That’s how curator Yasha Young began the UN Biennale in Berlin this month. A fantasy-infused ramble through a future jungle teeming with dark pop goth and an animated gorilla, the multi-featured installation by the outgoing Creative Director was meant to pose questions about a possible future, or many possible futures on an Earth deeply scarred, reclaiming itself from man/womankind’s folly.
Spread along a 100-meter path and teeming with small surprise exhibits popping from the savage magic of two-day overgrowth, the installation appeared to take inspiration, at least in part, from the wildly successful Berlin exhibition two years ago called, “The Haus”, by a trio called Die Dixons. That one featured 175 artists creating immersive, site-specific futurist/fantasy installations on the five floors of a former bank – inviting dance troops and performances and thousands who cued for hours around the block.
One of artists at UN’s “ROBOTS AND RELICS: UN-MANNED”, Herakut, was also in the Haus exhibition and here under the roaring U-Bahn on Bülowstraße produces one of the best synthesis of technology and fantasy. Their sculptural painted theatrical character of Mother Nature is straight from a childs’ imagination, blinking eyes forming a blue inquisitive aura around its visage.
No doubt many visitors winding through this late summer wildness were feeling quizzical to one another, confronting the various staged scenarios by 27 artists and asking “what if…”. Perhaps a lush and greener version of the traveling “29 Rooms” selfie house we saw in Brooklyn a few years ago, this one blended themes of post-disaster with a glistening dark leafy future girded with idiosyncracies and Hans Ruedi Giger airbrushed human/machines locked in biomechanical reverie.
carry us off into barren deserts with relics of human existence,” says the
press release, “colorfully patterned
animals in overgrown areas as well as spherical light worlds.”
When the Street Artist is not taking over bus shelters and reconfiguring fashion ads into grotesque critiques of beauty culture, he has also been learning about analogic photography at Nau Bostik. The Barcelona-based cultural space has phenomenal education programs for artists to develop their skills with facilities equipped with one of the best photography laboratories in Spain.
But learning how to create a photographic print there kicked Vermibus’ butt – making him nearly quit in his pursuit to get it right.
“One by one, the artist carefully applied liquid emulsion on sheets of 100% cotton paper of the highest quality. By contrast, the developer was applied with an expressive brush stroke, which makes each one of the pieces different and special,” says the official press release for the new print he created, called “Katherine.” It doesn’t say that he failed multiple times before he discovered that technique.
His perseverance is documented here on BSA today as photographer and cultural documenter Fer Alcala interviews Vermibus about his residency and the challenges he faced learning how to create this work.
Fer Alcala:So, you spent some weeks as a resident artist at Nau Bostik working on the Katherine print. At the same time, you were doing a workshop with some school students about adbusting, contrapublicity… Which came 1st: the creative process of the print, or having to do the workshop, where you ended up with the idea of developing Katherine at Bostik? Vermibus: The print and the workshop were two completely different projects that took place at the same time. I was invited by Xavier Ballaz, from Difusorbcn, to give a two month workshop in Barcelona about counter-advertising from the feminism and gender theories perspective.
The challenge was to find a place where to live and work during this time in Barcelona, that’s how the art residency at Nau Bostik came across.
I was supposed to have a room and a studio there but, because of the characteristics of my materials (the solvents) we couldn’t figure out where to install it. So, I had to approach the residency in a different way.
Fortunately, Nau Bostik has an important relation with analog photography and also they have one of the biggest photo-laboratories from the country “La Perversa”. It was impossible not to feel inspired by this place.
Adapting my needs to the situation I end up develop my last print there.
Fer Alcala:If I’m not wrong, you’ve launched 3 prints to date, using a different technique in every one of them. Could you tell us a little bit about all this and how you have chosen each process? Is it kind of a challenge for you? Is it a matter of not repeating yourself?
Vermibus: After trying them, I think other artists can profit more from techniques like giclée and screenprinting than I.
When I’m creating, I like to have an experience and I want this one to be reflected in the final work. At the same time, I’m interested in the investigation and the developing of techniques that break boundaries and open new or forgotten paths.
Fer Alcala:I had the chance of spending some time with you at the laboratory witnessing the developing of Katherine. I have to say that it was a very delicate, technical and magical process. Did you have to learn this technique from zero? What was the most stressful part of it? Did any ideas about quitting the project come to your mind?
Vermibus: I knew the very basics of analog photography and I knew what I wanted to do but I had to learn how to do it, almost from zero.
Of course, I had all the problems someone could have in a laboratory, literally every single one of them.
