Sometimes as an artist you go away to the city to chase opportunity, to pursue new paths, to develop your repertoire. Sometimes you return home to give your city a gift.
Known more recently for her works on the street and on street walls in Barcelona, Street Artist and sculptor Elbi Elem continues to develop her geometric reach, even as it leads her to alleys, roofs, and houses in her hometown of Cordoba, Spain.
Taking inspiration from the large scale installations in cities like Rio where Dutch artistsJeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahntransformed the Santa Marta Favela, Elbi began to work with the multiple textures and angles and surfaces that occur in a grouping of building.
She says it was a big challenge creating anomorphic images within different planes upon adjacent buildings, but, “After a long period of waiting, some demanding walls, using a large dose of patience, a lot of hard work and negotiations with the expected rain, I finally finished this work in my beautiful and dear Córdoba,” she says. Appropriately, she’s calling it “Home”.
There are a number of misconceptions by persons unfamiliar with history or the organic unregulated illegal and unrestricted practices of urban intervention regarding this. Anyone who has thoughtfully and carefully followed what artists have been doing without permission in public and abandoned spaces over the last few decades will know that mural festivals and other legal and/or commercial mural initiatives are just that. They are not displaying examples of Street Art.
The commodification of the original freewheeling practices of Street Artists and its visual vernacular in commercial campaigns, coupled with the proliferation of mural festivals that subtly or explicitly neuter the activist element that critiques politics and society, is regrettable – although predictable.
Like the one we feature here today, Street Artists don’t treat abandoned places simply as galleries to sell sneakers or prints; with murals slapped thoughtlessly check to jowl as selfie-backdrops and vehicles for “urban” brand logos. Here one can gain appreciation of the works as they are situated amidst the ruins; a self-granted residency or laboratory where your art placed in a new context alters everything around it.
Luckily, photographers who don’t mind working and who still long for the days of illegal urban art exploration and discovery continue the hunt for those oases that lie off-the-beaten-path.
“Ruin porn” is such a pithy simplification of this desire to document our forgotten places, to reconnect with and review our history, our lore, our systems of values. We prefer the term “urban exploration” for conquests such as these. Here artists find a new home and inspiration from the beauty of decay, taking residency in the ruins of what may have been splendor.
and BSA contributor Lluis Olive recently visited one such oasis called La Puda,
an abandoned mineral bath resort at the foot of the Montserrat Mountains near
Barcelona, Spain. Build in 1870 it closed its doors in 1958, and in the intervening
six decades the building has suffered from floods, thieves, fern and fauna.
Despite the western classical markings of strength an power like colonnades, entablature, and soaring arches, presently the place is in various states of ruin due to abandonment. Here Mr. Olive gives us a small photo essay of the work of one artist, SM172. These unsigned works remind us that not everyone is in it for the “fame” because we had to ask around to find who the author is. Luckily we have the smartest readers!
Patti Smith begins the roll call for BSA Images of the Week in this portrait by Huetek. The punk term is loosely tossed around today, but it only applies to a certain number of people truthfully. In so many ways she is one. But she is also an author, poet, activist, and champion of the people – who she says have the power.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring Adam Fu, Bella Phame, BK Foxx, Bobo, Deih XLF, Exist, Huetek, Isaac Cordal, Koralie, Koz Dos, Sixe Paredes, Smells, SoSa, UFO 907, Velvet, WW Crudo, and Zoer.
Unearthed by Artsy this week, the paper is ricocheting across social media with shock and dismay uttered by some artists who lament the hollowness of the modern graffiti/ Street Art/ Urban Art world, purporting to be distinct and above it all, yet posing in countless photos on their social pages with myriad peers and professionals and potential clients cheek-to-cheek.
It may be time that some hardcore Graffiti and Street Artists can shed some of the charades about how the globe turns, even if you are a graduate of the “School of Hard Knocks”. This movement we are witnessing toward self-promotion and marketing has always been true: This research paper doesn’t even use modern artists as a model for study – the subjects were part of the 20th Century abstract art movement and most died years ago.
You’ll recall that a central tenant of graffiti is that writers spread their names on every wall in different neighborhoods and cities to get “Fame”. As the authors of the paper Banerjee Mitali and Paul L. Ingram say, “CEOs, activists, scientists and innovators all benefit from fame. Meanwhile, the struggle for fame is becoming ever more intense and complex in a digital economy.” Download the paper here.
Yes, networking helps your career. In other breaking news, puppies are cute, the Pope is Catholic, and boys like short skirts.
