There are times when an artist needs to be completely obvious to get their message out into the world, and Bordalo II is setting the tone for this year’s unofficial ONO’U festival in the gorgeous natural wonder called Tahiti. Using refuse he gathered around the islands of French Polynesia the Lisboan trash artist created a colorful replica of the oceans greatest predator, a shark, using the ocean’s greatest predator, trash.
Thanks to filmmaker Selina Miles’ eagle eye we have a brilliant array of scenes today with your from Selina’s trip last month to this uncommon Street Art rendevous in paradise that is organized every year by ONO’U creator Sarah Roopinia.
You may recognize a few of these artists as alumni of previous editions and note the familiar tone that these images relate – like this one with Bordalo II and his co-conspirator modeling fluorescent plastic netting over their heads. It’s funny when you do it to entertain your friends, but not when it gets stuck on your head in the ocean for days or weeks or months and prevents you from eating, like when you are duck, for example.
This week we have a selection of the UPEART festivals’ two previous editions of murals – which we were lucky to see this week after driving across the country in an old VW Bora. We hit 8 cities and drove along the border with Russia through some of the most picturesque forests and farmlands that you’ll likely see just to collect images of the murals that this Finnish mural festival has produced with close consultation with Fins in these neighborhoods. A logistical challenge to accomplish, we marvel at how this widespread program is achieved – undoubtedly due to the passion of director Jorgos Fanaris and his insatiable curiosity for discovering talents and giving them a platform for expression.
So here is a sample from what we found from UPEART’s two previous iterations before the recently completed UPEART 2018.
So here is our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring Apolo Torres, Artz, Dulk, Espoo, Fintan Magee, Guido Van Helten, Pat Perry, Smug, Teemu Maenpaa, Tellas, and Telmo & Miel.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1.1st Berlin Mural Fest Wrap Up
2. Pixel Pancho in Papeete. for ONO’U Tahiti Festival 2018. French Polynesia.
3. Christina Angelina in Papeete. for ONO’U Tahiti Festival 2018. French Polynesia.
4. Doug Gillen FWTV – Street Art and Anti-Semitism…discuss..
BSA Special Feature: 1st Berlin Mural Fest Wrap Up
Of course Berlin has no shortage of organically grown aerosol artworks around the city so it takes something special like a mural festival started by Die Dixons to make an impact. They have the connection to community and ability to mobilize across walls and art and performance disciplines. After the success of The Haus last year it seemed like anything was possible for the team, and the first time out shows the results in this short aftermovie.
Props from the organizers to: Akteone, CREN, Jelio Dimitrov Arsek, Erase, case_maclaim, Die Dixons, Dr.Molrok, El Bocho, Elle Street Art, HERAKUT , Icke_art, Innerfields, Insane 51, Isakov, James Bullough, Kera1, Klebebande Berlin, Kobe Eins, Mika Yat Graffiti, Millo, Mr.WOODLAND , MTO (Graffiti / Street-art), MüCke32, Natalia Rak, Notes of Berlin, Nuno Viegas, One Truth Graffiti Street Art, ONUR, WES 21, Size Two, snik, TASSO, TELMO MIEL, Ria Wank, Michael Dyne Mieth, Anne ‘Blondie’ Bengard, Slider.Bandits, Caparso, Bas2, Daniela Uhlig, Ghettostars Crew , Monsta 179, Semor the mad one, Skenar73, Max Roche, Raws, TAPE OVER, Tape That, Tobo
Pixel Pancho in Papeete. for ONO’U Tahiti Festival 2018. French Polynesia.
Here are a couple of quick work-in-progress videos we shot this week on the island of Papeete in French Polynesia while we’re chasing artists with Martha Cooper across 4 islands of Papeete, Raitea, Moorea, and Bora Bora. Here are Pixel Pancho and Christina Angelina.
Christina Angelina in Papeete. for ONO’U Tahiti Festival 2018. French Polynesia.
Doug Gillen FWTV – Street Art and Anti-Semitism…discuss…
Is Banksy anti-semitic? The Street Artist has used his work to address social and political causes for almost two decades and this is the first we’ve heard the charge. We’ve seen all sorts of sentiments on the streets – racist, misogynist, homophobic, strains of xenophobia from different angles. But this is Israelis and the Palestinians and an active fight – with a multitude of shadings. Doug Gillen flies directly into the hornets’ nest – all for the love of Street Art.
Okay, the murals are not in every city of this Scandinavian country, but if lead curator and visionary (and former graffiti writer) Jorgos Fanaris realizes his vision, there will be even more than the 40 or so murals the festival has already put up over the last two years in cities like Helsinki, Riihimäki, Kemi, Kotka, Espoo, Turku, and Hyvinkää.
Yes, some of the current international circuit of mural stars are here. So are a stunning selection of Finnish talents and less recognizeable names, making this a conscientious formulation that respects the culture and highlights the global movement simultaneously.
Like many of today’s mural festivals and far from their illegal Street Art/graffitti roots, many of UPEA 17 are mega-murals; multi-story and sophisticated images borrowing from many strains of art history and popular culture – even conceptual art – as much as anything else.
These and other signs of curatorial/organization maturity are not typically hallmarks of two year old festivals, and we could provide a list of rookie mistakes that have plagued others we’ve covered over the last decade. This is probably because UPEA 17 is the result of many years of on-the-ground organizing experience and street culture knowledge – and multiple false starts and obstacles that blocked organizers in the years leading up to last years inaugural outdoor exhibition. People on the ground will tell you that logistics and costs and bureaucracy and local politics are always factors to pull off a festival well. In our experience, so is time.
We were lucky to have an extensive interview with Jorgos Fanaris about this years successes, the challenges along the way, and his roots in the scene.
Brooklyn Street Art:How is UPEA 2017 different from the first edition? Jorgos Fanaris: Compared to UPEA16, UPEA17 was of course much bigger. More artists and more projects, but also bigger projects. The first edition was more of testing the concept and feeling around what we could do. The second edition was really about making an impact, letting everyone know about UPEA as an event that creates notable art in public spaces, that we are serious and we are here to stay.