To be in a dark-room for long periods of time, when things are not going good can be devastating. The idea of quitting came to my mind many times.
But from my experience, when nothing is working and you are close to let it go is when magic happens. During the last week of the art-residency I found out that the main problem was the composition of the paper, so I decided to give a last push and I got a beautiful top quality paper that was decisive in the production of the print.
In the end, I could have everything ready on time with the results I wanted from the beginning.
Fer Alcala: Once Katherine was produced, you showed it in the exhibition context during Moniker Art Fair London. After all the hard work, were you happy with the results and the feedback you got from attendants, collectors, other artists? Vermibus: The moment of showing your work is when all the pain has passed and you can enjoy. I really believe Brutally Human is the best collection of works I have done until now. The feedback was great, so it seems like the people enjoyed it too.
Fer Alcala:Is there any way to still get it? Vermibus: I think Moniker Art Fair still have some prints left.
Fer Alcala: I would like to ask you a couple of things apart from the creative process of Katherine. I think that, while you were doing the workshop at the school, working on issues as beauty, the role of women in advertisement, gender… the La Manada rape media coverage was at its height. Did it influence the way you approached the work with the students? Vermibus: Working with kids is something that I didn’t do before, so my approach towards the students, the profession and of course it was taken with massive respect.
I was preparing the lessons with a lot of care but adapting myself and the content to the needs of each moment So, what happened during that time with La Manada was the worst that could have happened to the girl, to her family and to womens rights in general but perfect to make young people understand the importance of respect and empathy.
Fer Alcala:You are developing your own solvent, which I think is great. Could you explain to us why you have decided to do it and give us some tips about the technical side of it? Vermibus: Together with Elena Gayo, a renowned conservator and restorer from Spain, I’ve been developing my own solvent.
The idea had different goals: reducing toxicity, gaining molecular stability and understanding better my technique to be able develop it.
After months of work and infinite setbacks (similar to the process of the print) I found the correct proportion of “ingredients” to create my own solvent.
Visually speaking it leaves the painting slightly smoother than the old solvent and the molecular structure is much more stable because I control the ingredients. Also, I can modify the mix because I understand what each of the solvents does individually and all together.
But the most important is that we could reduce the toxicity drastically, from a commercial solvent that was carcinogenic, neurotoxic, mutagenic and reproduction-impairing to a solvent that produces no irritation through skin contact and inhalation. And that’s a big deal.
Fer Alcala:Is it something that you are doing for yourself or are you planning to produce it and sell it at a larger scale? Vermibus: The solvent is absolutely adapted to my needs but who knows, maybe one day…
Fer Alcala:Tell us about your plans for 2019 Vermibus: 2018 has been a very decisive year. I spent most of my time reflecting on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, but specially with who I’m working with and with who I’m not.
I have learned a lot this year and 2019 will be the moment when all what was learned will start to materialize. That’s all I can say for now.
For the past few days we’ve been highlighting some of the artists whose brand new works will be debuted this week at Moniker International Art Fair this week. We are pleased that our editor in chief, Steven P. Harrington, was asked to write the Moniker catalogue introduction and today we share with you his original text to give you an idea of his perspective on having this art fair in BK.
From the seedy to the sublime, Brooklyn’s underground and street culture always bubbles up to the surface like hot gritty pavement tar when you least expect it – maybe because it’s character is so diverse and scrappy; a perpetual underdog, a fighter who never tires. Likewise Moniker has blazed many dark streets during its first nine years in search of new unusual inspiration and authentic voices. For its New York debut Moniker again short-circuits expectations and takes up a seriously innovative residence in the street culture epicenter of BKLN.
In the modern Urban Art story Brooklyn is known for giving birth to epic 1970s train writers like Dondi, 80s train/canvas artists like Daze, crossover iconoclast graffiti/Street Artists like REVS in the 90s, and Street Art innovators like Bäst, Faile, Judith Supine, Skewville and Swoon in the 00s. Currently it claims the thickest density of international murals by urban aerosol wizards anywhere in the city – with the Bushwick Collective proliferating an epic scene of styles in the 2010s that brings a river of fans and tours out on the L train on any given sunny Saturday.
Curated, experiential, and immersive, Moniker again goes right to the source of this Street Art scene that has jolted many international collectors out of their comfort zones and sparked life into Contemporary Art in a way that nobody foresaw.
With an awesome shot of Gotham across the river and just adjacent to Williamsburg this site is where 4,000 workers in factories manufactured nautical rope for the Merchant Marine in the previous century, later becoming a marginalized and abandoned industrial neighborhood that was like a powerful magnet to Street Artists and graffiti writers until only recently.
