Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. URBAN NATION 2022 – “Talking… & Other Banana Skins” – on FWTV 2. Flower Punk”- Azuma Makoto 3. JR: Can Art Change the World?
BSA Special Feature: URBAN NATION 2022 – “Talking… & Other Banana Skins” – on FWTV
In his first official visit back to Urban Nation since its opening in 2017, Fifth Wall host Doug Gillen finds a more democratic collection of artists from various points in the street art/urban art constellation. That impression is understandable due to the heavy presence of commercial interests involved in the selection of bankable street art stars and OGs chosen to represent five decades of graffiti/street art at the opening of a new institution dedicated to the scene. Curators were careful to program several relative unknowns and lesser-recognized artists into that initial grab-bag collection, but we take the point.
It’s refreshing to hear the current show’s curator Michelle Houston speak about her personal and professional philosophy toward street art and our collective relationship to it. A hybrid of the existing UN permanent collection and new works, it comes off as a rather wholistic approach that respects more players and their contribution to what has proven to be a very democratic grassroots art movement on streets around the world.
With decidedly less focus on the ever-more codified, commodified, and blue-chip-ivy-league-endorsed criterion of exclusivity that plagues the ‘art world’, this varied collection may represent a retaining wall against trends we witness that threaten to erect the same sort of structures of exclusivity that unbridled art-in-the-streets set out to destroy. Of course, every modern counterculture eventually gets transformed on its way to accepted culture, and we’re somewhat resigned to that reality. However rather than zapping the life out of the free-wheeling nature of graffiti and street art, Urban Nation may be staking a claim of departure from peers to defend some of those original tenets – in this insistently self-defining scene.
And speaking of every modern counterculture that eventually gets transformed on its way to accepted culture, we present the Punk Florist, artist Azuma Makoto, who uses plants in a sculptural manner. It is a practice that he hopes can connect humanity and nature. It may help if you are listening to Dead Kennedys or Black Flag – or perhaps something more industrial, or no-wave. But when he and his team send a ragged bundle of beauty literally into space, all bets are off. It’s a new game.
“Happy kids are playing the game, but something is off, the chairs have been replaced by life vests and the EU is playing the music.”
Street artist LAPIZ says his darkly themed new stencil piece is based on the game ‘musical chairs’ and is pointing directly to the number of refugees who drown in the Mediterranean Sea. So many die so frequently that people in Europe have grown tired from the news, he says. And that’s why he’s depicted this ‘game’ of children playing with life vests.
“It is supposed to look that way because it became normal that people are drowning in the Mediterranean which is why we do not hear anything about it anymore,” he says.
The original Berlin Kid, if you will, Mr. Paradox is rappelling down the side of a building again, this time in broad daylight instead of surreptitiously in the darkness of night. It’s part of an initiative by Urban Nation museum and he’s happy to bring the stylized vertical letters that have set his work apart from others – something he refers to as ‘spiritual letters’. He’s his own man, independent, fearless, creative and talented.
“I have always followed my truth-seeker spirit,” he says, “setting my visions higher.”
The saturated red and blue lettering have evolved over time, but his technique has stayed the same for the last decade or so – a style many first compare to Pixaçao. It’s an often dangerous technique of graffiti lettering associated with the aerosol daredevils on the streets of cities like Sao Paulo – but that has also spread to cities like Paris, Berlin and New York.
“I don’t do Pixaçao,” Mr. Paradox tells BSA. “I do a highly advanced form of lettering that I call spiritual letters. I want to deliver art and beauty to the street – and of course to deliver critical messages about the system we live in and life in general.”
And what about the distinctive combination of blue and red colors? “They are like fire and water,” he says. “Like good and evil. Also people recognize me because of it.”
Special thanks to photographer Nika Kramer, who captures and shares these exclusive shots with BSA readers of Mr. Paradox’s installation.