Brooklyn Street Art:You had an incredibly wide variety of artists painting: From large scale realist portraiture, to surrealism to cartoons, landscape etc…is there a specific style that resonates better with the public? Jorgos Fanaris: The amount of talented artists that have already participated in UPEA in the first two years, is humbling to say the least. We are very privileged and honored to have had them.
If I evaluate the response the artworks have received from the public, I think raising a specific style in a position that it somehow communicates more with the audience wouldn’t be right. For example if we think realistic portraiture and classic style of Guido van Helten, its easy for anyone to understand that this is technically really difficult to execute in this scale. This year in Hämeenlinna we did the 56m high silos, which of course by the sheer size is something that makes people go “Whooaaaa, how can he do that? We must go and see”.
The project gathered and still gathers spectators in huge numbers. During the project there were traffic jams in the area on Sundays. On the other hand in Lahti, the artist named Messy Desks did the crazy cartoon style piece that has million things happening. It created a huge buzz and received a lot of response from people. She was getting gifts from people from the area and was taken out for formal dinners after for appreciation and show of gratitude. Kids are ecstatic about it, knocking on the “doors” and “windows” trying to get someone to open.
At the same time, the second wall we did in Lahti with Roberto Ciredz, a surrealistic piece with total harmony, which by no accident is totally different from Messy Desks wall, was voted as people’s favorite of the two in local newspaper. There are so many things that contribute the overall feedback. I think every style and approach has its place and purpose.
Brooklyn Street Art: Murals become part of a neighborhood, part of the storytelling and lifetime benchmark associations and memories people have – as well as part of the fabric and character of a city. How has the festival been received by the people whose daily lives will be impacted with the presence of the murals? Jorgos Fanaris: The artworks created a lot of excitement and grassroots movement in their own areas and communities. In Kontula Helsinki, the triple walls by Fintan Magee, Apolo Torres and Pat Perry encouraged the residents to do a “night of arts” event for the unveiling of the artworks. They had food, live music, fire performance and other artistic activities. Over 1500 people attended and possibly the event will continue next year.
In Espoo Matinkylä, where Artez did a great piece, the residents organized an celebration event with huge number of activities, dozens of performances and speakers, about thousand people attending the event. In Kotka, where Smug did the amazing wall right in the city centre, the city made an official unveiling for the wall by closing the street and having a horn orchestra perform. Hundreds of people attended even though it was on a Friday during the work hours.
These are just few examples. We saw a lot of these type of things grow from the artworks we did this year.. We see that street art gets reactions from people who might not be too involved with art in general, like going to the galleries for example. The artworks are a refreshing injection into the community and it’s super exiting for us to see things starting grow from them.
Brooklyn Street Art:Do you get support from community and city officials for the festival? Jorgos Fanaris: Yes, we are working with the officials in every city we are in. The support has been great, possibly due to the fact that we have been able to create an event this size with fairly limited organization and funding.
Still the way we execute different projects really varies. Regardless of how much the city is involved, the permits, which are always a big thing in Finland, are handled by their own unit inside the city. In some cases the city assists us in the permit process and it can be very helpful. But also in many cases we handle the whole process completely. From searching locations and handling all the permits and other things all the way to executing the artwork. The range is very wide on different projects. Still, the city is involved and even if we are doing permits and related responsibilities ourselves, it helps that they are officially supporting the project in the background. Everyone has a common goal to make the project happen and in a positive spirit they work towards that goal together.
Brooklyn Street Art:What drives you to make this festival happen? What is the motivation? The incentive? Jorgos Fanaris: Upeart is a collective of people from various backgrounds; from graffiti, city development to event organizing and more. I think the motivation varies depending on who you ask. But in general, it’s about interest in the possibilities art has in public spaces. The vision to push for ambitious ideas, pushing limits further and willingness to take chances.
I personally, have a graffiti background from late 80’s to beginning of the new millennium. When I painted myself, I was mainly, especially in the later years, interested in graffiti as a tool in getting reactions from ordinary people by using public space or things that move in that space. At some point, I moved away from actively painting and started working in music projects, doing shows and stuff like that.
During those years, Finland gradually started to dismantle the very strict zero tolerance on graffiti and street art they had imposed in the country for years. Many youth and grassroot organizations worked years relentlessly on it and it started finally to show some results around 2008. At some point, I thought the time would be right to start something like this. Do it seriously and professionally. We actually tried to start an ambitious project like UPEA for few years, but it was difficult. We had of course no money at all and with that also no guarantees about anything.
Then we tried to get a group of people together with the same goal to work on the project. With 3-4 people each contributing a little, combined, it creates an effort big enough to start an interesting thing – on paper at least. It proved to be very difficult. We had actually two tries that failed to make any progress.
We came together with a couple of people, agreed about the goal and how we should work towards it. But when it came down to doing real work for it – nothing much occurred. To me it was really strange. I feel that we wasted a lot of time and energy of course, and it was really frustrating. But eventually, probably after three years or something from the original idea, Upeart started to come together and this time with people who have the drive and are actually willing to work for it. So finally, the organization and the event UPEA was born on the third try.
Brooklyn Street Art: This is a very young festival, only two editions. Did you look at other festivals as an inspiration for UPEA? Jorgos Fanaris: Yes, of course. You look around other festivals and different things that people do everywhere for ideas. I personally think that there are a lot of new and exciting things happening in several places around the globe. That’s why keeping your eyes open and trying to learn from everything is important. You see things and think, wow that’s so cool, could we do something like that? You add your own ideas in to it and it changes to something else.
It’s a notable fact that UPEA is so young, like a little baby. We are not there yet and have huge task ahead of us on refining the concept. Already this year we wanted to do several other things besides murals, but we just didn’t have the resources to execute. But its ok, things always need time. The organization needs to grow, the concept needs to be refined and we need to build up our personal networks and several other things. In this process of maturing and finding the way for you, it helps if you see what else is going on around the world.