Right here only a decade ago my partner and I threw a Street Art burlesque show for 300 avant-art fans behind a graffiti supply store; acrobats, fire tagging and drunken DJs included. Months later, with abandoned buildings and empty lots at our disposal, we projected Street Art images meta-style on walls around the neighborhood along with 20 or so projection artists for BK’s own version of a renegade Nuit Blanche.
Only a block or two from where Moniker is sited graffiti throwups and bubble letters were scattered everywhere, squatters started fires to keep warm and scare off rats, skater kids regularly rode the underground paradise called “Autumn Bowl” by sneaking through a hole in the wall, and Banksy did one of his famous New York residency pieces here in 2013, “This site contains blocked messages.” The hardcore and anonymous REVS himself used a blowtorch to weld a dozen or so sculptures around this neighborhood during the 00s and ‘10s. There is at least one remaining.
And now Moniker 2018 beams out a new international signal to you from here, channeling that explosive Brooklyn DIY creative spirit up to the soaring ceilings of the Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, effectively recreating the kind of immersive street carnival atmosphere that proved the ideal laboratory for Street Artists in BK like like Skewville, Dan Witz, Aiko, Mark Jenkins and countless others.
Now Moniker is introducing you to a dynamic crop of work by street practitioners on Brooklyn streets like Icy & Sot, Specter, and ASVP as well as the international high-profilers who have put work on the street here like Faith XLVII, FinDAC and Vermibus.
As Urban Contemporary takes a solid hold in art world parlance it’s only right that a unique event like this challenges the rules for installations. All original new work from a handpicked highly curated group of 27 exhibitors, you will not have seen these installations and pieces previously. Judging by the hefty buzz leading up to Moniker 2018 in Brooklyn, you might not see them again.
In advance of Moniker in Brooklyn this May, we are interviewing some of the artists who are influenced both by street practice and fine art as the contemporary urban art category continues to evolve. Today, BSA is talking to Vermibus.
Readers of BSA will know that we have written about Vermibus many times for a number of years, so it is great to see him here in New York for Moniker. The Berlin-based Spanish artist takes a full frontal attack on advertising in the beauty and fashion fields primarily, using a paint solvent to dissolve features of high fashion models to disrupt idealized standards of beauty.
A veteran of countless takeovers of public bus shelters and kiosks here and across Europe, the results are shocking and confusing to passersby, who perhaps wonder if they are seeing something official and fashion forward or if its a viral ad using surrealist melting forms.
To quote one of our own many texts, Vermibus is using solvent “to paint his critique of the corrosiveness of a commercial beauty culture that tears down and divides, glorifies consumerism for its own sake, belittles and relentlessly attacks self esteem and plays on negative emotions to enforce normative values about appearance. He takes the posters back to a studio and selectively eliminates words, logos, facial features, even entire faces — and then carries them to another city to repost on new streets. Sometimes he also takes them to an art framer.”
BSA: How would you describe your work to someone who is seeing it for the first time? Vermibus: With my work I talk about 3 main topics.
It’s a critique of advertising, a reflection about beauty standards and an investigation on the complexities of the human being, not necessarily in this order.
BSA: Are graffiti and Street Art allowed to change, or should there be a strict definitions they adhere to? Vermibus: I don’t think graffiti can change and still be graffiti, same like I don’t think street art can change and still be street art, will be another thing.
I believe in evolution and I think is not only good but necessary, but labels are made to define things. If things change then we’ll need more labels.
BSA: Moniker says your work has been influential and/or fundamental to urban & contemporary art’s growth. Can you see their point? Vermibus: I guess for some people I could have been very influential and I think my work has the ingredients to open new perspectives in the scene.
But only people with a great overview of the scene can say and only time can confirm.
So far, Moniker has been very good at observing and guiding the scene over the years, so I’m happy they see my work as such.
BSA: Name one artist whose work you admire today. Vermibus: Axel Void.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1. Vermibus – In Absentia
2. Balú – Hutsean
3. Pati Baztán for Contorno Urbano 12 + 1 in Barcelona
4. Ai Weiwei: Human Flow. Trailer
5. Balloons Festoon the Ballet with Jihan Zencirli
BSA Special Feature: Vermibus – In Absentia
The Francis Bacon of advertising posters, Vermibus returns today in the Parisian Metro, solvent in hand. In such a fashionable city, where the image of beauty has been examined from every angle, it’s the visual pollution of consumerism that the Berlin-based artist targets. Shot in a very public series of venues, the Xar Lee directed video is significant for its absence of public, the intended audience for the beauty posters in this, their public space.
