All posts tagged: Gentrification

Civic Dialogue & “Fake Walls” : A New Interview With Gaia

Civic Dialogue & “Fake Walls” : A New Interview With Gaia

He calls them “fake walls”; these mockups of murals in Baltimore that feature adorable pets. With these clever photoshopped pieces of mural fiction the Street Artist Gaia is perhaps skewering the coy shallowness of mural festivals that encourage a content-free decorative approach, rather than a substantive historically/socially/politically rooted one.

If Street Art has been hi-jacked by mural festivals from some of it’s higher minded origins, the New York born, Baltimore based Gaia has raced quickly on hot feet in the opposite direction during the last five years – preferring to immerse himself in local history, sociopolitical developments, and the implied cultural ramifications of his work.

Partially as critique to one increasingly commercial trend in Urban Art “festivals” that contorts murals as vehicles for brand and lifestyle messaging or aims only to prettify and sanitize public space, Gaia keeps assigning himself homework when he’s asked to paint in a new city, and he wishes he had more time to study.

Today we would like to share with BSA readers a recent interview he did with Shelly Clay-Robison, an adjunct faculty at York College of Pennsylvania and at the University of Baltimore who teaches peace and conflict studies and anthropology – with the hope of furthering the discussion on some of the points he raises and which we similarly have been discussing over the last few years with you.

In the interview Gaia speaks to the trivialization of the mural as meaningful expression in public space, a frequent lack of community engagement in Urban Art festivals, and his own sensitivity to what he may describe as the overwhelming whiteness and educated privilege in a scene that in many ways evolved from lower income communities of color. We’re pleased that Gaia and Ms. Clay-Robison have allowed us to share the interview with you.


Shelly Clay-Robison: Should we call the work you have made outside and on architecture street art, mural art, or graffiti and why would terminology matter?
Gaia: I would like to make a distinction that may seem insignificant, but is very important. Street Art, as I personally define it, is an umbrella term that seeks to explain any intervention understood as an artistic gesture, in a shared space, and must necessarily be illegal. The purview of Street Art entails anything under the rubric of contemplation or performance; tactical urbanism, painting, sculpture, etc. Murals on the other hand, are legal, sanctioned and are much more stringently understood as painting. Finally graffiti, as a tradition where the scrawling of a name becomes stylized, is a more pure action that is self-identified by its various participants as “writing” and not in fact “art.” Hence the continued relevance of the Street Art distinction.

SCR: So is it just an issue of legality then? Or are their social implications behind which type of work or medium is chosen?
Gaia: I stress these distinctions so firmly because we are at an extremely problematic crossroads within this rhizomatic movement, where the mural in the Americas, traditionally understood as within the realm of celebration, especially of colonized and oppressed peoples, has been wrested from the control of community art, by the spirit of Street Art. What I mean to say is that the production of a mural in the United States has traditionally been a multilateral, consensus-based process, but now control is being wrested from civic groups and representatives.

Instead, the procedure of creating a mural is increasingly being determined by property owners with the power and means to circumvent community, and thus, facilitate work that speaks to an imagined, future audience. I call this a liberalization of the mural: international, highly skilled individuals, who have transitioned from illegal, singular authorship to unilateral, sanctioned mural production have created a race to the bottom that defies the old Works Progress Administration model of full employment and is instead more aligned with the 10-99 subcontractor economy.

Click the link below and automatically download a PDF of the full interview here:

Clay-Robison, Shelly and Gaia. “Street art and Civic Dialogue: an interview with Gaia.” Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory vol 16 no 1 (2016): 89-93.


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BSA Film Friday 12.05.14

BSA Film Friday 12.05.14



Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.

Now screening :

1. Street Artist GAIA, Super Modernity in Italy, Austria, Turkey
2. JR: RIVAGES  a film by Guillaume Cagniard
3. Curiot at the Mexico City’s Youth Institute

BSA Special Feature: Street Artist GAIA, Super Modernity in Italy, Austria, Turkey

“Traversing places in order to respond to place, what an absurd proposition.”

And yet, that is what Street Artist Gaia has been doing for the last 3 years or so.  In route he has been seeing many other artists doing the same thing, and has been feeling super modern about it.

While Street Art grew out of the graffiti tradition of tagging your local city with your name and your artwork and calling it a day, few are satisfied with that audience today. True fame happens via the Internet and mural festivals, and Gaia has made it one of his goals to study the history and culture of his host city and the resulting art works have been affected by his self-education and observation.

In this new video mini-treatise, an existential examination of his own journey to this point, Gaia poses questions while cleverly jabbing at the roving rootless lifestyle that has arrested many artists in the Street Art scene; reveling in its benefits — possibly counting its costs.

The petite piece is scored by Max Muffler in a postmodern electronic timber, evoking the charging swing of perpetual cross-cultural travel that can be rich and repetitively banal.

Sounds like the beginning of a larger work to come.



JR: RIVAGES  a film by Guillaume Cagniard


Curiot at the Mexico City’s Youth Institute

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Specter: The Gentrification Series

To use a mangled metaphor, it looks like street artist Specter has thrown his terry cloth headband into the basketball ring in the ongoing Atlantic Yards dispute between pro-development and anti-gentrification forces in downtown Brooklyn.

Street artist Specter’s “A Nightmare on Atlantic” (photo © Jaime Rojo)

For those of you who have been living under an IKEA, gentrification has been plowing through New York City since at least the 1950’s and it went on steroids in the 1990’s as developers began mowing down anything in their path by brandishing a legal claim of “Eminent Domain”.

Closeup of Specter piece (photo ©Jaime Rojo)

Don’t take my word for it, even conservative stalwart George Will wrote about it’s perceived mis-use a few weeks ago in the Washington Post.


Specter's "Caucasian Invasion" (photo ©Jaime Rojo)

For my money, and I’m broke, social critique doesn’t get richer than this, and this series will get tongues wagging if these posters stay up for any period of time before being bulldozed.  Start the clock!

Included in the Atlantic Yards plans are new condos and a giant shiny new stadium for the basketball team The New Jersey Nets (huh?). That is helpful to know when looking at these hand made posters that have appeared in the affected neighborhood; the gentrifying forces of the moneyed class are depicted as parodies of movie genres; a Kung-fu movie, a horror movie, and a high-stakes pimps-n-hos movie.

Specter (detail)

Specter (detail) (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The genres are employed effectively, and point clearly to topics not usually so blatantly discussed when talking about gentrification – I’m thinking specifically of the one called “Caucasian Invasion”. That one might get some of our more socio-politically astute neighbors in a frothy choked-up indignation.

Bling!  (Specter) (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Specter (detail)
Up close, not so much. Specter (detail) (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As you can see across the bottom of the pieces, the hand painted posters are also for an art show at the MoCADA gallery in two weeks.  But these are more than merely advertisements.

Specter (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The one styled as a high-end gourmet grocery store poster also hits home – I need to get one of those locally-grown pineapples! Maybe Dean & Deluca?

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