Brooklyn Street Art:What distinguishes UPEA from other European Street Art Festivals? Jorgos Fanaris: I guess one obvious thing compared to many others, is that UPEA is a multicity event held all over the country. Finland is a small country, only 5 million people and the biggest city the capitol Helsinki, has only 1 million. When we thought about the concept, we really had to think about what will happen when we do a large number of big artworks and how it progresses when we do this year after year. We thought we would need serious space to execute on the level that we want year after year.
One thing of course also is that we have seriously big projects, especially on the second edition this year.
Considering we had the 56m high silos, triple side by side 8 story buildings, a complete house on all four sides and several single big 6-8 story buildings and so on, the sizes of the projects were huge. However now that we are looking forward at upcoming years, I think UPEA will become more and more original and mature to something very unique. Also one thing is, that several artists have told me, UPEA is one of the best organized events they have participated in. True or not (I think they are nice and say that in every event), I think this a proper note to end an interview!
Almost 300 artists and collectives from around the world (42 countries) have entered the 2018 Contorno Urbano competition for this wall/residency/7000€ prize in Barcelona! It is astounding how many high caliber artists are at work today in cities everywhere, bringing innovative new techniques and unique perspectives to public space like never before.
After reviewing all applications and submitted materials during a process begun this summer, today we are excited to announce that this list has been narrowed to just 12 finalists. Next month their names will go to the final stage of selection in Barcelona with esteemed co-jurors from organizers and creators in the areas of art academia, mural art, public art, and Street Art to narrow the list to one.
The 12 premiere finalists for the Mural de la Salut in Sant Feliu de Llobregat (Barcelona, Spain) are:
Axel Void Borondo Colectivo Licuado David de la Mano Escif Guido Van Helten Hyuro Innerfields Millo Otecki Sabotaje al Montaje San
Congratulations to each artist! It wasn’t an easy task for the pre-selection committee to decide the best from 300, but your work rose to the top 4% of the applications according to the selection criteria.
Among the considerations for selection were academic studies, experience and history creating murals in public space, previous internships or residencies, and suitability of artwork style to the central purpose of this 400 square meter mural.
Each of the 12 finalists will be asked to submit a sketch and a written proposal.
The final stage of the selection will be on November 15th and 16th, with the following professionals travelling to Sant Feliu de Llobregat:
Monica Campana (Cofounder of Living Walls and project manager for the urban art exhibition Open Source), Fernando Figueroa (PHD in History of Art and independent researcher specialized in graffiti and urban art), Esteban Marin (President of Contorno Urbano and mural artist), Jaime Rojo (co-founder of Brooklyn Street Art and curator), and Veronica Werckmeister (painter and muralist, curator).
The mural will commemorate the neighborhood’s fight 30 years ago to have this public square created for the neighbors instead of building a gas station. After meeting with the Association La Salut and the neighbors who live in the area, members of the jury will review previous artworks and experience of the 12 finalists to help them to select the artist who is best suited for painting the mural.
The winner will receive an artistic residence beginning in Spring 2018 and will receive a 7000€ prize. The wall will be painted after an artistic residency in order for the artist to become acquainted with the historic context of the project and the city itself.
The project is a collaboration between the municipality (Ajuntament) of Sant Feliu de Llobregat, Fundacion Contorno Urbano and Kaligrafics.
Kaligrafics: Founded in 1999, it’s the oldest non-profit organization dedicated to graffiti and street art in Cataluña, and a significant record of experience in Spain.
Contorno Urbano:The first Foundation in Spain to be fully dedicated to street art and graffiti. The team has over 10 years’ experience organizing murals and urban art dissemination locally and internationally.
Following in no particular order are the 12 finalists:
A New Exhibition Marks the 1917 Revolution in St. Petersburg at the Street Art Museum
This spring, a hundred years since the Russian Revolution, a new Street Art inspired exhibition in St. Petersburg may reflect the ambivalence that competing storylines produce in the re-telling of history. A hundred years since the workers movement displaced the Czar and his family following three hundred years of power, the streets don’t look like they will return to the Bloody Sunday of hundreds of workers lying on the pavement, but a certain unruly violence can be sensed in the performances and artworks nonetheless.
“Brighter Days Are Coming”, co-curated by Andrey Zaitsev, the director of Street Art Museum and Yasha Young, director of the Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art in Berlin, brings the voices of 60 current artists with roots in the Street Art/ graffiti practice to discuss that specific revolution or the theme of revolution itself. Largely from Russia and using everything from aerosol to concrete to bricks to bones to smoke, it would appear that the effects of 1917 are even now difficult to resolve.
The Street Art scene is familiar with the schizophrenia of identity and the loosely tossed labels that never exactly fit. Multiple participants and categories of art-in-the-street now apply – perhaps reflective of the multiple individual stations one can occupy in society: citizen/ loyalist/ worker/ owner/ globalist/ revolutionary/ consumer. Awash in the borderless Internet of everything and nothing, it is often the youngest adults for whom Street Art appeals and has currency, an imperfect authenticity you can engage with. Ironically, there may be a way to accommodate these ubiquitous monuments of Lenin and other static heroes in your periphery as you walk by them playing with Pokémon on your digital device. One way is to make them your own.
Clicking “Like” Won’t Do It
There is a struggle today to discern the cultural weight and meaning of visual culture because hierarchies have been flattened and distance is seemingly elastic in our digital experience. Iconic Lenin may mistakenly be reduced to icon Lenin, a simplified button on one’s phone. The digital space can create a sense of intimacy with strangers and yet an odd distance when considering actual lives of peasants, or the fight of the workers, or the struggle of artists for that matter.
One sure way to appreciate art is to see it in person, to contemplate while gazing on the expanse of an enormous mural or trudging across the grounds of this plastics factory/ Street Art Museum on the outskirts the former Petrograd – one that was begun by twenty-somethings in love with global Street Art and is heavily populated with them.
Indeed a low-budget looking satirical promotional video for the exhibition posted on the Street Art Museum Instagram page appears as a mocking half-hearted celebration by costumed Russian Millenials and Gen Z’s dancing around a smiley icon cake whose dynamite candle suddenly explodes in a bit of stock video of a fiery Armageddon.
