Never Crew is in the Ural Mountains in Satka, Russia with a message about man’s disconnection with nature. Their murals often contain one large animal, and this time a bear takes center stage – rather papered over by industrial “progress,” perhaps?
The Swiss-based duo say we have developed systems of working against nature that “lead to an emotional and intellectual detachment where everything becomes acceptable also when it’s damaging, where there’s no more perception of consequences and so no more perception of reality.” The new large scale mural appears in a city that was founded on an iron mine and now is organized around an immense magnesite quarry that burrows deep into the earth’s crust.
Perhaps that is the inspiration for the name of the large piece called “Baring Machine,” playing on the spelling of ‘bear’ and the machinery of extraction. A smaller related mural work nearby features tool sets involved in the digging and extraction process.
We’re not sure if locals will directly appreciate what could be interpreted as an indirect critique – but what the hell, once the earth is exhausted and the money is gone, someone may relish this sentiment. “This is a place that well represents the relation between mankind and nature,” the duo says in a statement, “the proportion between them and especially a connection based on the use of resources, on which are built the local life and structures.”
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.
He loves me, he loves me not. He loves me, he tells me I’m an idiot because I trust scientists about climate change and that actually it is a hoax created by the Chinese.
Sorry, everything reminds us of Donald J. Trump and his outlandish claim for the presidency. Even when we are looking at the new Faile mural in Greenpoint, Brooklyn called Love Me, Love Me Not.
The Greenest Pointis an initiative that wants to raise awareness of Climate Change and three Street Artists have just completed two murals here in Brooklyn to support it. The organization says that they hope to gather “together people from different backgrounds, professions and skill-sets who are bonded by aligned values and a common vision.” By integrating Street Art with technology, film, sound and voice, they hope that we’ll be more capable of piecing together the climate change puzzle as a collective.
We don’t pretend to be scientists, but we trust the ones we have and we decided that this week we would dedicate BSA Images of the Week just to this new project and this topic. We also know that it is now well-documented that tobacco companies fought us citizens with disinformation and legislative trickery for decades before they finally admitted that smoking was killing us and our families, so there is reason to believe that oil companies and related industries who flood our media and politicians with money are possibly buying time while we’re all heating up the atmosphere.
Here are new images of the two new murals in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, Brooklyn and an interview with the three artists who participated; Vexta, Askew, and long time Greenpoint studio residents, Faile.
BSA:Why do you think art is an important vehicle to highlight climate issues? Faile: We feel it’s important to create work that can resonate with people on an emotional level. Something that we can live with everyday and that has a place in our lives that brings meaning to our experience. This is how we think people must learn to connect to climate change. It’s not something you can just think about, it’s something that you have to do everyday. It has to become part of you. We hope art has the power to be that wink and nod that you are on the right track. That the little things you do are meaningful and that change starts with you in the most simple of ways.
BSA:Greenpoint has a history of blue collar communities who worked in factories producing goods for the both the merchant marine and the USA Navy. Those factories are all gone and only a few of the original settlers remain in the neighborhood such as the Polish community. How do you think the murals painted for the festival relate to them? Vexta: Our collaborative mural hopefully offers a voice to people directly to people who will become a part of the history of Greenpoint and its legacy. We will have QR codes installed that link to video pieces that physically give Askew’s subjects a voice as well as linking to the birds calls and information about their situation. Faile: We tried to be aware of the history of Greenpoint. The communities that make this neighborhood what it is. We tried to incorporate some nods to them through the work, specifically with the traditional Polish pattern in the socks. Unfortunately, Greenpoint is also home to some of the worst ecological disasters this country has ever experienced, the effects of which are still present. We wanted to bring something positive and something beautiful to the neighborhood that spoke to everyone. There are other historical murals in the neighborhood so it didn’t feel like it required another.
The neighborhood is also quickly changing. It’s home to many young families and has a vibrant creative class, not to mention our studio for the last 12 years. When creating an artwork in a public space, especially a park, there’s always that balance of trying to make something that people can connect with on a visceral, then psychological level in an immediate way–once that connection is made you hope they can dig a little deeper into the more subversive side of the meaning.
BSA:Do you think art and in particular the murals painted for this festival have the power to change the conversation on climate change and positively move and engage the people who either are indifferent to the issue or just refuse to believe that climate change is a real issue caused by humans? Faile:Whether you believe it or not there are basic things that people can do in their everyday lives to create a more beautiful environment around them. Picking up trash, recycling, being mindful that our resources are precious – none of these really imply that you have to have an opinion about climate change. Just the fact that we have a green space now in Transmitter Park is progress towards an environment that we can fall in love with.