This week our Images of the Week are coming to you directly from our latest visits to Madrid, Bilbao, and Bayonne. We’re excited to share what we found with BSA readers.
So here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring Anna Taratiel, Artez, Aryz, C215, Dan Witz, Eltono, Invader, Monkeybird, MSW, Stinkfish, and Suso33.
Bilbao Spain is known for its Basque nationalism, its Basque football club, its pintxos and beer outside pubs in small streets, its Casco Viejo. It is also today closely identified with the Frank Gehry designed Guggenheim Museum, now opened just over two decades.
For mysterious geopolitical, personal, and financial reasons, we have not seen this city since 1994 when the new museum was just being constructed, so amidst the organic graffiti/Street Art hunting and the Bilbao Arts District mural mapping, we knew that we had to get inside the undulating metal building that has become an audacious architectural landmark.
Not that there weren’t other intellectually stimulating exhibititions and programming on offer in this historic yet cosmopolitan northern Spanish city of a million just 10 miles south of the Bay of Biscay. At Azkuna Zentroa there currently are workshops and classes that introduce you to experimental music and sound art and there is a well-regarded ‘Culture Lab’ digital laboratory.
You can also check out Museo de Bellas Artes for a new
exhibition that highlights the momentus cultural changes of 1968 and the five
decades that followed as seen through the perspective of Basque art. Their
permanent collection includes El Greco, Goya, Tapies, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gaugin
and Francis Bacon.
Our own experience of the Guggenheim somehow felt more profound because of Gehry’s well respected visual vocabulary in the public expression of architecture as art. Over two days we made sure to take a personal stroll outside and inside to measure the experience.
The resulting personal observation is that being outside on the street, witnessing the buildings’ dialogue with its surroundings as well as its own powerful image along the Nervion River which runs through the city of Bilbao to the Cantabrian Sea, by far impressed us as visitors.
Perhaps it was because a few of the exhibitions inside were closed or being installed, perhaps because the current exhibition from VanGogh to Picasso felt incongruous with the superstructure, or because the galleries themselves sometimes overpower the art-viewing experience, but inside didn’t stand a chance against the experienciaafuerda.
Set aside the sprawling Richard Serra sculpture gallery with its slinging sloping slabs of rusting iron bending your very perception – and the amazing soaring electronic text installation by Jenny Holzer. Both of those meet the challenge set by the outsized personality and promise of their common home.
Here we present some of our visual impressions of the Guggenheim Bilbao experience, one that surely speaks to many of our readers – with gratitude to the museum and the city for their hospitality and inspiration.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this time featuring 1Up Crew, Add Fuel, Alice Pasquini, Ben Eine, Clet, Dan Witz, Dingo, Kill It, La Tabacalera, LaNe Leal, Lelo021, Nano4841, Okuda, Ruben Sanchez, and Wolf.
A week on the street – and 3 days on stage with Urvanity 2019
As refugees from institutionalized dogma we’ve never felt a need to align our thinking about art on the streets with any one perspective regarding the various sets of “rules” that are set forth about graffiti, street art, and fine art, and their various intersections with the Internet, the commercial art world, urban dialogues, anthropology, sociology, legality, illegality, institutional embrace, patronage… unless you can make an appealing argument that rings true.
BSA Talks intends to provide a forum for multiple voices wherever it appears, opening the conversation about where these grassroots art movements came from, how they developed and merged, how they have retained their individual character or became aligned with more established aspects of the culture on their route from being strictly part of a subculture.
At this year’s edition of Urvanity we are pleased to invite some scholars, artists, producers, cultural curators, free thinkers and disruptive rebels to the table, to the stage, to the discussion of ideas. We are calling this edition of BSA TALKS in Madrid “How Deep Is the Street”, and we invite you to come and see the presentations and discussions and ask your own questions about this exciting, vibrating, shape-shifting, and evolving people’s art movement at this moment; locally and globally.
as ever, we may not become believers, but we won’t try to force you to become
one either. Welcome!
How deep is the street?
“When you talk about Street Art, Urban Art, Graffiti, and Urban Contemporary, there is much more than what you can see on the surface. For this years edition of Urvanity we present the “BSA Talks”, a lively and opinionated series of talks that are curated and hosted by the founders of the influential art blog BrooklynStreetArt who created an entertaining program that reflects and investigates the complexity of a half century of artists working on the streets – and the hot topics that deeply affect the scene today.