What is the future or past we’re celebrating? Does anyone know? Thanks to the explosion the video feels humorously heavy in the foreboding sarcasm department. Maybe it is just an insider reference to a favorite movie scene or video game. There ARE, after all, three curious Pokémon characters at the kitchen table. The official poster features the cheerful sunshine-yellow Pokémon with lipstick and a full-mouthed smile. Somehow it has more credibility than any human figure, smiling and terrifically positive that the future is bright.
The fourth such large exhibition in this suburban factory campus and its open outside space since the museum received official accreditation in 2012, this season at The Street Art Museum features 60 or so artists from 12 countries who look to the events 1917 for inspiration. As organizers note on the museum website, the topic is being addressed with retrospective shows this year by great museums worldwide including The MOMA in New York, Tate Modern in London, the Hermitage, the Russian Museum, and the Tretyakov Gallery in Russia.
“The main object is the heritage of the Russian avant-garde, whose world-spanning and messianic spirit had a serious effect on the development of contemporary art,” explains the site. For practitioners and fans of the graffiti and Street Art scenes that have evolved in cities globally during the last 50 years, one revolution or another is never far from their mind at all. At the epicenter of history here in Shosse Revolutsii, the Street Art Museum is an appropriate place to at least contemplate the subject.
Large scale installations on walls throughout the compound are complemented by sculptures in open spaces; some of them interactive, others static, still others are reproductions of historic and recognizable figures. Most commanding would be the Lenin. Most remarkable would be the reproduction of The Hermitage.
The recreating of The Winter Palace façade is a guilty delight, one of the 6 buildings of The actual Hermitage that holds the world’s largest collection of paintings only kilometers from here. A world icon of the revolution since being stormed in the fall of 1917, the massive aquatic (or French) blue facsimile of the façade in this museum courtyard provides a haunted, riveting, and admittedly comedic context for everything that passes by it, behind it, before it.
Russian artist Dima Rebus watercolor painted one of his character’s faces on the bottoms of 340 oil barrels by hand as a nod to the mobs of people who gathered together to form the the uprisings of the revolution. He says he has plans to disperse the mob wall, to vanish it at the end of the exhibition, painting each person out one by one with spray paint. Entitled “Life Goes On” the artist says, “Revolutions happen and pass, but life goes on.”
The Italian illustration-style Street Artist name Millo painted one of his imaginary highrise milieus where a giant child is at play in the center of an urban setting. The revolution here is the represented by the ripples of waves passing literally through the character, he says. On social media he describes it this way, “Each planet follows its orbit and all of them are the personification of the revolutions lived by the main figure. The message I want give is to find your personal revolution. When something is getting over is the exact moment to find the strength to revolution”.
French Street Artist Kazy Usclef (above and below) normally draws influences from Futurism and Suprematism so his connection to the Russian avant-garde is a short distance. He also isn’t afraid to touch upon current political sore spots.
In “Rebel Sex Love Resistance,” the two entwined figures are female and one is wearing a balaclava, features that together are perhaps subtle references to the activist art music group named Pussy Riot, famously contentious and Anti-Putin.
Lead by curator and theater director Danil Vache, costumed performers appear to take inspiration from specific historical events and themes of radical change, societal rupture, militarism, and the uprising of poor and working class to claim power. Inside and onstage, live performances of poetry, speeches, and music were featured throughout the week.
Additionally there were a few panel discussions and forums like “Simulacrums of Revolution,” where moderating curator/ theatrical producer Mihail Oger spoke in conversation before an audience with guests like American graffiti/Street Art photographer Martha Cooper, Ukrainian artist Pasha Kas; Russian graffiti writer and contemporary artist Maxim Ima, graffiti/public artist Anton Polsky (known as Make), and Urban Nation (UN) Cultural Manager Denis Leo Hegic. Hegic, who spoke before images of the Berlin Wall during his presentation, tells us about his and the UN’s involvement with the exhibition.
BSA:The title of the exhibition is sort of a satiric, sunny reference to a happy future – “Brighter Days Are Coming”, yet it is cast directly under the shadow of the hardship and conflicted relationship Russian’s and all of us have with the past. How did you see the exhibition responding to this dichotomy?
Denis Leo Hegic: The title of the forum “Simulacrums of Revolution” is actually a good supplement to the title of the exhibition itself, since the idea was not to define revolution or to claim revolutionary DNA, but to reflect on what is the “Representation” of revolution on various levels and in our own understanding, in historical, scientific definitions and in the artistic representation.
Hegic points to the age old practice by humans of the falsification of historical events to form a narrative. He also points to “fake winter palace or the fake museum” and compares it to the famous painting “The Storm on the Winter Palais” by Pawel Petrowitsch Sokolow-Skalja as examples of re-writing history. You can almost anticipate that Hegic will transition readily into the topic of “fake news” or “propaganda,” but he takes another damning route instead.
“We can draw parallels to the fakeness of our own representation today – with our own “curated” Instagram accounts, or the millions of selfies we make from flattering angles – this seems to be a considerable part of our daily thought and activities. This is where I see the direct link to the representational powers of every revolution in our own present time.”
He also disagrees with how we characterized the title of the exhibition, “Brighter Days Are Coming.”
“The title should not necessarily be understood as a satiric one,” he explains. “Brighter days are always about to come. The light will inevitably win over the darkness and human optimism will remain a motor that keeps our evolution process in motion. Ironically, our evolution itself might bring our extinction too – but under the assertion ‘Brighter Days Are Coming’ we do continue to live and to hope.”
The museum itself, stationed on the campus of an operating plastics factory and under the directorship of the son of the owner, highlights some of the conundrums of featuring autonomous global public art movements in a time and place where official state messages speak more to loyalty than revolution. For many critics, Street Art belongs in the street, so the very existence of this institution is a non-starter.
Finally it is notable that St. Petersburg itself has very little of what you may call an “organic” Street Art scene – and one does not see Fascist or AntiFa post-Soviet graffiti furiously scrawled here. This appears to be comfortable protected space for debate about theory and history not easily identified by a graffitied or muralled exterior.