We think that’s ultimately what the idea of Love Me, Love Me Not is asking. What kind of environment do you want? Do you want renewable green spaces that offer future generations beauty and room to reflect within nature? Or do you want to pave over the toxic soil and oil spills with the risk of repeating the past? If people can even ask themselves that question then we are at least engaging them into the dialogue where the seeds of action can be planted.
BSA:Why do you think art is an important vehicle to highlight climate issues? Vexta: For me as an artist it is the means that I have to talk about what I know to be important. Art also stands as this symbolic, most often visual, gesture that can bring people together, ignite debate and shine a light towards a new way of thinking that is perhaps still in the shadows of the mainstream. There is no more pressing issue right now than Climate Change.
There was a famous piece of graffiti up for a long time in my home city of Melbourne that read “No Jobs on a Dead Planet” in a beautiful font running down a power plant chimney. This work spurred my thinking back before I had begun making art professionally. That simple creative action out in public space was powerful and it spoke a simple truth and showed me that you can do a lot with a little. Art and art out in the streets is a great vehicle for talking about issues like climate change, because its a gesture in a shared space, it provides something to meditate on or think about that ultimately is a shared reality, this makes sense to me as climate change is a problem we need to work together to address.
Askew: I think that in particular art in the public space can be a very powerful way to put messaging on issues that matter right out in front of people who may not otherwise engage with it. Also an artist has the freedom to make the image captivating in a way that perhaps other platforms for speaking about serious issues don’t. People get bombarded with so much conflicting information every day especially via the mainstream media, art can put people in the contemplative space to engage differently.
BSA:You have participated in at least one other art festival whose principal mission is to highlight the well being of our ecology and our planet. What would you say is unique characteristic of The Greenest Point that differentiates it from other festivals with equal goals? Askew: Well I think this is different because it’s so focused on a specific place whereas the scope of other events I’ve painted look more generally at global issues. I think it’s great for communities to narrow their focus to directly around them to tackle very tangible local change. If every neighborhood did that globally, imagine the impact. Vexta: I agree with Askew, What is special about The Greenest Point is that it’s very locally based yet has a global focus. The Greenest Point has brought so many different parts of our local community together, from creatives to government to business. It has shown us that people in our neighborhood really care about Climate Change.
BSA:Your collaborative mural with Askew represents the current and future generations of children. What do you think is the principal message to send to the children so they are more aware of the problems facing our planet? Vexta: My mural with Askew represents a coming together of numerous ideas. The future belongs to the youth and the world’s children will be the ones most impacted by Climate Change. I think they are really aware of this problem and it’s a very scary prospect. Our mural brought together not only representations of young people but also birds found in the NY state area that are currently climate threatened & endangered (according to Audubon’s Birds and Climate Change Report) as well as icebergs made of my shapes that represent the particles that make up all matter.
I would hope that we can inspire them to feel empowered to make small changes that they see as being possible whilst also acknowledging that all the other parts of our world – the birds, animals, water, air and land are just as important as they are. We are all in this together.
Askew: For me personally, celebrating young local people who are giving their time to make change in Greenpoint around sustainability and community-building issues is immediately inspiring to other young people.
BSA:Do you think art and in particular the murals painted for this festival have the power to change the conversation on climate change and positively move and engage the people who either are indifferent to the issue or just refuse to believe that climate change is a real issue caused by humans?
Askew: Everything we do has impact, positive and negative – that’s the duality we deal with inhabiting this space. It’s a closed system, resources are finite and so we must respect them and do our best to live in harmony with this earth that supports us and live peacefully amongst each other and the various other creatures we share this planet with. No one thing is going to make pivotal change but everyone being mindful and keeping the conversation and action going is what will make a difference.
Our special thanks to the team at The Greenest Point and to the artists for sharing their time and talent with BSA readers.
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 walls are speaking. Unless they have been silenced.
We regularly conject that a graffiti or Street Art piece rides only as long as it is allowed. Subject to immediate and daily perusal, illegal and legal artworks on the streets bear the scrutiny of society and can be singularly or collectively accepted or censored. In this respect, it is a reasonable assertion that our Street Art reflects societal views and tastes to a certain extent. In one city nudity is quickly crossed over while an anti-imperialist rant may run for weeks for example, while another city may invert that equation.
This week’s images draw heavily from Berlin and Moscow, two cities that we’ve been in recently. While the images we have do not necessarily depict the range of visual conversation topics (this is more of a mini travelog) it is fresh on our mind the distinct differences of voices on the street – or the absense of. Expand the speech definition to advertising messages in the public sphere and to use a back-to-school metaphor, you’ll find that Moscow and Marrakech are quiet as a library while cities like New York and Berlin are the boys gymnasium during recess. This topic can be expanded into an essay, but alas, our Images of the Week are a small collection of artworks published in the public sphere just to help you keep somewhat current.
