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Mexico City: Aerosol Artists, Aztecs and Magic on the Street

Mexico City: Aerosol Artists, Aztecs and Magic on the Street

Every city has its own particular energy; it’s own articulated rhythm, its own unique chaos.

Mexico City’s is full of flourish and aspiration and fascination for the international new, while firmly rooted in respect for the past. When it comes to Street Art, murals, graffiti and discordant sub-cultural art movements that can disrupt the norm, this city shows the capacity to absorb and adapt and to continue moving forward, providing meaningful insights into the true nature of its people.

Curiot. Detail. For Lienzo Capital Project with Street Art MUJAM. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

This magic city of more than 20 million is often referred to as a gateway to Latin America: economically, socially, and politically. With high tech industry, banks, multi-national companies, a university system that serves 300,000 students, 150 museums, three UNESCO World Heritage sites… you can see why. With heavy traffic despite a subway system and many forms of public transportation, it can take hours for you to cross Mexico City (Distrito Federal (D.F)) and you can be assured that you’ll probably never see all 16 boroughs.

El Mac. Detail. All City Canvas 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As Street Art and its associated movements move through Central and South America, invariably D.F. appears as an important tierra cultural to traverse. From an active graffiti scene and occasional mural festivals to a growing gallery representation and increasing museum interest, urban artists are capturing the attention of the Americas, making heads spin in public space. With Mexico City capturing nearly all the aspects at once, today we take a look at the city and give you only a few examples of the art in the streets here.

El Mac. All City Canvas 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The September 19th earthquake of 2017 shook Mexico City exactly 32 years after 10,000 lost their lives in a larger one, the largest. With broken sidewalks and taped off buildings still as physical evidence, you can hear in the voices the trauma that rocked tall buildings back and forth like huge ships on the sea. In addition to these more physical shocks, the city has been rocked in recent years by a rising evidence of frightening power shifts relating to drug traffickers, accusations of institutional corruption, and a sharply rising economic inequality that is transforming developing/developed societies across the globe.

Built upon the ruins of the Aztec city called Tenochtitlán, which was one of the worlds largest in the 15th century, Mexico City appears persistently ebullient when banding together against adversity. Determined to excel beyond the horrors of conquest by the Spanish that decimated an entire indigenous culture, still the ruins rise above the ground and this multi-hued global city rumbles forward with determination.

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Sleek high rises and brightly patterned folkloric art and aerosol sprayed graffiti tags next to massive murals all blend and swirl like the jarabe Tapatío hat dance from block to block – a decisive commixture of the “brand new” with a heritage of indigenous/invader cultures that ruled here hundreds of years before. Today it’s a hybrid of purposeful optimism and wizened survival instincts that pushes the city forward, despite the shocks endured.

SEGO. All City Canvas 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The magic and realism so famously combined by authors like Garcia Márquez and Esquivel along with the brutal honesty of Mexican filmmakers like Inarritu, del Toro and Cuaron is fused onto the bricks of colonial mansions and cinderblock industrial neighborhoods like Roma-Condesa and Centro Histórico. These colonias and others like Xochimilco and Coyoacán are historic, commercial, somehow always in transition.

Buster (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As you walk and weave over the chunks of disrupted sidewalks, the local mechanic’s car-repair taking place on the curb is complimented by the smell of stacks of fresh tortillas from the tiny tortilleria. The booming tented markets of witty pop-culture t-shirts, knock-off sneakers, and decorative phone cases are sharing your memory space with the eye-popping magenta, sea foam green, and lemon sherbert yellow hues of huge layered toile netting as quinceañera skirts plumped full of Dior and displayed regally behind full glass windows, shop after shop.