Hutsean – Balú
“Art is not in museums. Art is in all men and women,” proclaims Balú in tribute to Jorge Oteiza. The multidisciplinary artist from Basque country commissions his own intervention to honor this BAsque sculptor and thinker who has been a reference point for thought and art since Balú began his career. The intervention carried out in the Paseo Nuevo de Donosti, is located under the sculpture “empty construction” by Jorge Oteiza.
Pati Baztán for Contorno Urbano 12 + 1 in Barcelona
Pati Baztán takes special pleasure in savoring the color, the process, the materiality of her lifeblood. Here you can see the models of contemporary staking claim in the public sphere, asserting the massive blocks of color and volume as ends unto themselves, upending conventions of aerosol wizardry and defining a different approach to intervention.
Ai Weiwei: Human Flow. Trailer
Chinese contemporary artist and activist Ai Weiwei keeps the focus where governments and war profiteers would like to distract you from. When entire cultures are displaced, their lives made precarious, it is no longer simply geopolitical grabbing for resources – it is inhumanity. Ai Weiwei finds it and flows it into our midst.
Balloons Festoon the Ballet with Jihan Zencirli
Jihan Zencirli aka GERONIMO takes over the visuals with her ballooning imagination in the winter months at New York City Ballet for the sixth presentation of Art Series. Previous installations have featured notables like Faile,JR, Santtu Mustonen, and Dustin Yellen in the main atrium and onstage at Lincoln Center.
As we draw closer to the new year we’ve asked a very special guest every day to take a moment to reflect on 2017 and to tell us about one photograph that best captures the year for them. It’s an assortment of treats to surprise you with every day – to enjoy and contemplate as we all reflect on the year that has passed and conjure our hopes and wishes for 2018. This is our way of sharing the sweetness of the season and of saying ‘Thank You’ to each of you for inspiring us throughout the year.
Spanish Street Artist and fine artist Vermibus has been re-rendering posh pictures of fashion poses on public ad spaces for a handful of years now. His insight into how emotions and self image are impacted by advertisements is now concise and his rendering of opinion is clarion. More than 600 installations later, not only has his work become a powerful critique of twisted class and beauty standards, it’s a reclamation of public space and mindspace that we have allowed to become privatized. Today Vermibus shows us a photo he took in Berlin this year and tells us about revisiting one of his original lightbox spots and discovering something new that he wasn’t expecting.
This year I came across an empty lightbox and this one immediately caught my attention.
Many years ago, when I was just starting as Vermibus, I did an intervention in this spot but I didn’t realize until this day how beautiful and full of meaning this space was. Maybe it was the blue light from the moment, the empty street, or the closed windows from the building but they all together made some kind of poetical meaning for me, and I was touched by it.
This silent box gave me more than I was expecting, it gave me peace.
I never felt so connected with any campaign in the way I felt connected with the absence of it; this lack of message was stimulating my imagination and my reflection. I couldn’t tell if this was an intervention or it just happened naturally, who the person was who did it, or what was the aim of it – if there was an aim at all.
I end up realizing that in fact all this didn’t really matter, the information was there for the ones who could read it, and I was one of them.
My wish is that more people can see the message that is hidden in those empty shiny spaces in the same way I did.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1. Joe Caslin: “We will let no life be worth less”
2. VERMIBUS – IN ABSENTIA
3. Fernando Leon / 12 + 1 Contorno Urbano
4. Graffolution. By Carl Friedrich
BSA Special Feature: Joe Caslin: “We will let no life be worth less”
Street artist Joe Caslin, known for his large-scale black and white drawings, has released a compelling and emotive short film entitled ‘The Volunteers – We will let no life be worth less’. The film follows his installation of a four story drawing on House Two in Trinity College’s Front Square. The film focuses on drug addiction, mental health, and our collective response to both and showcases the efforts of 20 people in Ireland working toward re-framing the conversation around de-criminalization and rehabilitation.
VERMIBUS – IN ABSENTIA
BSA has brought you Vermibus since he started messing with glamour, testing the limits of passersby ability to ignore his melted models. A protest against the classist beauty brands that insult us in our public space, Vermibus’ posters re-frame the conversation, jolting you into a grotesque brutalism, sometimes ornate, sometimes darkly disturbing. Here his latest solvent-based poster campaign appears on the metro in Paris, neatly framed and waiting to catch you eye. He calls it “In Absentia”.
Fernando Leon / 12 + 1 Contorno Urbano
The latest video from Contorno Urbano with Fernando Leon.