So, here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring Appleton Pictures, Aske, ASKE, August, Dumb Saint, DXTRXN, Mongolz, Nasca Uno, Nelio, Ore, Plotbot Ken, Sophie Lambda, Tobo, Tuyu, and Zimad.
This week BSA is in Moscow with you and Urban Nation for Artmossphere 2016, the 2nd Street Art Biennale, a group exposition introducing 26 Russian and 42 foreign artists who were shaped by street art in some way. Also present are international curators, museums and galleries who have significantly intersected with urban art in recent years.
Artmossphere co-founder and curator Sabina Chagina pulled off a second edition of this biennale last night in Moscow – not an easy feat. But with 11 curators and nearly 70 artists from here and around the world, the multi-discipline show unveiled on time and was well attended – with a steady stream of curious fans coming through the space today as well.
With the air of an art fair (minus the sales associates and plus the soaring arched windows) and work often so far removed from street practice that you may refer to it simply as Urban Contemporary, there is a palpable enthusiasm and curiosity here about what this “movement” might be bringing.
Most if not all of the international artists have intersected with illegal Street Art in cities around the world and this work has often evolved from the practice. Perhaps beneath the surface or just above it, there is a certain defiance and a critique of social, economic, political issues and systems.
Elsewhere the presentation is primarily aesthetic, very muted or so similar to previous mid-20th-century art schools as to appear separate from what one may recognize as the urban art of the last two decades. Similarly, the inclusion of graffiti is only occasional and is presented as part of the greater whole today rather than its genesis role.
Adding together a press conference, a Moscow superstar DJ, virtual reality headsets, interactive displays (otherwise known as selfie-with-art opportunities), major private business sponsors, cultural ministers, government grants, and official accreditation, this is a professional and polished presentation of a global culture that has filtered through the lense of the street.
Here are a few select shots to give you an idea of the feeling during the opening of Artmossphere 2.
Brad Downey and Alexander Petrelli performed Brad’s huckster mobile art-selling installation on the floor of the bienalle, where Brad used his laser-like sales skills to sell his own work. Mr. Patrelli is known for his unannounced appearances at Moscow openings wearing his “Overcoat Gallery”. This was reportedly his 461st such appearance since 1992 and his flashing overcoat contained original Brad Downey artworks for your perusal.
This week BSA is in Moscow with you and Urban Nation for Artmossphere 2016, the 2nd Street Art Biennale, a group exposition introducing 26 Russian and 42 foreign artists who were shaped by street art in some way. Also present are international curators, museums and galleries who have significantly intersected with urban art in recent years.
A few more hours until the opening of the Artmossphere Biennale and we have seen many very successful installations – from the aesthetic to the conceptual, painterly to the sculptural, pure joy and pure politics.
In a word, when Street Art and graffiti artists pass the precipice into a multi-disciplinary exhibition such as this, one realizes that this scene has become an important tributary to contemporary art – and one with staying power that very well may re-direct the flow.
Perhaps the street practice is just a training ground for some or these artistss, a formative touchstone for others. It’s up to you to divine what the through-line is among these pieces, as diverse as the collection is. We think that there is a certain defiance present in many works, and a healthy skepticism toward existing hierarchical structures, but that’s just us projecting perhaps.
Remi Rough is known for his smartly soaring abstract geometry in painted murals and smaller scale works, and for Artmossphere he wanted to strip his typical practice 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 pare the audacity and go for simplicity, which actually takes courage.
“I said ‘you know what?’ – I want to do something with the cheapest materials that you can possibly get. These two pieces literally cost about 3,000 rubles ($50). It’s felt material, it’s like lambs wool. I think they use it for flooring for construction.”
“I wanted to do something peaceful and calming and to 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.”
And the crisply painted pink dot? “The circle takes it back to the wall and takes it back to the kind of perfection that I like to get. I love the imperfection of the fabric as well – I love the rough edges – a kind of counter-perfection. For me this interpretation of my own work was quite freestyle.”
“My work is made from found wood – I use what I find on the street and with my shapes and my graphics – so it’s kind of an experiment with three dimensions,” and he says most of this wood is sourced here in Moscow. We watch him completing his singular wall piece and notice that he has painted many eyes into the composition.
“In the 2-D piece I try to combine very simple geometric shapes with the eyes and make a huge composition on the wall.” Perhaps these eyes are Muscovites?
Minneapolis-based artist Hot Tea usually does huge colorful yarn installations that transform public space, but for the biennale he is taking the conceptual route. The walk-in room is based on the Whack-A-Mole game. With white fabric stretched wall to wall at chest level within the cube, meter-wide holes are cut which a visitor can crouch under and rise above.