The narrow street in old Centro Historico surges with the sound of a live heavy metal band demonstrating the equipment at a music store at lunch time, and three Argentinian Street Artists (Ever, Elian, and Jaz) are creating plumes of aerosol paint from the opened second floor veranda doors across the street while home-made Judas Priest reverberates over and around the slowly moving bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Arty & Chikle. “Only Love”. Street Art MUJAM in collaboration with the Mexico City National Youth Institute for Young Adults. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Of Mexico, “it’s always high noon and what glows is fuchsia and what’s dead is dead,” said author Henry Miller in his book Black Spring, and some spirit of that rings true here where so many objects and situations you encounter can be amazing and revelatory and yet locals simply roll them in a tortilla and toss it on a hot oiled comal for dinner.

The music options alone can be illustrative of the variety here: Las Madrigalistas are performing holiday classics in the Palacio Bellas Artes, Ricky Martin just played free for 100,000 in the Zocalo, there is an active punk scene that rivals many, a hiphop scene that draws fans from nearby cities, and a reverence for 1980s artists like Depeche Mode and The Misfits, and an almost religious devotion to Morrisey.

D*Face (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The scale of the murals can be as vast as the city, equally eclectically handmade and warm. Thanks to a rich heritage of mural-making and artists like Orozco, Rivera, and Siqueiros in the last century, the new generation of Mexicanos are interpolating the currents that ripple and wave through a society wedded to fierce independence and tradition. Today it is again rocked by our instant access to information and a global sense of modernity.

JET (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Interezni Kazki. All City Canvas 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

This means that an international Street Art scene in D.F. features not only Mexican alchemists like Saner, Curiot, Farid Rueda, Lesuperdemon, Dhear and Sego (among others) but also invites the English D*Face, Italians Ericailcane and BLU, Belgian ROA, Los Angelianos Retna and El Mac, Polish M-City, Argentian JAZ and German duo Herakut to influence the voice of the street. With a visual wealth of inspiration and disruptive or unusual imagery in play on the street, this still  jittery city smiles and confronts you as the year turns, a response that is in flux and fiesta, sorrow and memory, outrage and magic.

ROA. All City Canvas 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

While traveling through the city with Roberto Shimizu, a central figure in the modern Street Art/mural scene here, and by visiting Street Artists and critical curators and organizers in studios and alternative spaces inside and outside the city, we garnered a greater appreciation for the complexity of the story here. It is distinctly different from the model we’ve seen elsewhere and explains the less showy trajectory that this still organic ecosystem has taken.

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As in most cities today you’ll find the organic and autonomous quality of works is best represented by one-off, handmade individual pieces of art and stickers throughout neighborhoods, many anonymous. These are not the large scale legal murals that unfamiliar observers sometimes refer to as Street Art. These are still the lifeblood of any real Street Art scene and are often indicators of its truer eclectic nature.

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Maybe because there isn’t a large collector base for this work, or because some brands/marketers have already cheapened its image a bit, but Street Art hasn’t blossomed in the gallery world here to a great extent. Instead, true cultural curators like Shimizu have consistently led it directly to his festival programs or his family’s Mexico City’s Antique Toy Museum (MUJAM), and professors at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) are teaching about it to students .

Milamores and El Flaco. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

We usually find the true nature of Street Art here is still in the streets – and in the artists community. In the Chulula area of nearby Puebla outside Mexico City, the mysterious renaissance seer named Milamores has quietly curated walls of many local and international artists over the last half decade, offering his compound and dogs for rest and companionship in a supportive artists space. Together with video animation artist Flaco he is presenting Street Art via Virtual Reality experiences that are in tandem with his organically grown mural program. Built on the site of a collapsed building from the 1985 earthquake, the artist/activist collective and community garden Huerto Roma Verde provides classes and workshops on art, sustainable architecture, gardening, and theater and has helped many artists to with mural opportunities as well.