Mr. Paradox’s text (above):
BRAIN WASHED PLANET: THE ELITE IS THE VIRUS ! THIS IS FOR ALL CRITICAL THINKERS UNLOCK THE MYSTERIES OF LIFE ESCAPE THE MAINSTREAM GOVERNMENT HIDES THE TRUTH THEY ARE HOLDING BACK TECHNOLOGY
It’s all a dog dance, this social life, this series of prescribed and occasionally poetic movements that we must learn to navigate. Whether its origins are in Israel, France, Russia, New York, or Berlin, the Broken Fingaz Crew (BFC) tells us that the complexity of contemporary communication all comes down to ‘Dog Sniff Dog.’ It could be a reference to the contortions of connections on social media or simply the convoluted machinations of the so-called ‘art world.’ Still, you get a clear idea about their sarcasm and opinions with their new mural for the façade of the Urban Nation Museum (UN) that accompanies the opening of the latest exhibition.
Often referencing the visual language of comic books, poster graphics, mid-century advertising, and hand-animated music videos, the Haifa-based crew brings a fresh neo-primitivism to their stinging social critique as it bends across the public-facing walls of Urban Nation Museum.
Appropriate for the graffiti writers and street artists whose work this museum champions, the painter Henri Matisse was also known for breaking the rules of harmony and order well over a century ago. They haven’t pointed to Matisse in their public comments on this canine cavorting street canvas. Still, modern art historians will instantly identify the rough contours, bright color fills, and interactive natural movement as a possible reference to his study Dance (1) (at MoMa in New York) and completed painting Dance (at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg).
We’re all familiar with these instinctive behaviors of dogs that can be comical or embarrassing to their owners. Still, science tells us that dogs sniff each other’s butt with an olfactory system far more complex and advanced than humans – and with a great sense of purpose. The layers of scents detected give information about gender, reproductive status, temperament, health, and much more. You may try to tell engaging stories and jokes at cocktails, dinner parties, and beer halls. Dogs sniff butts.
Photographer Nika Kramer captured the action of Broken Fingaz’s sometimes animated visceral dance on the wall as they installed ‘Dog Sniff Dog.’
“Talking… & Other Banana Skins” is currently open to the general public at Urban Nation Museum Berlin. Click HERE to find schedules and details on the exhibition.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. Grand Opening of “TALKING…& OTHER BANANA SKINS / UNARTIG 2. Footprint by The Krank 3. Six N. Five: “The circle”
BSA Special Feature: Grand Opening of “TALKING…& OTHER BANANA SKINS / UNARTIG
TALKING… & OTHER BANANA SKINS
In the UK and English-speaking Europe, the term “banana skins” means a sudden unexpected situation that makes a person appear silly or causes them some difficulty. We have no idea what it means in the US because we’ve never heard the saying. To paraphrase, you could slip and make a sudden problem with your words these days.
At Urban Nation this weekend, a new show aims to broadly address the fact that attitudes are so polarized today that almost any opinion threatens to antagonize someone else and start a heated discussion. With a wide range of artworks expressing different viewpoints in vastly different ways, UN encourages visitors to question some of our perspectives. When it comes to graffiti and street art and nearly six decades of history in cities worldwide, you are guaranteed many views will be expressed.
“Conflicts and issues are multi-faceted, not to be pigeonholed,” says curator Michele Houston and the team who are mixing permanent collection pieces with brand new ones. “The artworks presented in the eight chapters of the exhibition are asking how and what is being communicated within society and the urban environment,” she says. “-Putting exchange and dialogue back at the center.”
Footprint by The Krank
How big is your footprint? A new one on the island of Paxos, Greece is 1.000m2.
“Footprint’ deals with the meaning of loss. Nature, ecosystems, and biodiversity are all in a variable state with a negative sign. The parallelism that emerges through the impermanence of my work, and our presence as a species, reinforces the message I wanted to communicate. Everything is fluid, and nothing should be taken for granted.” – The Krank
Six N. Five: “The circle”
Part of the Moco Museum in Amsterdam and Barcelona, this short film by Ezequiel Pini of Six n. Five is ‘an introspective journey of wonder and imagination through these glimpses of time.’