Visitors/participants will experience the physical separation of space, and perhaps contemplate facing one another or ignoring each other – with absolutely no other visual distraction. It is something he says he hopes will draw attention to how many walls we have allowed ourselves to distract us from human interactions.
Torino’s Mimmo RubKandy recreated the Moscow Olympic village from 1980, now a home for hundreds of families, and a hip-hop graffiti scene as well. The soaring towers are painted in scale with tiny graffiti tags, throwies, extinguisher tags, and the like – at the base and on the the roofs.
Curator Christian Omodeo tells us that these are taken directly from the artists investigations of the site as it exists today. It is striking that the scale reduces the impact of the graffiti – yet when experienced at eye-level it has a potency. Accompanying the towers are framed photos of the current site via Google images, including blurred faces and logos.
This week BSA is in Moscow with you and Urban Nation for Artmossphere 2016, the 2nd Street Art Biennale, a group exposition introducing 26 Russian and 42 foreign artists who were shaped by street art in some way. Also present are international curators, museums and galleries who have significantly intersected with urban art in recent years.
August is the month and August is the name of the driver and Russian graffiti/Street artist who is taking us through Moscow in his car with Martha Cooper to discover fresh new work by L’Atlas on a tall wall in a parking lot.
As you ride the scissor lift on hydraulic legs higher to get the right shot in the late summer sun and see the final strokes of L’Atlas’ bar coded geometry, you may find it purely abstract. It’s actually his name.
The French graffiti writer explains that his linear roller piece is an evolution from his first days spraying tags in more traditional ways.
“You know my idea is always to write my name in the same manner that I used to do in graffiti,” he explains, “It’s not so easy to see my name – like you cannot read it the first time. It’s about form, it’s about color, geometry in relation to the architecture.” Here the color is red, because we’re in Moscow, he says.
It is not unusual for passerby in other cities to stop and take photos and ask questions about the art or the artist.
Do passersby stop and ask questions about his work here? “No they have not asked me anything. Really nobody has asked me anything. I don’t know why. Normally everyone wants to know what I am doing.”
Many people were asking questions at the all-girl graffiti jam named “Code Red” at an artist compound/mini-mall/exhibition space we stopped at. Of course most of them were questions to Martha Cooper, who was stopped every few meters and asked to sign a black book or pose for a photo, which she happily and gamely did.
This was her second time here today; she had checked in earlier on the progress of the female writers, many of whom are a bit shy when approaching her. One young buck, however, nearly demands that she write exactly the name of his crew as she dedicates something in his book and asks that she pose in one picture with a t-shirt and one holding her camera.
Back at the Manege – the massive neoclassical building west of Alexander Garden that once held horses from the Kremlin and is now being built inside to house the Artmossphere Biennale. We show our passports and go through the metal detector and see Sepe, a Warsaw-based artist here with Urban Nation, atop a ladder rolling out a multilayered structured chaos across a huge wall.
His sketch taped on the canvas indicates that there will be forms arranged across this bed of color as the composition progresses. We’re intrigued by his description that is based on this year’s theme of invisible walls and the boundaries of personal freedom.
“It is more like my interpretation,” Sepe tells us. “It is just about the people who are behind everything – who are using others as puppets to do whatever they want.”
Of course, rewards are sought by everyone, and Britains’ Sick Boy is on a ladder of his own painting the outside of what will be a rewarding interactive pleasure house. He calls the project The Rewards System and he shows you where people will climb a ladder and descend down a slide into the darkened house where they will set off a series of sensors that activate a variety of multisensory lights and tantalizing patterns – then you exit on your 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 with that wry smile you’ve come to expect from an artist who calls himself “sick”.
The rest of the show production is well underway and many artists are busy painting, sculpting, papering, suspending, or otherwise plotting. Miss Van has brought a carpet to hang, and is going through a brand new set of pieces on paper that she’ll be hanging for the show.
It’s a lot of activity and people will be working late into the night to prepare for Tuesday’s opening. We even get the chance at revealing to the world our non-existent command of the can inside a newly erected metal shed. Yes, Brooklyn is in the дом !
Our Pink House is a new crocheted covering for a house (the second) by Street Artist OLEK – this one associated with Kerava Art Museum’s upcoming exhibition Yarn Visions, which will place the spotlight on knitted, crocheted, tufted and embroidered works.
Drawing an analogy of protection and safety in these pink crocheting patterns that stretch from the top of the chimney to the foundation of stone, this building in Kereva in southern Finland, where many bombs fell during The Winter War of 1939-40. Olek says she is concerned about the 21 million people worldwide who lost their homes due to war and conflicts in 2015 and she wants to create community based projects like this one to draw attention to the topic, and to provide some healing as well.