Graffolution. By Carl Friedrich
A post-modern meditation on mark-making. A soul-stirring piano score accompanies this layered montage of graffiti writing and abstract painting. Here there is destruction. And deconstruction. And recollecting of playful errant thoughts and passionate impulses and suite soliloquies, machine gunned and splashed like hot massage oil across the surface like so many erudite dialogues you pined for. Masterful? Maybe. Poignant. Positively. Transcendent! You decide.
As the October 1st referendum deadline looms ever closer, the tensions over Catalonia’s attempts to secede from Spain have dramatically taken to the streets – and Vermibus is adding his voice to the raucous dialogue in the Catalunya area of Barcelona. Using an interventionist technique that has become more popular in the last decade but dates back at least to the 1960s, the Spanish born Street Artist is taking over an advertising space to promote artful civic discourse rather than flogging shampoo that makes your hair shiny.
In news reports everywhere you learn that the central Spanish government and its supporters are accused of extraordinary efforts to quash the democratic efforts of the Catalan parliament to push for the divorce. Recent letters from MPs, more than a hundred academics, and other secessionists accuse the government of anti-democratic measures such as, “taking to court 700 Catalan mayors for allowing preparations for the vote to go ahead, seizing campaign material and ballot papers, threatening to cut off power to polling stations, arresting and charging a newspaper editor accused of aiding the preparations for the referendum and banning a public meeting called in Madrid to discuss the issue,” reports The Guardian.
For Vermibus, the issue is simpler: The government is hiding from the obvious, choosing not to see the truth and hoping it will go away. Similarly you may look at this image of a person putting their hands over their eyes and interpret it that seeing what is happening is painful and shocking.
As citizens who may look at the events from a patriachal/matriarchal perspective, you can also imagine average people hiding their eyes from witnessing their parents yelling and fighting with each other. As painful as it gets, hiding your eyes doesn’t make it disappear.
“Spain is facing the most complex identity issue of its short democracy,” says the ad-busting Vermibus. “The unity of this country is obviously broken and this problem has to be addressed urgently. The attitude from the central power is one of trying to solve the problem by ignoring it,” he says, “and with that the tensions between Catalonia and Spain are growing exponentially.”
For Fernando Alcalá Losa, the photographer who shares these photos with BSA readers today, the demonstrations and fighting in Barcelona streets right now looked like a perfect opportunity to work with Vermibus, who was in town to give a talk.
“I had met the Berlin-based Vermibus personally at the 1st edition of Urvanity Contemporary art fair this year. Everything went very fast. I contacted him when I found out that he was giving a lecture in the city, got some tools and tried to make this happen,” Fer says. “We almost failed because of several reasons, but, after some hesitation and logistical issues, the adbusting happened while tons of people were flooding the heart of the city and cops were everywhere. And let me say, it felt good.”
It’s a simple act, this claiming of commercial space for public commentary, but worth the risk for those who increasingly take over bus stops and myriad kiosks that take over the public sphere. For Alcalá Losa, times of civil discontent require civic involvement and this is a tumultuous period for the culture.
“For me it was the fact that the ‘Guardia Civil’, the police branch of the Spanish army, arrested several Catalonian politicians in different cities of the region, leading to a massive and peaceful response by the citizens taking to the streets protesting, demonstrating and claiming for freedom and the right to choose and being independent from Spain,” he says.
“All this political confrontation is not about independence anymore. It’s about freedom of choice, the right to vote and the right of having the chance of saying yes or not. Period.”
For his part, Vermibus says the problem is a self-imposed blindness and he hopes his small intervention is a reflection of it. “What happened recently in Catalonia is not a problem of identity anymore, or at least is not how I personally feel it. It is an attempt at democracy, and by not wanting to see it the problem won’t get solved on its own.”
Welcome to Sunday! This week we have a special edition of BSA Images of the Week; Dedicated to Nuart 2017.
Each year Nuart challenges itself as much as it challenges you, unwilling to fall into the beckoning arms of the ever more bodacious and titilating Street Art Festival siren that increasingly works the thoroughfare in cities globally, looking so enticing in your Saturday night drunken reverie but unable to string together complete sentences over pancakes and coffee in the morning. Not that these stencils, these tiles, these installations and projections will necessarily lead to a more thorough examination and evaluation of neoliberal economics, corporate hegemony, or the caveats of a generation of identity politics, but they might. At the very least the practice of weighing in on these and other topics in a public way, in an ardent or passive voice, means that the conversation can be sparked, possibly brought to its fullness. And you may be encouraged.