Hacktivism, Intellectual Property, Place Making, Urban Planning, legal/illegal DIY escapades and large scale collaborative public projects – These are all within the scope of this massive movement and are shaping the future. Come join us, talk with and listen to artists, professionals, academics, and thinkers who are studying and pivotal in the formation of this global grassroots art scene. Let’s see how deep it goes!”
“Street culture and digital technologies continue to flatten hierarchies in the art world. Art, Activism, and evolving models of Collaborative Creation are all converging toward a new way of working. Disciplines more easily melt together, why not collaborative works of exhibitions, performance, and engagement. The concept of The Intelligence of Many provides insight into opportunities (and possible dangers) for new truly D.I.Y. energy as applied to art and culture movements.”
6.00pm-6:55pm – Fernando Figueroa– How Graffiti Speaks to Society as a Humanity Barometer
Graffiti and Street Art can act as a social barometer; an emotional
and ethical reflection of a neighborhood, a community, and a city. But
how can you decode it? Urban art and its myriad expressions are
intrinsically red to real or figurative space and time and can act as an
alarm system, a stress valve, or a request to change. Come hear Dr.
Fernando Figueroa as he shows us that graffiti is alive, insisting on
opening awareness, taking action and ultimately giving voice to
BSA Film Friday presents the Madrid premiere of “Equilibri”, the documentary directed by Batiste Miguel about Okuda San Miguel’s intervention at the Fallas in Valencia. The new film presents his piece as it re-interprets the historical celebration and illustrates a harmony between tradition, modernity and New Contemporary Art. Join Steve and Jaime as they welcome Oscar Sanz and the protagonist of this incredible event, artist Okuda San Miguel.
The proliferation of so-called Street Art mural festivals in the last
10 years has certainly added color to our cities, but has it created a
dialogue with them?
Can we thoughtfully program works that respond to the rhythm of a city,
cognizant of its systems, in concert with its various populations? What
is “creative placemaking” and how does one get permissions from all the
parties affected by complex works. Why is it important to see Urban Art
in a broader light beyond murals on walls? What should be the scope of
public art nowadays in our communities and how to be able to achieve
that? Join these two professionals in the fields of Urban Art / Public
Art to hear about making art that steps outside the mural tradition and
creates a dialogue within the city.
4.00pm-3.55pm – Jan KalábUrban Art and Inclusivity
Whether it’s illegal graffiti on trains and streets or studio-based artist collectives who create new events together, the creative process open thrives on collaboration. A multi-disciplinary artist, Jan Kaláb shows you why, working solo or collectively, his motto is the same: always get higher. Whether it is the inventive soul of graffiti or the organic lines of his geometric sculpture and painting; Urban Art is about nurturing inclusivity.
The Gag Law reaches into areas many could not have imagined, including the practice of art as speech and its intersection with the public sphere. Join artist and arts professional Alberto González Pulido as he speaks about censorship and another important topic for artists, intellectual property.
7.00pm – 7.55pm – Sabina Chagina– How I Co-built an Urban Art Biennale in Moscow
A leading curator in the Street Art scene in Russia, Sabina Chagina talks about the stages of development she had to foster to launch ARTMOSSPHERE, the first Biennale of Street Art and urban culture in the country, now presented in its third edition in 2018. A rewarding and challenging series of programs built the road there and she’ll speak about how it is changing conversations about Street Art, murals, and Contemporary Art in Moscow..
From hacking public space to subvertising to collaborative interventions, the street practices of Creative Activism are anything but rote, especially when there is a message to convey or a story to tell. What role does activism play in a time of social-political-psychological upheaval and who gets to have the last word?
16.00-17.15 Pascal Feucher + Dan Witz– Urban Art and Residencies: The Importance of Nurturing Artists and the Creative Process
From traditions born in the age of the apprentice, art residencies have been a valuable step in the developing, broadening, and advancing of fine artists (and sometimes curators) for years. Graffiti writers and Street Artists open come with a different worldview entirely. Is there a model for nurturance of D.I.Y. outlaws?
For a complete schedule of events, dates and times click HERE
you hear someone comparing an empty, abandoned factory to a gallery where
graffiti writers and Street Artists have sprayed their pieces directly on the
walls instead of hanging them as canvasses. Less often is the space itself
claimed as an exhibition opportunity for sculpture, or mobile.
Street Artist Elbi Elem has taken that step from two dimensions with three with
this new hanging piece that engages geometry, abstraction, and texture with a
kinetic perspective, and the results fill the room as much as the imaganation. What
is next for a Street Artist whose work is geometric on the wall?
