat people as people, no heirs and graces and pretty plain talking. We’re an easy going bunch and I think most artists and musicians feel comfortable around the crew, obviously we have to adapt to certain peoples quirks of character, but for the most, peoples social antenna’s are tuned to the same channel. Our main goal is to ensure that the production and service we provide ensures that the artists have nothing to worry about other than their own performance or piece.
Brooklyn Street Art: Did you grow up in a family where the arts and music were a big part of growing up? If not when did you realize that music and art were your calling?
Martyn Reed: Ha Ha, no no, quite the opposite, lower working class council estate upbringing, trailer trash in your parlance, didn’t know universities existed until I was maybe 17 or so, left home and school at 16 and just tried to get on..
During all these centuries of the celebration of high art, of its life-affirming philosophies, the glorification, elevation and idolization, it’s monuments to human artistic achievement and even more monumental museums celebrating its history, you’d think, somewhere down the line..an attempt would have been made to bring this to my council estate. To our lives. Because I know for a fact, art is not only capable of “improving” lives, but of saving them also. Literally.
But for all the grandstanding, the “high” arts don’t run that deep, which is why I’m a massive supporter and promoter of street art.
As for realizing, not sure, to be honest, from a very early age I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, and the “in” seemed to be missing a few things. I guess Nuart is my attempt to provide the community and the artists (and my 4 year old kid), with the thing that I missed.
All Images are Courtesy of Nuart and © Ian Cox, © GT and © Alexandros © Sten & Lex