John Fekner, stalwart public artist since at least the Reagan Revolution, has finally personally had his say here on the streets and on the subconscious . We asked him to share his wisdom with us, to take the measure of the scene and the new voices and perspectives. Not surprisingly, Mr. Fekner shows why an active engaged mind and spirit is paramount to evolving your art practice, your participation in the public conversation.
“The potent vitality of the artists in this year’s ‘Rise Up’ Exhibition in Stavanger, Norway is striking, in its exploration, selection, and development of the ‘visual voice’ of street art and mural making in 2017. NuArt exists as a ‘community commune of communication’ for artists, writers, musicians and guest speakers with an enthusiastic and participatory audience,” John tells us.
“Personally, I see a little bit of myself mirrored in some of the works- in the process, but not in the unexpected end results. Heralding from various countries, this younger generation represent new beginnings for outdoor art that combine social concern, expressive beauty and hope, urgency and manifesto, for a new future that includes and engages everyone to experience.”
Here’s our weekly interview with the streets, this week featuring ± Maismenos ±, Ampparito, Bahia Shebab, Carrie Reichardt, Ian Strange, Igor Posonov, John Fekner, Ricky Lee Gordon, Slava Ptrk, and Vermibus.
See our conversation with Vermibus about his work here at Nuart below.
BSA: Can you tell us about your new piece and what it is about and how you are feeling about the progress? Vermibus: I brought two original pieces for the festival, both are part of one artwork that is the installation itself, and even if each artwork has its own personality they need from the rest of the room to express what I want to say with the installation.
The tunnels from Nuart Festival are huge and very interesting, so I thought I could use all this space to create an atmosphere instead of trying to fill the whole space with artworks or with a massive piece.
With this installation I want to bring to the viewer to its more hidden part of its personality, there where you don’t usually allow others to go in, where all the fears and traumas survive.
I want the viewer to have some intimacy with it’s inner self through my work.
The way the viewer will see my work is completely different from other occasions.
BSA: Can you give us your impressions of Nuart and Stavanger and the environment you are working in? Vermibus: It’s the first time that I participate in a festival, so for me everything is new, but I have the strong sensation that this place is special.
The whole team is friendly, incredibly talented, surprisingly humble and completely ready to help the artists to express themselves without limitations, it’s kind of a paradise.
The lineup is so well curated that I cannot be happier to participate around all this amazing artists.
Ricky Lee Gordon is painting a mural of Finnish transgender activist Sakris Kupila for the launch of the BRAVE campaign with Amnesty International, raising awareness of human rights defenders and their work all over the world.
In Stavanger, Norway the Nuart Festival, in all its firey activist rebellious street-smart community-powered glory, is well underway; a chain-reaction of events and actions that ignite throughout the streets, in the gallery halls, and in neglected margins of this seaside town. In our 10th year bringing you the art and ideas from Nuart, BSA is ecstatic to show you works in process right now, courtesy of photographer Tor Ståle Moen.
The news out of Nuart 2017 is splendiforous and we are feeling celebratorious. These irregularly formed adjectives are in good company with the mismatched yet harmoniously woven characters who together have again selected and summoned artists, academics, kooks and cultural workers to Stavanger for a September synergy of Street Art, public art, and myriad interventionist ideas. It is a highly particular hybrid germinated, conjured, emancipated perhaps, by the free-form and analytical mind of its Founder and Director Martyn Reed. While sowing Nuart seeds spectacularly on the shores of Aberdeen earlier this spring, it is here in Stavanger where the new ideas germinate, are nurtured and given latitude. It is also where the tortoises of conventional thinking are happily rolled onto their backs, little webbed feet waving. We’re pleased today on BSA to publish Martyn’s new manifesto in preparation for Nuart’s festival this autumn in Norway so one might better appreciate the ruminations behind and development of this year’s theme.
Nuart produces both temporary and long-term public artworks as well as facilitates dialogue and action between a global network of artists, academics, journalists and policy makers surrounding street art practice. Our core goal is to help redefine how we experience both contemporary and public art practice: to bring art out of museums, galleries and public institutions onto the city streets and to use emerging technologies, to activate a sense of public agency in the shaping of our cities.
Outside of Nuart Festival, our growing portfolio of projects represents an on-going art and education program that seeks to improve the conditions for, and skills to produce, new forms of public art both in Stavanger and further afield. For us, public spaces outside conventional arts venues offer one of the richest, most diverse and rewarding contexts in which this can happen.
Our work is guided by our belief in the capacity for the arts to positively change, enhance and inform the way we think about and interact with each other and the City.