With the foundation’s Dr. Hans-Michael Brey doing the intro, with YAP’s Sam Walter in the audience along with our show catalog contributor Christian Omodeo, and us in the front row – it was a great way to end our “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” exhibition at Urban Nation by looking forward at library plans while surrounded by the best team ever.
On our last Friday night in Berlin, we celebrated inside the exhibition with a live panel discussion featuring the evenings host Nika Kramer, and her guests Martha Cooper and the German graff writer and abstract painting powerhouse MadC. During a far-ranging discussion before a two-room audience in the museum and a live audience online, the three spoke about the graffiti/street art/mural scene from personal and professional perspectives – and how often the street has intersected with contemporary art in the gallery setting over the last decades.
The occasion was an inaugural MCL Talk that officially begins another component of programming related to the research library that we’ve been working on here, now open, called the Martha Cooper Library at Urban Nation. We will aim to make it the premier research library of graffiti, street art, and related urban art: the first place you think of when you need to begin your investigation into this remarkable global democratic people’s art movement.
There was a lively discussion of MadC’s evolution from being an artistically inclined child to one who would develop a signature style as she traveled worldwide to paint increasingly complex and massive walls. Creative challenges and cultural roadblocks were discussed and hard-earned philosophies were described; giving an opportunity for greater appreciation for the routes these people took to participate in, to put their mark on, the graffiti/street art environment. Ms. Kramer skillfully steered to parallels in the pioneering photography and documentary career of Martha Cooper. In the open and inclusive way that Cooper’s career has always been, many questions from the audience were welcomed, considered and addressed as well.
After the talk ended and people mingled and chatted with one another, we took one more quick walk through the museum to admire the wealth of materials and deep dives into history guests could learn about Ms. Cooper. We hovered above the table, looking from the 2nd floor walkway down to the lobby where the three women signed the exhibition catalog and MadC’s new hardcover for patient fans. Finally we left the museum and hung out on the sidewalk in the spring night air with new friends and old and many fans of the night’s special guests at UN.
Thank you again Berlin.
MC Library Presents Martha Cooper, MadC & Nika Kramer. From Street to Canvas. Urban Nation Museum Berlin. (photo still from the video)
Originating or traveling from places like Romania, Greece, Essen (Germany), Sweden, Poland, Turkey, France, Finland, Slovenia, Hungary, Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom, nearly every artist has the immigrant experience in one way or another here at the Fresh A.I.R. Residency at Urban Nation.
The current theme for this sixth edition of the residency, “Reflecting Migration,” naturally strikes a chord in each – but that is where the similarities stop in this widely varied and complex examination of the immigrant experience.
On a recent visit to the current exhibition on the second floor of a well-illuminated historical Berlinian building on Bulowstrasse inSchöneberg, the works and installations in separate galleries reflect the span of interests and disciplines. Thanks to a wide selection of artists, the story of the immigrant experience here is told from multiple perspectives. Participants in the “Migration” exhibition draw from the fields of education, photography, independent art spaces, architecture, data technology, science, philosophy, fine arts, graphic design, and film. The show gives a well-rounded collection of viewpoints, with various routes of expressing those observations.
The storylines can be quite personal, such as the installation by Romanian artist Denise Lobont, whose own parents labored as an itinerant worker in Germany “because there was not enough work available in her small hometown.” The long mounds of soil are planted with printed screenshots of social media postings of fields and workers, bringing a historical capitalist reality to the current moment. The timing seemed especially appropriate as Berlin is brimming with the annual white asparagus crop – appearing on grocery shelves and restaurant menus for a limited number of weeks every year – dependent on migrant labor to make it possible.