Diana Bama . Martin Ferreira. Huerto Roma Verde. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Diana Bama . Martin Ferreira. Huerto Roma Verde. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

As an emblem of the conflicting and harmonious forces at play, we cite the relatively recent mural painted by the Spanish Street Artist Escif on the wall of the Chihuahua housing complex on the Plaza of Three Cultures just north of the city center. Illustrating the privately funded public projects that Street Artists are doing now throughout cities, this one plumbs the unhealed wounds and still unanswered questions of a shocking event of political repression almost 50 years ago here in the plaza designed by Mario Pani.

Not only does the plaza physically join together a Spanish colonial church and the remains of a pre-Columbian Aztec temple with the 13 story housing complex, the square is most known today for the October 1968 suppression of a student movement where troops ran directly over the ruins and fired on a peaceful rally and secret police captured and tortured student leaders who were speaking from the balcony. Protest art and public installations about the 2014 Iguala mass kidnapping of 43 disappeared students recall the stories from 1968 today, and many make connections between the events.

Unidentified Artist. Installation in El Centro Historico for the 43 Desaparecidos. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Some academics have said the crushing of the student movement was part of a secret “dirty war” by the government to quiet dissent and present a unified Mexico image to the world ahead of the upcoming Olympics, but Shimizu tells us that visiting politicians to Escif’s new wall are pleased with the mural and made a tour by bus with guests to admire it. A monument to the Tlatelolco massacre stands in the plaza memorializing the events, and Escif made a few statements about his interpretation of his mural.

“As in my previous works, there is not a limited meaning in the ‘Chihuahua Mural’, but as many meanings as people try to approach it with,” said Escif to us recently about the two suited figures. He discusses his research into the events that took place, but ultimately he leaves the painting more open to interpretation. “Those two guys painted on the wall can be secretive executives, military officers, corporate people or anybody. That will depend on who sees the wall and his previous experiences.”

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

For visitors to Mexico City looking for the local Street Art or graffiti scene it is helpful to recognize that this moment for a near-global fascination for art in the streets is here also intertwined with a national and local history, cultural pride, and the treasured heritage of indigenous peoples.

While so-called “western” countries may see a rebellious disaffected rage or critique as an overarching narrative for the graffiti and Street Art scene in New York, London, or Berlin, it may be that Mexico City, and Latin America by extension, is also very cognizant of its roots, in love with them even, always infusing new work with a certain respect for their progenitors. For an art practice that is characterized in part for its ephemerality the context of this particular urban environment reminds you of its often remarkable resilience.

Dueke . Miss1 Guette for MUJAM. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

RETNA. The Beauty Project, 2017. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

ROA. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

ROA. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

ROA. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

ROA. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Curiot (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Curiot. Detial. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

SINKO (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Interezni Kazki. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Interezni Kazki. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. 2012. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Kill Joy . Mazatl. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Unidentified Artist (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Fusca .  Blast. La Linea Street Art. Cholula, Puebla. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Erica Ilcane. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


This is the first of two articles with BSA in Mexico City in collaboration with UN Berlin, it was originally published on the Urban Nation website, and the project is funded in part with the support of Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art (UN) in Berlin.

Read Part II here:

A Street View From Inside the Doors of Mexico City ; Galleries, Studios, Museums, and the Metro


Additional coverage by BSA in Mexico City:

An Unlikely Museum for Street Art? MUJAM is in the MX MIX : BSA X UN X Mexico City: Day 1

Saner, Mexican Muralist and Painter, Studio Visit. BSA X UN X Mexico City: Day 2

Panteón and Watchavato “No Esto No Es Lo Que Fue” Opens In Mexico City

Exploring New Techniques and Processes with Elian, Jaz and Ever in Mexico City

BSA Images Of The Week: 11.26.17 Mexico City Special


This article is also published on the Urban Nation museum website:

 

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Power and Currency: Factory Fresh

Power and Currency: Factory Fresh

“Power and Currency” a new show curated in Bushwick’s Factory Fresh Gallery by Natalie Kates, strikes at the nexus of two words that shake out in the events of most days in New York.  On Brooklyn’s Flushing Avenue, just past Bushwick Ave, the road is rumbling with trucks and potholes, vibrating with the expectations and hopes of a lot of new people these days – artists seeking studio space and escaping high rents, small businesses strong-armed by condo-building piglords, musicians looking for a practice studio, artisans, woodworkers, furniture makers, ……it’s a growing list. You don’t have to look far to see the mounting pressures on the aspiring creative class, and one’s thoughts turn to power and currency more than ever.