The Real Power of Street Art
Nuart festival presents an annual paradigm of hybridity in global sanctioned and unsanctioned street art practice. Through a series of large and human scale public artworks, murals, performances, art tours, workshops, academic debates, education programs, film screenings and urban interventions, supported by a month long exhibition of installations, Nuart explores the convergence points between art, public space and the emergent technologies that are giving voice and agency to a new and more creative civilian identity, an identity that exists somewhere between citizen, artist and activist.
The real power of “street art” is being played out daily on walls, buildings, ad shelters and city squares the world over, and it’s now obvious that state institutions can neither contain nor adequately represent the fluidity of this transgressive new movement. As the rest of the world begins to accept the multiplicity of new public art genres, it is becoming more apparent, that street art resists both classification and containment. The question is, not how can this inherently public art movement be modified or replicated to fit within the confines of a civic institutional or gallery model, but how can the current model for contemporary art museums, galleries and formulaic public art programs, be re-examined to conform with the energy of this revolutionary new movement in visual art practice.
In the 1990’s, Situationist concepts developed by philosopher Guy Debord, surrounding the nature of “The City”, “Play” and the “Spectacle”, alongside sociologist Henri Lefebvre’s theories exploring the rights to shape our own public and mental space, came together to form an emergent adbusting “artivism”, which now forms the foundation of street art practice. Radical cultural geographer David Harvey has stated, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources, it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city”.
It is here, at the intersection between philosophy, geography, architecture, sociology, politics and urbanism, that Nuart situates itself, it exists as a critique of the colonization of everyday life by commodity and consumerism, whilst recognizing that one of the only radical responses left, is to jettison the hegemonic, discursive and gated institutional response to capitalism, and engage it directly where it breeds and infects the most, in our urban centers.
The challenge for a new and relevant public art isn’t to attempt to negate capitalisms neoliberal market logics with an ever more dominant liberal discourse, both are ultimately mired in a conflict that on the surface simply serves to feed the polarization and spectacle that we’re attempting to transcend. What we need is the active participation of citizens in the creation of their own holistically imagined environments, both physical and mental, a direct and collective response to space that leads to the shaping of place. A place in which the disengaged and passive citizens desired and ever more manipulated by market forces, are inspired to re-make themselves. Nuart proposes that the production of art in public spaces outside conventional arts venues offers the community, not only the most practical, but also the richest, most relevant and rewarding contexts in which this can happen.
It is in this “remaking” of self, this deep desire to engage with the world, to develop civic agency and purpose, that transcends identity, gender and class, and enables those locked out of the arts by a post-Adorno obscurant lexicon (eh?), that street art delivers. It offers an opportunity to reconnect, not only with art, but also with each other. Hundreds of people covering a vast swathe of demographics, from toddlers and single moms to refugees and property barons, on a street art tour conversing with each other, are testament to this.
We believe that when you want to challenge the powerful, you must change the story, it’s this DIY narrative embedded within street art practice, that forms the bonding agent for stronger social cohesion between citizens from a multiplicity of cultures, as our lead artist for 2017, Bahia Shehab will attest. It is this narrative, that is acting as the catalytic agent towards street art becoming a vehicle capable of generating changes in politics as well as urban consciousness.
The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from what kind of person we want to be. The transformation of urban space creates changes in urban life, the transformation of one, being bound to the transformation of the other. What social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies, art and aesthetic values we desire, are closely linked to the spaces we inhabit. The “banalization” of current city space, combined with the numbing effect of digital devices that guide us from A to B, have rendered us passive. Consumer cows sucking at the teat of capital trapped in a dichotomy between left and right, instead of right and wrong. And for the most, the hegemonic islands of sanitised cultural dissent we call Art Institutions, are either unable or uninterested, in engaging with the general public in any meaningful way.
In the early 2000’s, the evocative power of certain already existing and often crumbling industrial interzones, including that of Tou Scene, our main exhibition space, one that we were instrumental in establishing, gave rise to a new form of engagement with art in urban spaces that is only now being fully recognized and exploited. Street Art is at times of course co-opted and complicit with the “creative destruction” that the gentrification process engenders, but Capitalism’s continuous attempt to “instrumentalize” everything, including our relationship to art should be vigorously resisted. It is these “Stalker-esque” zones of poetic resistance, that initially gave shelter to one of the first truly democratic , non-hierarchical and anti-capitalist art forms, and unlike most cultural institutions, it is still, for the most, unafraid to voice this opinion, important in a time when even our art institutions are beginning to resemble houses of frenzied consumption. Street art exists to contest rather than bolster the prevailing status quo. As such, it is picking up as many enemies as friends within the field of public art.