This particular project enlisted the help of a large group of volunteers, immigrants and women from a reception centre for asylum seekers who she brought together to crochet this covering. “Our Pink House” is about the journey, not just about the artwork itself. It’s about us coming together as a community. It’s about helping each other. We can show everybody that women can build houses, women can make homes,”she says. – OLEK
Rafael Schacter Takes a More Nuanced Approach to the Migration Crisis
Commerce and technology have been eroding traditional constructs of the borders and boundaries, especially in the age of the Internet, satellites, transnational banking and trade agreements that create governing bodies that openly dismiss national sovereignty, integrity, identity, aspirations. Borders and boundaries are contested, guarded, or disregarded at will; open to international capital, porous to immigration, hardened by armies.
Daily they are in the headlines: Trump’s plans to build a wall along the US-Mexican border, Syrian war refugees immigrating across European borders, Israel and Palestine’s ongoing land and settlement disputes, even maritime territorial claims of China and the Phillipines in the South China Sea that were ruled upon yesterday – all reveal clues to our historically complicated relationships and geo-political perspectives.
Sorry, we’re using terms interchangeably, which Schacter will correct us on. Toward that end, we are pleased today to present Mr. Schacter, an anthropologist, researcher of street art, author, and lecturer, here on BSA to share observations and experiences from his most recent project, a fascinating show at the Street Art Museum (SAM) called Crossing Borders /Crossing Boundaries. Our thanks to the artists, only a small number of whom we are able to present here, as well as to the museum for sharing their talent and resources. A full list of the participating artists is at the end of the article.
~ from Rafael Schacter
In May of this year, I spent nearly four weeks in Saint Petersburg curating a large scale exhibition at the Street Art Museum (SAM). The Museum, set in a functioning factory on the edge of the city, is a mammoth site. The first plastics factory in the Soviet Union, the site became partially abandoned in the 1990s after the collapse of communism, and has since been taken over and partly given over to this new museum. Containing huge outdoor and indoor spaces, the museum is truly a dream location to work.
For the summer exhibition this year, we decided to focus on what has been termed the Migration Crisis. Rather than tackling this head on, however, something that I feel can often be crass and exploitative, something that I feel can often be seen to be utilizing peoples’ hardships for artistic ‘gain’, I sought to provide a concept that could explore the theme from a more nuanced angle.
The title of the exhibition, Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, thus attempted to explore the differences between these two terms; words which are often used interchangeably, but are in fact quite distinct.
Utilizing the work of renowned sociologist Richard Sennett, borders were hence posited as zones of high organic interactivity and development, engaged, permeable spaces such as the zones between the land and the sea in which different species thrive, intermix and exchange. In contrast however, boundaries were understood as guarded, impenetrable locations, locations, for example, like the territorial perimeters of creatures such as lions or wolves.
Focusing on these differences, on the fertility and vibrancy of the border compared to the sterility and aridity of the boundary, we then commissioned 20 artists from around the world to produce works on this theme.
Working with artists from a background of street art as well as contemporary art, with video artists and photographers, muralists and artivists, the exhibition is thus truly multi-media and multidisciplinary. I was beyond impressed with the results, all the artists bringing an amazing set of ideas to the table and delivering them in the most fantastic of ways.
We had over 5,000 people come to our launch on May 14th, as well as a huge international conference on the topic of migration taking place in the museum on the same day. Living, working, eating and sleeping in the factory with all of the artists over the entire period of production was tough, to say the least. However the energy was unrelenting, with the artists and the whole team at SAM working without rest to deliver this incredible project.
I’m super proud of what we achieved, to both sensitively and critically explore this theme, to not just provide the traditional liberal consensus positionality but rather to challenge people’s thoughts and ideas on this topic. Who knows what effect it will have, if any. But I hope that the project can push people to think about the topic in a more nuanced rather than binary way.
Following the video are a few of the artists and their work for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries
Printed banner on chimney / Acrylic paint on oil barrels / Basketball hoop and backboard on containers, acrylic paint on asphalt
SpY’s deceptively simple yet conceptually ingenious interventions focus on the upturning of spatial and societal norms. Using irony and humour to create a dialogue with the viewer, SpY attempts to impress multiple readings onto a space, re-presenting it as a “frame of endless possibilities”.
His set of works here follow this method precisely. In particular, his giant work Go Home, at first an apparently aggressive, deeply antagonistic phrase (to put it mildly), plays with the variety of meanings that this expression can contain: the very ability to go home, for example, to return back to the place of one’s family, one’s birth, one’s life, is the very thing that most immigrants desire but simply cannot undertake (whether due to war or famine, economic or ecological pressures). To be able to go home is thus a privilege that not all of us have.