Factory Fresh, celebrating three months on Flushing Avenue, is the lovechild of Ali Ha and Adam DeVille, who once fostered a vibrant, audacious, tiny and welcoming gallery of mostly street artists called Orchard Street on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the early ‘00s. Over five short years and 20 shows, it was a wellspring of new street art that crunched genres and gave foot to a number of underground street artists, and opportunity to many more.

Flyer for the Closing of Orchard Street Gallery

Flyer for the Closing of Orchard Street Gallery

But powerful “Luxury Condo Fever” had been coursing through the valley of lower Manhattan, and when the slimy, blinding affliction caught their landlord, Ali and Ad fought in court to save Orchard Street Gallery, their community and their dream. The fight lasted for 8 months, before they rallied in April “06 and gave their “Grand Closing” show to say goodbye to the soon destroyed building, featuring work by artists they had heralded, some for their first solo shows, including Jet and Rubble, Abe Lincoln Jr, Solar, Rep1, GoreB, as well as shows by Magmo and MCA, Skewville, Pufferella, Overspray Magazine and Azstar.

With more guts and gusto, they eventually set up shop in a former bodega storefront in industrial Brooklyn, where a nascent street art scene was quickly ramping up. “The surrounding Bushwick galleries have been wonderfully supportive, there is a great neighborhood vibe and I really like and respect them,” says Ali.  A quick hike in almost any any direction from the gallery finds current street art installations from Swoon, Frank Duval, Judith Supine, Gaia, and Chris Stain.

Smart alecs and artists Welcomed

Smart alecs and artists Welcomed

The Factory Fresh coronation featured Orchard alumni Skewville during the Bushwick Open Studios weekend in June – an instant success that was swamped with fans old and new; It quickly sprayed a large stenciled red star on the Bushwick map, alongside other newcomers like English Kills, which is a sneaker-throws’ distance down Flushing. But don’t expect the haughty chilled white box here; Factory Fresh is just as committed to the community of artists as ever;  over the summer they hosted a show that paid tribute to the hardworking artists and interns who helped make the gallery launch successful with a showcase of their work.

With Fall roaring in, “Power and Currency” opens with 22 artists in tow.  A huge fan of Orchard Street, “style curator” Natalie Kates was asked to put together her inaugural show. “She came to our 8th show at Orchard Street which was Elik in January 2005… I always appreciated the way she handled herself”

“We are trying to expand our horizons, she knows things I have no clue about but blends them with things I know and love. Natalie surprises me every minute, it’s exciting,” says Ali.

For her part, Ms. Kates, a street art collector, was thrilled to get a chance to create a show, “Ali and Adam were the first art gallery in Manhattan to show Street art at the Orchard Street Gallery space.  My first purchases were three ELIK panel’s that I still to this day adore. When Factory Fresh approached me to curate a show I jumped on the opportunity.”

On the horizon, the auburn Ms. Ha exhibits her customary patience with the process, “We are taking it one day at a time, mostly. I have a few tricks up my sleeve but I also don’t like to plan things too much, you never know what the next day might bring. I like surprising myself, I like surprising my patrons.”

“I think working with lots of people is what will keep Factory Fresh current.  It takes a village, right?”

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INTERVIEW with style curator Natalie Kates about “Power and Currency”

Brooklyn Street Art: What first drew your interest to street art (or urban art)?