But these are only a few of the multiple ironies at play in the organized chaos of today, where the German Goethe Institute and Berlin’s Urban Nation Museum of Urban Contemporary Art are partnering with the St Petersburg Street Art Museum to launch a show commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. For those who do not know at that time Russia and Germany were engaged together with Austria in a brutal and bloody war that killed three million people.
For the sixty or so artists and performers participating inside these factory walls you may also wonder how or if their work has been affected by the work of this Revolutionary era’s giants in literature, ballet, painting, music and movies — people like Serge Diaghilev, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Eisenstein, Vladimir Mayakovsky and Kazimir Malevich. Each of these names became as closely identified with their disciplines as the politically, socially, anthropologically tumultuous eras they worked within.
As in every era, today technological revolutions are affecting all people regardless of nationality or national politics.
The Iranian Street Art duo who currently live in Brooklyn, Icy & Sot, steer clear of the politics of nations in their installation by building a wall – itself overlaid with political overtones – but here it is intended as a metaphor for protecting privacy. By bricking up the periphery of a bathtub, the brothers contemplate “No Privacy”, an occurrence enabled by our complicity (and obliviousness) to being tracked and followed by strangers via our smart phones.
“The bathtub and shower are everyone’s private place,” they tell us. “In this installation, even though we built a wall around the tub there is still no privacy because there is a smart phone playing music nearby, enabling some entity to always watch or listen to you.”
A Final Word
By focusing this large exhibition at its original epicenter organizers are bound to strike nerves and inflame passions and, although Russians don’t appear to be exactly celebrating the centennial, the opinions about who deserves blame and credit for the events that unfolded are all over the map. Which is why, perhaps, curators looked far for new takes on the topic.
“First and foremost this exhibition was meant as a representation of a broad international scene,” says Denis Leo Hegic as he talks again about the perspectives artists here bring to the topic of revolution. “The artists curated by the UN were all coming from different countries, bringing different ideas of portrayal and embodiment of revolutionary experience. The starting point of this revolution in 1917 did not stop at national boarders and claimed to be an international or even global movement.”
“Similar this is probably the most direct, democratic and largest global art movement today so the choice to bring international guests, with their own historic and different national backgrounds and their individual talents and approaches to creation – these were the most valuable contributions to the exhibition and the audience.”
Our sincerest thanks to Martha Cooper for sharing these photographs with BSA readers! We really appreciate all that she does and who she is to so many.
Krys has been doing graffiti since 1985 and is one of the pioneers of graffiti in the Soviet Union. He was inspired when he first saw the American documentary “Hip Hop and Its History” when he was 14 years old. Basket and Max are also pioneers of graffiti in the USSR.
The Artmossphere Biennale jump-starts the debate for many about how to best present the work of Street Artists and organizers here in Moscow chose a broad selection of curators from across a spectrum of private, commercial, academic and civically-inspired perspectives to present a solid range of artists from the graffiti and Street Art world inside a formal hall.
To be clear, unless it is illegal and on the street, it is not graffiti nor Street Art. That is the prevailing opinion about these terms among experts and scholars of various stripes and it is one we’re comfortable with. But then there are the commercial and cultural influences of the art world and the design industries, with their power to reshape and loosen terms from their moorings. Probably because these associated art movements are happening and taking shape before our eyes and not ensconced in centuries of scholarship we can expect that we will continue to witness the morphing our language and terminologies, sometimes changing things in translation.
Definitions aside, when you think of more organic Street Art scenes which are always re-generating themselves in the run-down abandoned sectors of cities like Sao Paulo, New York, Melbourne, Paris, Mexico City, London, and Berlin, it is interesting to consider that this event takes place nearly on the grounds of the Kremlin under museum like security.
An international capital that ensures cleanly buffed walls within hours of the appearance of any unapproved Street Art or graffiti, Moscow also boasts a growing contingent of art collectors who are young enough to appreciate the cultural currency of this continuously mutating hybrid of graffiti, hip hop, DIY, muralism, and art-school headiness. The night clubs and fashionable kids here are fans of events like hip-hop and graffiti jams, sometimes presented as theater and other times as “learning workshops” and the like.
Plugging into this idea of street and youth culture is not a singular fascination – there is perhaps an association with the rebellious anti-authoritarian nature of unregulated art in the streets that fuels the interest of many. With graffiti and hip-hop culture adoption as a template, newer expressions of Street Art culture are attractive as well with high profile artists with rebel reputations are as familiar in name here as in many cities. New festivals and events sometimes leverage this renegade free-spirit currency for selling tourism and brands and real estate, but here there also appears to be an acute appreciation for its fine art expression – urban contemporary art.
MOSCOW’S MANEGE AND “DEGENERATE ART”
So ardent is the support for Artmossphere here that a combination of public and private endorsements and financial backing have brought it to be showcased in a place associated with high-culture and counter-culture known as the Moscow Manege (Мане́ж). The location somehow fits the rebellious spirit that launched these artists even if its appearance wouldn’t lead you to think that.
The 19th century neo-classical exhibition hall stands grandly adjacent to Red Square and was built as an indoor riding school large enough to house a battalion of 2,000 soldiers during the 1800s. It later became host to many art exhibitions in the 20th century including a famous avant-garde show in 1962 that Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev famously derided as displaying ‘degenerate’ art.
One of the artists whose work was criticized, painter and sculptor Ernst Neizvestny, challenged the label defiantly and won accolades afterward during his five decade career that followed, including receiving many awards and his work being collected worldwide by museums. Russian President Vladimir Putin is quoted as calling him “a recognised master and one of the best contemporary sculptors”. In January of this year at the age of 90, Neizvestny’s return to Menage featured an extensive exhibition. He passed away August 9th (The Moscow Times), only weeks before Artmossphere opened.
In some kindred spirit many of these artists at Artmossphere have done actual illegal work on the streets around the world during their respective creative evolutions, and graffiti and Street Art as a practice have both at various times been demonized, derided, dismissed and labeled by critics in terms synonymous with “degenerate”.