As with his famous method of renegotiating the set rules of sporting activities, provoking, as he says “disorder and chaos through context and content”, SpY’s works do not simply invert or subvert their spaces but playfully distort them. They “misuse” their environments to show the latent possibilities that lie within.
Scaffold, laminate photographic prints, flags, and spray paint and acrylic on containers / Acrylic paint on wall
Fillipo’s installation for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries explores different border zones throughout the globe. From the sea border of North and South Korea to that of Mexico and California; from Morocco and Mauritania to Cambodia and Vietnam; from the invisible border between Northern Mali and the disputed territories of the Azawad; to abandoned NATO bunkers at the Belgian Dutch border, these images present us with some of the most politically fraught locations on the planet which, somehow, contain a strangely alluring beauty. Alongside this, Filippo presents a series of Whatsapp conversations documenting his personal struggle to gain entry into Russia for this exhibition: a series of Kafkaesque scenarios in which he was sent from location to location in a seeming test of his resistance. The installation as a whole can be seen to bring together Filippo’s joint obsession with political, industrial and internet aesthetics.
His mural, A Revolution Nobody Cares About / Nobody Cares About a Revolution speaks, quite loudly, for itself.
Kirill’s work for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries arose through his correspondence with curator Rafael Schacter. Focusing on the barrier of language and the complexity of translation, the work is about the impossibility of understanding and the unwillingness to understand. As KIRILL says “I understood only a small percentage of what we discussed and so decided to make this the heart of the work”. It is thus the borders and boundaries of language that KIRILL takes aim. As he continues “there are two borders of misunderstanding: you see unfamiliar letters and you do not understand everything completely. Signifier and signified become equally incomprehensible. Or even it’s a familiar language, but still it is not clear”. Kirill’s work, although colourful and bright, is in fact the image of alienation. The image of the migratory and the incomprehensible.
Gaia and Mata Ruda have produced a monumental work for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, a work which functions in the classical tradition of political muralism. Using imagery from the filmmaker Marc Silver and photographers Jonathan Hollingsworth and Alex Kurunis (both of whom show other work within the exhibition itself), Gaia and Ruda present us with an assemblage of figures and artefacts which together convey a dense narrative about contemporary migration. Including individuals and stories from the borders of the USA and Latin America as well as Africa and Europe, the artists also produced a group portrait of three Uzbekistani employees at the factory who work and live in the very site where the mural exists.
The story Gaia and Mata tell is one of inequality and injustice, a story of the imbalance of our contemporary global system. Yet within this it contains hope and strength, the strength of the individuals who strive to fight these inequities on a daily basis.
Nano4814’s half-abstract, half-figurative mural for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries demonstrates the strangely discomforting yet visually arresting style which we can now instantly recognize as his own. Frequently focusing upon the apprehension he has with his own work, Nano’s characters can often be seen to be in states of tension or strain (both literally and metaphorically), an angst reinforced by their compressed captivity within their sites. Moreover, his use of brick-walls, barriers, and wooden shards, symbols that act as leitmotifs throughout his work, play with the idea of boundaries as objects that encourage intrusion and trespass: Like masks, these borders both suggest and occlude a veiled truth, hinting whilst hiding, implying yet escaping. It is thus the very limitation that enables us to venture beyond.
Slides, DIA projector, flags, photographs, socks, coins, drawings in collaboration with Clemens Behr, SPY, Paco, and Fillipo Minelli, computer guts, digital prints, plastic, wood, plexi-glass, mounting hardware, sound installation, radio, headphones, cables, paint, chess set, soviet fabric, and industrial spools.
Double Yippie Hollow Super Power is a joint project between artists Brad Downey from the USA and Igor Ponosov from Russia. Taking inspiration from the parlor game “cadavre exquis” or “exquisite corpse” (a method by which a collection of words or images is collaboratively assembled), the pair have sought to combine the varying national symbols of their home nations into a new, exquisite set of iconic forms. The “unity of the opposites” that they have created – utilizing objects such as flags, coins, and anthems – plays with the sacrality of these national symbols, the almost divine status that they contain. Moreover, it alludes to the strangely intimate relationship that the two countries are entwined in. Whilst apparent opposites, common enemies, both locations create their identity through their connection with the other: the objects Downey and Ponosov have thus created contain both a critical and playful edge. They ridicule the stereotypes of both themselves and each other in the same moment.