“I made this a couple of days ago in an abandoned place in the Costa Brava, Girona,” says Elem, who has been creating sculptures since 2002, and in the past few years has exhibited in galleries and on the street in places like her home Barcelona as well as Valencia, Madrid, and Turin in Italy.
The work itself reflects, architecture, urban landscapes, surfaces, and patterns of the city. The artist says that invariably the expression also is an interpretation of her inner world. This new mobile sculpture gives you an additional clue with its name: “Liberty”.
‘The Gag Law made me do it!,” says Street Art activist and social commentator Bill Posters as he talks about his new kiosk takeovers in Placa Espanya, Barcelona. The large black and white photographs are of two free speech advocates arrested for offending ‘Ley Mordaza’ in Spain – a curious concoction of restrictions passed as law 3 years ago that most people would tell you are clearly repressive and are frankly difficult to believe would last for long in a European country.
Article 578, known as ‘Ley Mordaza’ (the ‘gag law’) has been condemned by Amnesty International and is symbolized in these Street Art pieces by the piece of red tape that goes across the subjects’ mouths. Mr. Posters tells us he intends it to be an interactive piece that the public can remove the tape themselves, symbolically allowing the subject to speak. This act of de-censorship is a novel idea and in fact someone recently did that and photographed it (below).
The artist tells us more details about the two subjects, who he says are, “taken hostage by the Spanish state’s legal apparatus that is increasingly designed to silence both political and cultural dissent.”
Anna Gabriel: “After the holding in 2017 of the Catalan independence referendum, called by the Generalitat de Catalunya, and declared illegal by the Constitutional Court of Spain – the former spokesperson for the Catalan pro-Independence campaign, was called to appear in front of the Spanish Supreme Court to give evidence about her participation in those events. On February 20th, 2018, she stated in an interview to Le Temps that she would not show up for her court hearing, while in a self imposed exile in Switzerland.”
Bill Posters. Portrait in Exile 1 – Valtònyc. ‘Lay Mordaza Me Obliga’ / ‘The Gag Law Made Me Do It’. Intervention in Placa Espanya. Barcelona, Spain. October 2018 (Screen grab from the video)
Valtònyc: “A vocal pro-independence rapper from Catalonia was sentenced to 3 years in prison in March 2018 for lyrics that contained (alleged) glorification of terrorism, slander, ‘lèse-majesté’ (defamation against the crown), and threats.”
Here at BSA we don’t pretend to know all of the history or innerworkings of Spain and Catalonia – or Brooklyn for that matter – but we do worry seriously when we hear about artists being silenced and jailed for speech – and you should too.
Through a third party BSA was able to send a few interview questions to the twenty-four year old Catalonian rapper Valtònyc, who is featured in one of these Street Art pieces and who Belgium recently refused to extradite. With a number of “western” societies going in a hard-right direction politically, we wanted to understand how a country like Spain could have passed these recent laws and how they are affecting artists – those weirdos who usually are the first to test the limits of free speech.
Edited for clarity and brevity, these are the answers we received back:
BSA:Democracy returned to Spain in 1977, yet 41 years later you were convicted by the Supreme Court of Spain for exercising your rights to express your opinions not only as a citizen but as an artist. How is it possible that a member state of the EU, one that bills itself as a democratic state, can rescind freedom of speech among its citizens? Valtònyc: Being condemned for a song lyric is not the most serious thing that happens in Spain. Since the beginning of the supposed “democracy”, Spain has the only general secretary of a communist party in prison under a life sentence. Now he is also joined by the president of ERC and the ministers of Catalonia without trial and with accusations of up to 30 years for rebellion.
In Spain, multiple daily newspapers, websites and illegal political parties have also been closed. All this while Europe watches. We are not a bourgeois democracy like other countries in Europe, we are a fascist state and it is demonstrable.
The above photo of the installation shown without the red tape was sent to Valtonyc (the Catalonian rapper in exile) which shows his portrait with the red tape removed. “Someone, an unknown member of the public transgressed the boundary from observer to participant which is what the project intended!” Bill Posters
BSA:What about democracy? What’s happened to the Spanish Institutions that were created after the dictatorship to protect the rights of its citizens? Valtònyc: In a democracy, institutions are there to serve citizens. In Spain they only serve to condemn them. There are 20,000 people affected by the ‘gag law’. When there is a wave of organization and demonstrations, they respond with repression.
It is curious that they never condemn fascists or Nazis and that the accused are always communists and anarchists. The constitutional court does not respond to violations of the constitution, such as my sentence and that of the remaining 15 rappers. Is not freedom of expression a constitutional right?