By attempting to transform the city, street art attempts to transform life, and though by no means is all street art overtly political, it does, in it’s unsanctioned form at least, challenge norms and conventions regulating what is acceptable use of public space. In particular, it opposes commercial advertising’s dominion over urban surfaces, an area that Nuart are active in “taking over” throughout the year and in particular during the festival period. Our curating initiatives not only aim to encourage a re-evaluation of how we relate to our urban surroundings, but to also question our habitual modes of thinking and acting in those spaces. Street art is not just art using the streets as an artistic resource, but also an art that is questioning our habitual use of public space. Street art doesn’t simply take art out of the context of the museum, it does so whilst hacking spaces for art within our daily lives that encourage agency and direct participation from the public, “Everyone an artist” as Joseph Beuys would have it, and if it is accussed of being produced without academic rigour, we are reminded that he also asked, “Do we want a revolution without laughter?”.
Nuart’s programs are designed specifically to explore and silently challenge the mechanisms of power and politics in public space. Increasingly, we see the rights to the city falling into the hands of private and special interest groups, and yet, we have no real coherent opposition to the worst of it. The 20th Century was replete with radical Utopic manifestos calling for change, from Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto of 1909 to Murakami’s “Superflat” of 2000. Nuart’s annual academic symposium, Nuart Plus, acts as a platform for a resurgency in utopic thinking around both city development and public art practice, and whilst recognizing that street art is often co-opted and discredited by capital, it also recognises that even the most amateur work, is indispensable in stimulating debate and change in a Modern society that has developed bureaucracies resistant to seeing art, once more, as part of our everyday life.
As the Situationst graffiti scrawled on Parisian walls in 1968 stated, Beauty is in the streets, so Rise Up! and support those dedicated to unleashing one of the most powerful communicative practices known to mankind, there’s work for art to be done in the world amongst the living.
Martyn Reed, July 2017
Artists scheduled to participate in Nuart Festival 2017:
Ampparito (ES), Bahia Shehab (EG), Carrie Reichardt (UK), flyingleaps presents Derek Mawudoku (UK), Ian Strange (AU), John Fekner (US), Know Hope (IL), ±maismenos± (PT), Igor Ponosov (RU), Ricky Lee Gordon (ZA), Slava Ptrk (RU) and Vermibus (DE).
You may not realize upon first glance through the series of modular white walled temporary gallery rooms, but this fine art on display all has origins in street practice.
Over the past long weekend Madrid’s Urvanity fair at The Palacio Neptuno showcased a sweeping cross-selection of crisply framed names – many of which are being identified as Street Artists en route to “Contemporary Artists”.
Hung at eye level, carefully spaced, and illuminated under tracked lighting, the studio work of nearly 70 Graffiti/Street/Urban artists went on this weekend in one of the first fairs dedicated entirely to this evermore emerging category.
With fresh works from artists like JonOne, Fin DAC, Pixelpancho, Miss Van, Jef Aérosol, Sixe Art, L Atlas, Stikki Peaches, and Ben Eine, it is a mostly Eurocentric roster of galleries you’ve come to know in the last decade or so from places like Amsterdam, Paris, Milan, Zurich, London, among others, and of course Madrid. Under the direction of Sergio Sancho, an advertising professional who has worked with major global brands, the fair calls the works on display New Contemporary Art and the program includes a companion mural campaign in Madrid streets featuring Eine, Jason Woodside, L’Atlas, PREF, MESA and Mohammed Lghacham.
While receiving increasing support from serious press, museums, auctions, and festivals over the last decade and a half, it has been a great challenge for both commercial/social and historical/academic scholarship to agree on a moniker for these combined movements and makers – one that fairly encompasses the myriad motivations, styles of expression and intersecting cultures that have evolved from a half century of art on the streets.
With the inauguration of the Urvanity Mahou Talks Program during the fair, featuring again the artist Ben Eine and cultural curator Cedar Lewisohn, this topic and many more that continue to be raised can be examined and discussed in meaningful ways. At BSA we are finding that our participation in these panels, presentations, and discussions as well as being in the audience has furthered our understanding and appreciation for this natural and growing desire of scholarship.
The Urvanity program of conferences, debates and presentations here collect artists, curators and cultural managers with these purposes in mind and naturally will help collectors and fans contemplate these artists at the fair and better appreciate the bridge between the street and the fine art presented here. A strong first showing, you can expect to see Urvanity back again next year.
An outdoor mural from the Urvanity Instagram page. “We are excited to be able to be painting incredible murals in #Madrid. This one is by @oiterone on Calle de la Cebada!”