Elsewhere the Essen-based documentary photographer and performer Andreas Langfeld features interviews with and photographs of persons familiar with racist attitudes and behaviors of the dominant German society directed toward them in ways obvious and subtle. His frank observations are refreshingly open in the project “Encounters in a post-migrant society (which unfortunately is not able to overcome its racism,”. Here Langfeld uses his experiments, public performances, and observations to move the social discourse forward on those and related topics, including sexual and other minorities in a pluralistic, evolving society.
One of the more striking examples of migrant life includes no physical representation of migrants themselves but the places they live and work, rebuilt painstakingly in miniature by Ecaterina Stefanescu, a UK-based architectural designer and artist. Visitors can lift the roof off and closely examine her models of homes and businesses she has mapped here in Berlin belonging to Romanian immigrants, revealing detailed environments that respond to the inhabitants’ cultural, psychological, and physical needs. She calls the project “Rooms.”
By carefully recreating these “intimate portraits of their interior spaces and possessions through a series of large-scale models and paper collages,” she says she illustrates the “liminal identity of immigrants and how this is expressed through their material culture.”
Here you glean a better understanding through “the transient domestic places they inhabit, the objects they surround themselves with during their migratory experience.”
Using techniques as varied as film, sound, gouache, painting, illustration, photography, and sculptural installation, the artists at Fresh A.I.R. present the impact of migration on people and societies from a great range of perspectives. One sees colder, harder themes of data collection, xenophobia, survival, and sacrifice contrasted alongside more inspired viewpoints of liberation, independence, equality, – and even the development of bohemian culture. Clearly, one can take away something meaningful from this migration experience.
“I didn’t know Christian and Patrick personally at the beginning of the project,” says graffiti writer/artist EGS, “but then we met and went spraying together.”
So many relationships on the street begin as easily, but this one is in service of a larger contemporary art effort – The Versus Project.
Now unveiling Part 2 of their collaborative canvasses exhibition here at Urban Nation’s special project space, Munich’s Patrick Hartl and Christian Hundertmark (C100) have combined their more painterly efforts as Layer Cake since 2015.
Reaching out to long-term and newer associates from the graffiti scene, they have been trading canvasses and ideas and techniques the last few years to discover how to work with others in a unique collaboration quest.
“The work on the canvases was very slow,” says EGS in the printed description of his participation in this second exhibition here. “One applied a layer of paint and then waited months again until it went on. But I wanted to take this time because the project was very close to my heart.”
“I’m super happy with the finished paintings and don’t even know who painted what in the end – that feels super. Working on the canvases together and sending them by mail seems extremely important to me in this age of digitalization, where everything is about speed It’s nice to send and receive art that’s measured by weight – not gigabytes.”
Here are a selection of the canvasses on display in the gallery now – each has its own fusion of minds and methods; an encoded presentation that contains the mark of two, presented as one. “In this way an artistic dialogue is created,” say the project leads, “the canvases become the platform for a discussion on a painterly level – in this case by artists currently or formerly active in style writing from different generations, countries and continents.”
The Versus Project 2 presented by Urban Nation and Layer Cake is currently open to the general public at Urban Nation Project Space in Berlin. Click HERE for additional information.
In a triumphant finishing act, we slapped a few stickers on the board this week to say goodbye to our exhibition, Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures at Urban Nation museum in Berlin. The original sticker board in the gallery area had become overloaded and layered with stickers from visitors to the show and also from sticker artists who mailed them to the museum, so we had to replace it with a new one that is filling up as well. Of course we had to slap one in the wash room too to join the visual chorus of tags and stickers always propagate there as a nod to the restrooms in clubs and concert venues all over this city.
Our sincere thanks to Martha for entrusting us with her history and her hundreds of photographs, ephemera, and personal effects so that we could tell the story 7+ decades and 100+ cities traveled to snap pictures. Thank you to the artists who allowed us to exhibit 80 original artworks that reinterpret her photographs and to pay tribute to her.