A CLEAN CITY
“Moscow is mostly very clean,” says Artmossphere co-founder and Creative Director Sabine Chagina, who walks with guests during a sunny afternoon in a busy downtown area just after the opening. “But we do have some good graffiti crews,” she says as we round the corner from the famous Bolshoi Theater and soon pass Givenchy and Chanel and high-end luxury fashion stores. Shortly we see a mural nearby by French artist Nelio, who painted a lateral abstracted geometric, possibly cubist, piece on the side of a building here in 2013 as part of the LGZ Festival.
If there was graffiti here in Moscow, it was not on full display very readily in this part of town. In driving tours, rides on the extensive metro train system, and in street hikes across the city a visitor may find that much of the illegal street art and graffiti common to other global capitals is illusive due to a general distaste for it and a dedicated adherence to buffing it out quickly.
For a pedestrian tourist Moscow appears in many ways as fully contemporary and architecturally rich as any international world-class metropolis. One of the cleanest places you’ll visit, the metro is almost museum-like in some instances; the historic districts spotless, public fountains, famed statues of important historical figures. All is efficiently ordered and – a welcome surprise – most public space is free of advertisements interrupting your view and your thoughts.
Come to think of it, the sense of commercial-celebrity media saturation that is present in other cities doesn’t appear to permeate the artists psyche here at the Biennale – so there’s not much of the ironic Disney-Marilyn-supermodel-Kardashian-skewering of consumerism and shallowness in this exhibition that you may find in other Urban Art events.
Also, unlike a Street Art-splattered show in London for example that may rudely mock Queen Elizabeth or art in New York streets that present Donald Trump styled as a pile of poo and Hillary Clinton as Heath Ledger’s Joker, we didn’t see over-the-top Putin satires either. So personality politics don’t seem directly addressed in this milieu. According to some residents there was an outcropping of huge festival murals by Street Artists here just a few years ago but more recently they have been painted over with patriotic or other inspiring murals, while others have been claimed for commercial interests.
Starved for some gritty street scenes, it is all the more interesting to see the one live mural painting that we were able to catch – a 6-story red-lined op-art tag by the French graffiti writer L’Atlas. Far from Manege, placed opposite a cineplex in what appears to be a shopping mall situated far from the city’s historical and modern centers, our guide tells us half-jokingly that he is not sure that we are still in Moscow.
Here L’Atlas says that he has painted his bar-code-like and cryptic nom-de-plume with an assistant on a cherry picker for a few days and he says that no one has stopped to ask him about it, neither to comment or criticize. Actually one man early one morning returning home from a disco did engage him briefly, but it was difficult to tell what he was talking about as he may have had a few drinks.
This lack of public commentary is mainly notable because in other cities the comments from passersby can be so ubiquitous that artists deliberately wear stereo headphones to prevent interruption and to be more productive. Sometimes the headphones are not actually playing music.
This Street Art Biennale nonetheless is gaining a higher profile among Urban Art collectors and its associated art dealers and the opening and later auction reaches directly to this audience. Included this year with the primary “Invisible Walls” exhibition are satellite events in association with local RuArts Gallery, Tsekh Belogo at Winzavod, and the Optika Pavilion (No. 64) at VDNKh.
The opening night event itself is wide and welcoming, a mostly youthful and populist affair with celebratory speeches and loosely organized group photos and an open bar. Added together with a press conference, a live DJ, virtual reality headsets, interactive artworks, major private business sponsors, government grants, ministers of culture, gallerists, and quirkily fashionable art fans, this is a polished presentation of a global culture that is filtered through the wide lense of the street.
Perhaps because the exhibition hall is a cavernous rectangle with exposed beams on the ceiling and many of the constructed white walls that mimic vendor booths, it has the air of an art fair. There are thankfully no salespeople pacing back and forth watching your level of interest. People tend to cluster before installations and talk, laugh, share a story, pose for a selfie.
The theme seems very appropriately topical as geopolitical, trade-related, social, digital, and actual walls appear to be falling down rapidly today while the foundations of new ones are taking shape. Catalyzed perhaps by the concept and practices of so-called “globalization” – with its easy flow of capital and restricted flow of humans, we are all examining the walls that are shaping our lives.
With 60+ international artists working simultaneously throughout this massive hall, newly built walls are the imperative for displaying art, supporting it, dividing it. These are the visible ones. With so many players and countries represented here, one can only imagine that there are a number of invisible walls present as well.
The theme has opened countless interpretations in flat and sculptural ways, often expressed in the vernacular of fine art with arguable nods to mid-20th century modernists, folk art, fantasy, representational art, abstract, conceptual, computer/digital art, and good old traditional graffiti tagging. Effectively it appears that when Street Art and graffiti artists pass the precipice into a multi-disciplinary exhibition such as this, one can reframe Urban/Street as important tributaries to contemporary art – but will they re-direct the flow or be subsumed within it?
The work often can be so far removed from street practice that you don’t recognize it as related.
Aside from putting work up in contested public space without permission and under cover, an average visitor may not see a common thread. These works run aesthetic to the conceptual, painterly to the sculptural, pure joy and pure politics. But then, that is we began to see in the streets as well when the century turned to the 21st and art students in large numbers in cities like New York and London and Berlin skipped the gatekeepers, taking their art directly to the public.
Perhaps beneath the surface or just above it, there is a certain anarchistic defiance, a critique of social, economic, political issues, a healthy skepticism toward everyone and everything that reeks of hypocritical patriarchal power structures. Perhaps we’re just projecting.
Looking over the 60+ list of names, it may be striking to some that very few are people of color, especially in view of the origins of the graffiti scene. Similarly, the percentage of women represented is quite small. We are familiar with this observation about Urban Art in general today, and this show mirrors the European and American scene primarily, with notable exceptions such as Instagrafite’s home-based Brazilian crew of 4 artists. As only one such sampling of a wide and dispersed scene, it is not perhaps fair to judge it by artists race, gender, or background, but while we speak of invisible walls it is worth keeping our eyes on as this “scene” is adopted into galleries, museums, and private collections.
Following are some of the artists on view at Artmossphere:
Certainly Moscow native ASKE is gently mocking our mutated modern practices of communicating with his outsized blocked abstraction of a close couple riveted to their respective electronic devices, even unaware of one another.