2016, Korean ink on wall / Found objects, cement, and acrylic paint on wooden palletes
Jazoo Yang’s Dots series originates from her work in her native Korea, in particular within areas of the city going through the process of redevelopment. Using traditional Korean ink, and solely using her thumbprint (a marking used as a signature on important documents), Yang’s work sought to bring focus on the increasing amount of “redevelopment refugees” in the city
For Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, Yang has expanded her Dots Series to incorporate the issue of refugees and migrants in Europe and further beyond. Working mainly on her own but also with immigrant workers from the factory itself, Yang discusses their stories, their histories, their existence with these individuals as they mark the wall together. These imprints act as a record of this moment whilst remaining entirely silent.
In Yang’s Painting Block Works, this theme of memory and regeneration continues. Exploring the violent so central to the contemporary city, Yang wants to ask how much we perceive our lives and make independent decisions within these oppressive environments. She aims to bring these problems to the surface through rebuilding them with the materials we so readily abandon, in Korea using objects from deserted houses and buildings, here in Russia using the detritus and ephemera of the factory itself.
The Final Frontier (Space) / Our House (In the Middle of the Street)
Laminate doors, wooden pallets, wooden battons, hinges, and acrylic paint / Acrylic and spray paint on wall
Mimicking and playing with their settings through a process of transformative deconstruction, Clemens Behr’s geometric shapes and abstract forms come to distort the viewers’ perspective, merging two and three dimensional spaces in a single plane.
His installation for Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries acts as what he terms a “social maze”. Utilising one of the most classic example of borders/boundaries, the common doorway, the work explores the potentially empowering or inhibiting abilities of these structures: as one door opens, another closes, enabling some and disabling others in the same moment. As a participatory sculpture, its visual possibilities become endless. However conceptually it demonstrates how every decision we take effects those around us. Like many of Behr’s installations, this work was produced with what was at hand, in this case the products and detritus of the factory site itself.
Behr’s mural tackles another question however. Playing with the shadows and design of the adjacent fence, with the actuality of space (and time) versus the potentiality of painting, he questions the boundaries of art itself: Can it go beyond reflection to truly generate the new?
Acrylic paint on wall / Barbed wire, steel poles, metal fence, laminate warning signs
Eltono’s mural is a reaction to the absurd rationality of national boundaries. As opposed to the natural flow of borders (as can be seen in perhaps the world’s only natural country, Chile), the carving up of the planet’s boundaries happens at right angles: diagonal, horizontal, and vertical lines cutting up the planet into a perfectly linear patchwork.
As such, Eltono has created his own world map using a generative art technique; using a basic randomizer to choose a digit between 1 and 7, the numbers which emerge then come to define both the color of the country and its borders, indicating the direction that each color, and each boundary will thus take.
Unlike his mural, for his fence installation, Eltono presents us with the opposite of the rationality as seen within maps. Rather, he displays a perfectly irrational object, an upside-down fence. For Eltono, however, the inversion of the fence makes it something lighter, not an object that prevents our movement, but a compact object that can be upended “as if the wind had blown it upside down”. As he continues, “it’s not a massive obstacle anymore. A fence that can be flipped is a territory that can be freed.”
Merijn’s mural has a simple, yet vitally important message. His five globes show us the development from a basic binary of black and white to a densely colored, intricate, heterogeneous space. The final image thus shows us a planet in which, as Merijn says, “everything harmonizes. All the colors are there together and they all work and flow seamlessly with each other. Of course borders exist in many ways, but if we take it a step further and forget about the rules and just go with our feeling this is what I think can be understood as the ideal. That we should not be limited by the rationality of borders. Probably a bit of a cliché. But that’s how I see it and feel it”.
SUPERPROJECT, a two-man design operation spearheaded by visual artist Jasper Niens and industrial designer Thijs Ewalts, focus on computational design and digital fabrication, embracing art, architecture, engineering and technology. For Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries, they have created Four Zero, a space within a space, a location only accessible through four, tunnel-like entrances. Due to the curvature of the entrances, the visitor is not immediately sure where they will end up. As such, the work is about revealing and concealing, possibility and difficulty; once people enter the space they can either feel locked up and exposed or protected and safe within its embrace.
1001th Island: The Most Sustainable Island in Archipelago
2015/2016. Video, trash, fishing net and wood
Tita Salina’s 1001st Island is a work exploring the changing borders and boundaries of Jakarta. A city which is currently sinking between 2.9 and 6.7 inches per year, and which exists mainly below sea level, Jakarta is currently undertaking a huge land reclamation and producing a 32 kilometer sea wall to try and protect its boundaries, a project that will construct 17 new islands and take an estimated 30 years to complete. The installation presented here, a reproduction of an artificial island built by Salina and local fisherman using marine debris and litter, aims to highlight the negative impacts of the project, in particular the fact that the city refuses to fix the causes of its problems — namely, excessive groundwater extraction and inefficient waste management. Salina thus connects the reclamation and land issue with the human waste that plagues the ocean and the future of the traditional fishermen who live and work within this now perilous space.