Natalie Kates:
I have always had a heightened visual sense and have been aware of urban art since the 80’s style old skool bubble letter tags and throw ups.  Some of my favorites were Lee, Seen, Martine, Futura 2000 and of course Keith Haring and Basquiat.  Having deep roots in the fashion industry I first started to notice a visual shift in the urban landscape with Kaws hijacking Fashion Ad Campaigns in the late ‘90’s.

Almost over night there seem to be a change of guard.  The new wave of urban artist had a new voice in the medium of stencils, wheat pasted cut-outs, stickers and glass tiles.  I wanted to know everything about this movement.

Funny Money by DFace (photo Natalie Kates)

Funny Money by DFace (photo Natalie Kates)

Brooklyn Street Art: It is not unusual to hear of an individual curating a show at a gallery, museum, or even nightclub.  What is a “style curator” in the context of a gallery?

Natalie Kates:”Style Curator” is a title/term/concept I came up with to best describe myself and what I am trying to manifest in the world. To me a style curator is a person who is able to think and curate on multiple levels. For example not only am I responsible for curating the artist but also responsible for curating music, guest lists, invites and the overall stylistic look and feel of event. A “Style Curator” is a person who curates style. Style can come in many forms such as fashion, art, music and esthetics.  It is a way of thinking and life.

Nicoz (photo Natalie Kates)

Nicoz (photo Natalie Kates)

Brooklyn Street Art: When street art enters the gallery, how does its’ energy change?
Natalie Kates: I am not sure if the energy changes, but I think the perception changes when in the context of a gallery.  A gallery can give street art it’s credibility the genre deserves.

Brooklyn Street Art: One artist collective, Peripheral Media Projects, recently has been creating large canvasses of storm-trooper looking police in Warholian “Silver Elvis” arrangements.  Do you think this show is influenced by fears of state power?_
Natalie Kates: PMP or Peripheral Media Projects is in the “Power & Currency” show.  They have come up with an amazing installation of “Riot Cops” on Plexiglas.  I don’t know if the images are influenced by fears of state power._
What I take from the images and the installation is a fear to conform, to be apart of a hive like mindset, the fear to not celebrate our differences and flaunt out human imperfections.

Peripheral Media Projects "Riot Cop" (detail)

Peripheral Media Projects “Riot Cop”   (photo Natalie Kates)

Brooklyn Street Art: Aiko and Bast have been introducing more graphic elements of sexualized or sexual imagery into their work.  How does sex enter the power equation?  Currency?_
Natalie Kates: Sex is power and does hold a currency.  Look back in history, Cleopatra, Helen of Troy, Evita Peron, all these women had this power and wielded its’ currency.

Brooklyn Street Art: Are there any examples in the show of the intersection of both power and currency?_
Natalie Kates: There are many amazing works of art in this show.  If I had to single out one piece it would be from artist Tom Fruin.  His piece is entitled “Bud Klan Church”.

Bud Klan Church by Tom Fruin (photo Natalie Kates)

Bud Klan Church by Tom Fruin (photo Natalie Kates)

Made from cut out Budweiser cans with (Klu Klux) Klan’s men illustrations in the silhouette of a southern church on fire. This is a solid piece that speaks of power and currency on many levels such as religion, fear, entitlement and alienation to name a few.

Brooklyn Street Art: From a curator’s point of view, what does the whole show look like when it all comes together in one location?
Natalie Kates: This show is a marriage of two art schools.  My attempt is a symbiotic relationship between the contemporary and street artist.  I feel the street artists can give a cool factor to the contemporary art while the contemporary artists can in a sense legitimize the street artist and give them their much needed nod in the global art world.

<<Brooklyn Street Art>>

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Factory Fresh

is located at 1053 Flushing Avenue between Morgan and Knickerbocker, off the L train Morgan Stop

“Power and Currency”

Opening Reception September 5, 2008 from 6-10pm
Show runs September 5 – October 3, 2008
Curated by: Natalie Kates

NatalieKates.com

Factory Fresh Website

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