Warsaw based NeSpoon creates a sculpture of another couple. Heroically presenting her vision of what she calls the iconic “Graffiti Writer” and “Street Art Girl”, they face the future with art instruments in hand ready to make their respective marks. She says her work is emblematic of a permanent financial insecurity for a generation she calls the “PRECARIAT”.
“ ‘Precariat’ is the name of the new emerging social class,” says curator, organizer, and NeSpoon’s partner Marcin Rutkiewicz when talking about the piece during the press conference. “These are young people living without a predictable future, without good jobs, without social security. It’s a class in the making and probably these people don’t have any consciousness or global unity of interest. But they are the engines of protest for people all over the world – like Occupy Wall Street, Gezi Park in Turkey, or the Arab Spring.”
The artist developed the sculpture specifically for this exhibition and planned it over the course of a year or so. Born of a social movement in Poland by the same name, the sculpture and its sticker campaign on the street represent “a kind of protest against building walls between people who are under the same economical and social situation all over the world,” says Rutkiewicz.
Artist Li-Hill says his piece “Guns, Germs, and Steel” directly relates to the divisions between civilizations due to a completely uneven playing field perpetuated through generations. Inspired by the 1997 trans-disciplinary non-fiction book by Jared Diamond, Li-Hill says the Russian sculptural group called “The Horse Tamers” represents mankind’s “ability to harness power of the natural world and to be able to manipulate it for its advantage.”
“The horse is one of the largest signifiers and is a catalyst for advancement in society because it has been for military use, for agriculture, for transportation,” he says. “It was the most versatile of the animals and the most powerful.” Here he painted a mirror image, balanced over a potential microbial disaster symbol, and he and the team are building a mirrored floor to “give it this kind of infinite emblem status.”
Afloat in the middle of some of these walled areas M-City from Poland is choosing to be more direct thematically in his three dimensional installation of plywood, plaster, aerosol and bucket paint, and machine blown insulation.
“It is an anti-war piece,” he says, and he speaks about the walls between nations and a losing battle of dominance that ensures everyone will be victim.”
“It’s kind of a monster who destroys arms,” he says of this temporary sculpture with a lording figure crushing tanks below.
“He is destroying the tanks but at the same time he is also a destroyer – so it’s a big circle. Nothing is positive that can come out of this. There is always someone bigger.” He says the piece is inspired by the political situations in Europe today and the world at large.
Minneapolis based HOTTEA usually does very colorful yarn installations transforming a huge public space, but for Artmossphere he is taking the conceptual route. The walk-in room based on the Whack-A-Mole game presents holes which a visitor can walk under and rise above.
Visitors/participants will experience the physical separation of space, and perhaps contemplate facing one another and interacting or ignoring one another. It is something he says he hopes will draw attention to how many walls we have allowed ourselves to distract from human interactions.
Englands’ Sick Boy calls his project The Rewards System, where guests are invited to climb a ladder over a brick wall and descend down a slide into a darkened house, setting off a series of sensors that activate a variety of multisensory lights and tantalizing patterns. After landing and being rewarded the visitor is forced to exit on hands and knees through a too-small square door.
“The concept of the show is about invisible walls so I was thinking about there being barriers in your life and I thought about the reward of endorphins one experiences for achieving a task – a small amount of endorphins. So I thought I would build a house that signifies the reward system,” he explains.
Atlanta/Seattle based Derek Bruno reached back to the Leonid Brezhnev years and into Moscow’s Gorky Park for his series of site specific installations based on Soviet Cement Fence type PO-2. The iconic fence was re-created in a nearby studio and Bruno shot photographs of his 10-15 minute “interventions” in the park itself, revisiting a field of design called “technical aesthetics.”
In a statement Bruno explains “Since the end of the Soviet Union, the iconic fence has become a persistent and ever present reminder of former delineations of space; while new forms of boundaries shape the digital and sociopolitical landscapes. “
Remi Rough is known for his smartly soaring abstract geometry in painted murals and smaller scale works, and for Moscow he wanted to strip it back to the basics, approaching a white box with one undulating graphic composition.
“My idea was that Moscow’s a bit ‘over the top’,” he says, and he decided to strip back the audacity and go for simplicity, which actually takes courage.
“I said ‘you know what?’ – I want to do something with the cheapest materials you can possibly get. These two pieces literally cost 3000 rubles ($50). It’s made of felt, it’s like a lambs wool. I think they use it for flooring for construction.” Depending on the angle, the pink blotted material may translate as a swath of otherworldly terrain or a metaphorical bold vision with all the hot air let out.
“I wanted to do something peaceful and calming and use natural materials – something that’s different from what I usually do – but I use the folds in the fabric and the pink color – two things that I usually use a lot.”
Moscow’s Alexey Luka is also challenging himself to stretch creatively by taking his wall collage installations of found wood and converting them into free-standing sculptures.
“For this biennale I tried to make something different so now I am going from the assemblages to 3-D.” The constructed media is warm and ordered, reserved but not without whimsy.
“My work is made from found wood – I use it with what I found on the street and my shapes and my graphics – so it’s kind of an experiment with three dimensions,” and he confirms that most of this wood is sourced here in Moscow.
We ask him about the number of eyes that peer out from his installation. Perhaps these eyes are those of Muscovites? “They are just like observers,” he says.
Torino’s Mimmo recreated the Moscow Olympic Village from the 1980 games in miniature presented as on a plainly brutalist platform. The sculpture is austere in detail on the hulking towers save for the tiny graffiti tags, throwies, rollers, extinguisher tags, and the like at the bases and on the roofs.
Curator Christian Omodeo tells us that Mimmo recreated the massive village based on his direct study of the site as it stands today; a housing project that has hundreds of families — and a hip-hop / graffiti scene as well.
It is striking that the scale reduces the impact of the graffiti – yet when experienced at eye-level it retains a potency. Even so, by recasting the relationship between viewer and mark-making, this graffiti actually seems “cute” because of its relative size to the viewer.