ARTISTS Crossing Borders / Crossing Boundaries.
Alex Kurunis, Brad Downey, Igor Posonov, Clemens Behr, El Tono, Filippo Minelli, Gaia, Mata Ruda, James Bridle, Superproject ( Jasper Niens & Thijs Ewalts, Jazoo Yang, Jonathan Hollingworth, Kirill KTO, Martha Atienza, Merijn Hos, Nano4814, Rob Pinney, SpY, Tita Salina
What are you celebrating this season? We’re celebrating BSA readers and fans with a holiday assorted chocolate box of 15 of the smartest and tastiest people we know. Each day until the new year we ask a guest to take a moment to reflect on 2015 and to tell us about one photograph that best captures the year for him or her. It’s our way of sharing the sweetness of the season and saying ‘thank you’ for inspiring us throughout the year.
New York art juggernaut Carlo McCormick is a culture critic and curator at large, angling through the streets, galleries, museums, studios and vapor-filled back rooms of Gotham. He is the author of numerous books, monographs and catalogues on contemporary art and artists, and lectures and teaches at art symposia, festivals, universities and colleges. His writing has appeared in Effects : Magazine for New Art Theory, Aperture, Art in America, Art News, Artforum, Camera Austria, High Times, Spin , Tokion, Vice and other magazines. McCormick is Senior Editor of Paper magazine. He also is a cranky sage-like charmer whom we love and value for his insights and tirades.
Artist Oleksandr Milov
Photograph credit Dumskaya.net
As a culture of amnesiacs and liars we are always rewriting history to suit the present. This sculpture, by Oleksandr Milov, seems to capture the perversity and violence by which the past is continuously undone.
I don’t know much about this artist except that he does stuff that people who go to Burning Man think looks cool, and I have no idea who took the photographs, it was just one of those things that briefly became a meme in that screen of perpetual distraction we call the news. Though no doubt an intervention it would be hard to call this street art for it is really public sculpture- a radical defacement legitimized by the passing of a law in April by the Ukrainian Parliament banning Communist propaganda and symbols.
This becomes a rather ambitious and expensive program for a country that has already been looted by thugs and is currently fighting a war against Russian aggressions, especially considering that most things there are still named after some Soviet tyrant and most every public space seemingly has its own Lenin statue. Activists there have been addressing this unwanted Lenin population already, toppling statues, repainting them in the national colors of the Ukraine, and even covering them in a vyshyvanka, the traditional Ukrainian shirt.
Milov’s transformation however, a transference from one oppressor to another, merely trades one set of lies for another, those of the great American myth factory. Each is equally virulent, both before and after here are personifications of evil where their malevolent force must be measured not simply by might but by culture’s willingness to fully believe in their falsehood.
As the worst kind of public art we need to understand what monuments are: a kind of memorial, a way of representing memory in perpetuity. As we tend to this spectacle of public memory, Milov touches upon a rare strain that runs through this mundane legacy of forgotten heroes, a way of remembering the worst without the sentimentality of the lost (as in those monuments to wars and natural disasters) but with the epic monumentality of posterity by which the rich and powerful seek the eternal through bronze.
This past summer I came across a truly wonderful monument in Denmark put up in 1664 to a national traitor named Corfitz. It was a quite ugly large stone with the most remarkable inscription “To His Eternal Shame, Disgrace and Infamy.” This to me offers a viable path away from the morbid mediocrity of insipid monuments to historical irrelevance that seemingly choke town squares and parks around the world, a way to register our place on this planet as a kind of Monumental Shame.
Happy Holidays to all of you charming and sparkling BSA readers!
It’s been a raucous sleigh ride with you and we thank everyone most sincerely for your support and participation this year. A sort of tradition for us at the end of this December we are marking the year with “14 from 2014”. We asked photographers and curators from various perspectives of street culture to share a gem with all of us that means something to them. Join us as we collectively say goodbye and thank you to ’14.
Author and editor of Graffiti Argentina, Nuevo Mundo: Latin American Street Art, and Walls & Frames: Fine Art from the Streets, Maximiliano Ruiz can tell you about the intersection of the street with the gallery and fine art collections with a great deal of acumen. This year he shared with BSA readers a story that intersected Street Artist Pejac, a ship, and the exact time Monet completed a painting. Here he takes a step back to share with us the profane and profound: the elements involved in the Street Art scene wherever you are – in this case Moscow.
“Urban art can take endless forms and is constantly bringing surprises with its evolution.
But no matter what, it has always been and will always be just a very thin layer of paint on a wall.”