BSA:Do you think the current state of Spain is a direct consequence of corruption? Valtònyc: Brussels recently has shown that Spain is the most corrupt country in Europe. Of 1400 corrupt politicians, only 70 have entered prison and none of them has served their sentence in full. Worst of all is corruption within justice – how judges paralyze investigations of political parties or destroy evidence of illegal financing. It’s a disaster.
BSA:Do you see other young people like yourself being aware of the social issues and the struggles facing Spain now? How are they getting involved to help create a better country? Valtònyc: Every day people are more aware of what is happening in the Spanish state and are organized or mobilized. There are never enough, but as in France, we in Spain also have examples of organization and struggles that have ended in victory. There are the examples of Gamonal, the train of Murcia, or the miners of Asturias. It shows that the people united and on the street, not only on the Internet, can preserve all the rights they try to take away from us. History proves this as a fact and it has never changed.
BSA:Do you think most young people in Spain view the Spain of Franco as something in the distant past and see no connection between his 35 years in power and the concerns of contemporary Spain? Valtònyc: I believe that many people are aware of the rise of the extreme right throughout Europe; how the extreme right takes advantage of the weaknesses of the popular classes in their speeches and thus wins their sympathy. The problem is that we do not organize ourselves to stop fascism and then we are surprised that in the elections they win so many votes. Fascism advances if it is not fought and it is a pity that people do not understand that this is more than a simple slogan.
BSA:Do you think artists must take a position with their art to lead a revolution for change? What is the part that art plays during times of social unrest and injustice? Valtònyc: I believe that art has to be a tool for social transformation; a hammer to shape reality. All art is political, many people think not, but that’s the way it is. Your art can serve the oppressor or the oppressed class, but it is impossible to stay out of politics. Now in the HipHop scene the Trap sound abounds and the political rap is not so notorious, but we still remain combative rappers in the trenches – especially in South America and in France.
The Ganga and Godavari rivers feature the largest gathering of humanity every three years when literally tens of millions of visitors bathe in them peacefully and reverentially, in accordance with Hindu tradition for Kumbh Mela. People join religious discussion, sing, and see some of the most revered holy men and holy women there.
Import it to Barcelona, Spain and this image feels out of context. The sadhu (or saddhu) is a religious monk – a sacred holy man in India. But how did he get here for the month of November?
Artist Ivan Floro says he was considering the Hindu lights festival Diwali and the holy practice of bathing when he was creating his wall for the Centre Cívic Cotxeres Borrell. He calls it “Sacred Waters | पवित्रपानी” and his academic interpretation of his work is an evolution from his graffiti work as kid spraying abandoned factories. Now he studies the old European master painters and those traditions, bringing to fore this powerful piece that may be confusing to some who don’t know about the bathing holy practice thousands of miles from Barcelona.
“I thought about the clash of cultures there is between East and West,” he says, “how they understand life and death. We celebrate some of their rituals, but we could be shocked buy some others”.
A recent act of extreme weather in Italy inspired this new mural in Sant Feliu de Llobregat by Lucia Pintos (aka Nulo) from Montevideo, Uruguay. A huge storm had devastated an entire forest, destroying thousands of trees, scattered like toothpicks across the mountains and land.
Nulo says that she thinks of nature as a balance of two forces: dynamic and static. Despite the power of the wind to mold mountains and transform landscapes, she also concentrates on the static force of the trees roots, which hold them in place until they snap.
In the face of such a torrent of power, she admires the countervailing power of resistance. Of the trees and mountains and stones, she says, “They don’t give up, they don’t fall, they don’t let the wind win.”
You can see these forces at play in this abstraction that may also remind you of earth science diagrams, but this one does capture the energy Nulo is going for, capturing “Two equal forces that, at the same time, are completely different,” she says.
As FUNDACIÓ CONTORNO URBANO ends another year of their project called “12 + 1”, the community-based organization expands from one wall to four. Collectively they give opportunities to artists to paint in public and to the people on the street to appreciate the processes, techniques, and motivations that artists employ in the creation. The model for engagement is similar to many yet entirely separate from previous notions of public art: an engaged responsible program that is accountable to community yet still gives wide berth to the individual styles of the artists and their need to express ideas or experiment with new approaches.
With a focus on quality over quantity, fair fees for artists and participants, and a wholistic approach to contextual creation, the festival is entirely subsidized by the Municipal Culture Foundation of the City of Oviedo – free from possible conflicts with galleries or commercial brands.
Reputation is built on behavior and results and this model for community-conscious mural making is one that organizers can be proud of.