Brad Downey and Alexander Petrelli hi-jacked the opening of the Biennale by circulating within the exhibit as a gallery with artworks for sale. With Downey performing as a street-huckster pushing his own art products, Mr. Patrelli showcased new Downey photo collages and drawings inside his mobile “Overcoat Gallery”
A charming Moscow art star / gallerist / performance artist, Mr. Patrelli is also a perennial character at openings and events in the city, by one account having appeared at 460 or so events since 1992 with his flashing overcoat. The artworks also feature Patrelli, completing a self-referential meta cycle that continued to circle the guests at the exhibition.
International artists participating in the Artmossphere Biennale 2016 include: Akacorleone, Alex Senna, Brad Downey, Chu (Doma), Orilo (Doma), Claudio Ethos, Demsky, Christopher Derek Bruno, Filippo Minelli, Finok, Galo, Gola Hundun, Hot Tea, Jaz, Jessie and Katey, Johannes Mundinger, L’Atlas, LiHill, LX One, M-city, TC, Mario Mankey, Martha Cooper, Miss Van, Nespoon, Millo, Pablo Benzo, Pastel, Paulo Ito, Proembrion, Remed, Remi Rough, Rub Kandy, Run, Sepe, Sickboy, Smash 137, Sozyone Gonsales, SpY, The London Police, Trek Matthews, Wes 21.
The 9 story high piece illustrates quite literally the axiom that one’s personal emotional intentions produce an energy which affects the local and the global. Using his customary line drawn method to set the scene, Millo places an outsized figure amidst a miniaturized dense cityscape, not unlike Kiev. “It’s a message of peace in a city zone where there are just blocks and blocks and blocks for kilometers,” says the artist.
Highlighted in this monochrome metropolis in saturated color is a rudimentary series of gears and pinions rotating to establish a direct route originating from personal internal machinations which, in turn, act upon the functioning of greater events elsewhere.
It’s a clarifying moment writ large. Without being sentimental we will venture the august opinion that we here at BSA tend to be in agreement with such a viewpoint.
In observation of the traveling record of Millo, who has participated in street art/ public art festivals and exhibitions in Portugal, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Morocco, Belarus, London, Rio de Janeiro, Chicago, Milan, Rome, Florence, Turin, and more, one may surmise that this outward expression of an emotional worldview is rooted significantly in his personal course of research and study as well.
Our sincere thanks to the team at Mural Social Club, founder Dmytro Palienko and curators Oleg Sosnov and Julia Ostrovska as well as the NGO Sky Art Foundation for sharing these images exclusively with BSA.
By his own account Lluís Olivé has been shooting images in the city of Barcelona for about 50 years; street scenes, demonstrations, parades, architectural details, tiles, iron work, doors, doorknobs, windows, and of course, graffiti and Street Art. Calling himself an amateur, Señor Olivé nonetheless has captured a lot of Barcelona’s changing Street Art scene in the last decade and shares a handful of his favorites from the 2,500 or so street art images he has shot in the city.
“My experience shooting graffiti began in 2005 when I discovered an aerosol painting of the face of a girl and I was so impressed by it that I began to look for more,” he says, describing how he was first bitten by the bug. “I started to tour around different neighborhoods and even though I lived 150 kilometers from Barcelona at the time, I took trips there as often as I could to take pictures of the graffiti and Street Art.”
Since 2010 he has moved much closer to the city and thanks to the friendships he has formed he says that artists have reached out to him to come and shoot their new work. He favors murals, portraits and faces, illustrations, photorealism and fantasy. Since he now lives closer to the art he has adopted an approach that is methodical. “I research on the internet, search certain hashtags, and check my email – I usually follow more or less known weekly ‘routes ‘,” he explains.
Unfortunately for Street Art fans like Olivé, the city has taken serious steps to limit organic street art in recent years. Areas of the city that once burst with thousands of murals, pieces, stencils, and wheatpastes had begun to attract tourists to an art scene that outshone many major cities but according to many artists the city and real estate industry saw new development opportunities and smothered a scene that had inspired books, websites, videos, galleries, and related cultural events.
While the city’s clean-up efforts have spawned a criticism in certain quarters that the organic nature of the street art scene has been cynically expunged in favor of commercial retail stores and corporate dullness, municipal advocates respond that the city has also created “zones” for individual creativity to be expressed with little restriction.
Señor Olivé believes that both parties have a point. “Since I began taking photos in Barcelona I have seen a huge change from when I started – the amount of Street Art has decreased due to new municipal policies high penalties. But the city has also created 8 or 10 ‘approved’ zones for graffiti and the quality is often very good.”
One of his favorite sanctioned spots to shoot is in a park inaugurated in the 1990s where a light and power station once operated and where three tall chimneys from the previous century still tower as a reminder of the history of the city. “Jardines de las Tres Chimeneas” (Three Chimney Park) provides a number of paved skateboarding spots and walls specifically reserved for an ongoing graffiti exposition that is renewed weekly. The park has events including skateboard competions, electronic music performances and exhibitions of hip-hop and break dance.
He is retiring from his regular job this July and plans to take a trip to a number of cities in the US to celebrate with his wife, and to take photos. He has a post-retirement photography plan already. “Starting this October I am planning a new project for myself to do a one-year weekly documentation of the ‘Tres Chimeneas’,” – perhaps to present in a gallery or some other formal venue.
And of course, there is still plenty of the unsanctioned stuff to shoot, it just may be a little harder to find…
Here are a handful of in-progress shots at Memorie Urbane 2014 featuring Etnik and Millo at work on their site-specific pieces. The festival appears to be a departure from standard “urban art” aerosol jams because of its sensitivity to the location and historical considerations in the siting of artists – which makes this more of an edifying mural program.
Etnik is an Italian/Swede artist who calls Italy home and began his outdoor art career with graffiti. Now he has moved from the letter forms associated with traditional graffiti style to an examination of geometric forms interacting in a multi-dimensional field.
Millo completed his massive wall mid April – a dream like system of symbols and icons; highways and cities and a sliced self portrait floating amidst and above it all. The Mesagne born native studied architecture and illustrates the innerworkings of his mind to “reveal the transience of human existence, suspended somewhere between what we know and what is hidden inside us,” he writes on his website.