Thank you especially to film director Selina Miles for her 16 screen visual poem made specifically for this exhibition, to street artist Seth for his original mural painted directly on a two-story wall in the exhibit, to street artist AIKO for her mural on the facade of the museum, and to artist Shepard Fairey for creating a new Martha Remix collaboration artwork and for producing a 550-print release of it with us and Martha and Urban Nation. Thank you to the entire team at YAP for skillfully bringing the exhibit to fruition and to Urban Nation for entrusting us with the entire museum for this unprecedented show of the photographer’s career.
People like Martha Cooper only come around once in a while and her uncanny ability to capture many of the benchmarks in a changing culture give us collectively greater understanding and appreciation for it. Speaking of the many youth she photographs for her “street play” projects, she may as well be speaking of all the graffiti writers and street artists she captured as well. “”As I photographed these kids, I came to admire their creativity, energy, humor, and willingness to share.’” We are forever grateful for Martha’s willingness to share what she captured with all of us as well.
Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures is currently on view at the Urban Nation Museum Berlin. The exhibition will close this May 15th. For more details click HERE.
JPS is crashing again here in Berlin – this time we found him on the steps of the Urban Nation museum with his miniature stencil works that are tragicomic. The UK street artist planted many of these throughout Berlin as a kind of egg hunt, but we only caught these four as we toured the Schöneberg neighborhood – often just big enough to fit in your hand, there is no question that they fit in the street.
You could watch the Olympics on you screen – and who doesn’t love those amazing athletes? So inspirational. Problem is there are so many reports across the media that Beijing is quashing dissent (NYT, Human Rights Watch, The Guardian) so its hard to separate the place from the event. The banner for this week’s collection is a sticker we saw in Berlin in October – and it’s small but shocking.
No wonder our street art is frequently conflicted – full of beauty, rage, disgust, confusion, fear, flaunting, hope, and poetry. It’s a mirror to us collectively, individually.
And here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week in Berlin, New York and Miami, featuring Tona, Batmanxi, Lahoedealer, Artist Diaz, Anne Baerun, Tinkers Trumpf, FCK WRS, C.M.B., Kiez Miez030, Huckleberry Fuckup, and Roberto Rivadaneira.
More than a hundred thousand or so visitors have come to our exhibition at Urban Nation in Berlin which takes over the entire museum. 350 photos, a few thousand more digitally, black books, drawings, ephemera, cameras, film slides, toys, miniatures, a mural, a complete timeline from 1943 to today, 70 original artworks, a 16 screen film collage by director Selina Miles… this is an endless collection of Martha’s personal and professional work and collections for all visitors to see.
The traffic is beginning to increase now that the end of this unprecedented life-spanning exhibition is nearing its end in May of this year, and we want to show you a few of the hidden gems just in case you have a free afternoon to visit the museum. It has been our honor and privilege to share this exhibition, to work so closely with the photographer herself, and to mount the first exhibition at Urban Nation that features the career of one artist – and thousands of artists.
Cey Adams, AFRO, Andres Art, Blanco, Mark Bodé, Bordalo II, Buster, C215, Carja, Victor Castillo, Cosbe, Daze, Jane Dickson, Owen Dippie, Ben Eine, Shepard Fairey, Freedom, Fumakaka, Futura, Grotesk, Logan Hicks, HuskMitNavn, Japao, James Jessop & Dscreet, Nicolas Lacombe, Justen Ladda, Lady Aiko, Lady Pink, The London Police, Mantra, John „Crash“ Matos, Nazza, Nunca, Okuda, Os Gêmeos, Alice Pasquini, Phlegm, Pixel Pancho, Dr. Revolt, Seth Globepainter, Skeme, Skewville, Skolas, Chris Stain, Tats Cru (Bio, BG183 and Nicer), Vhils, Ernest Zacharevic.