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!”
Of the thousands of images he took this year in places like New York, Berlin, Dresden, Moscow, Marrakesh, Detroit and Miami, photographer Jaime Rojo found that the figurative image still stands prominently in the Street Art scene – along with text-based, abstract and animal world themes.
Surprisingly the scene does not appear to be addressing the troubled and contentious matters of the political and social realms in a large way, but the D.I.Y. scene keeps alive and defies the forces of homogeneity with one-of-a-kind small wheat-pastes, stencils, sculptures, and aerosol sprayed pieces alongside the enormous and detailed paintings that take days to complete.
Every Sunday on BrooklynStreetArt.com, we present “Images Of The Week”, our regular interview with the street. Primarily New York based, BSA interviewed, shot, and displayed images from Street Artists from more than 100 cities over the last year, making the site a truly global resource for artists, fans, collectors, gallerists, museums, curators, academics, and others in the creative ecosystem. We are proud of the help we have given and thankful to the community for what you give back to us and we hope you enjoy this collection – some of the best from 2016.
Brooklyn Street Art 2016 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo includes the following artists;
1Up, Above, Adele Renault, Alaniz, Amy Smalls, George Vidas, GEN2, Apexer, BordaloII, Buff Monster, C215, Collin Van Der Sluijs, Super A, David Choe, D*Face, Duke Riley, El Sol 25, Sean 9 Lugo, EQC, Faile, Faith47, Faust, Shantell Martin, Felipe Pantone, Hueman, Droid907, Icy & Sot, InDecline, Invader, JJ Veronis, Jilly Ballistic, John Ahearn, JR, London Kaye, Louis Masai, MadC, Marshal Arts, Mongolz, MSK, Rime, Myth, Nina Chanel, Optic Ninja, Otto Osch Schade, Panmela Castro, Plastic Jesus, QRST, Reed b More, Remi Rough, REVS, Self Made, Sharon Dela Cruz, Maripussy, Specter, Stikman, Strok, Swoon, Ted Pim, Thievin’ Stephen, Farin Purth, Thomas Allen, Tobo, Uriginal, Vermibus, Vhils, Wing, Yes Two, Zola.
The artist featured on the main graphic is D*Face as shot by Jaime Rojo in New York.
Curator Carlo McCormick quotes Novalis by way of describing this new exhibit of an eclectic blend of terrific troublemakers, pop-culture hijackers, and show-stopping crowd pleasers drawn from cities all around the Street Art/ graffiti /urban art scene today – and forty years ago. This is a welcoming walk of unexpected intersections that only McCormick and co-curator Ethel Seno could imagine – and pull together as a panoply of street wizardry that acknowledges activism, artistry, anarchy, and aesthetics with a sincere respect for all. It will be interesting to see how this show is viewed by people who follow the chaotic street scene today in the context of its evolution and how they read the street signs in this city.
McCormick, in his customary self-effacing humor, expects there to be some shit flying – as anyone who is involved in this scene expects from the hard-scrabble rebellious margins and subcultures that this art-making interventionist practice rises from. There also are a growing and coalescing mini-legion of scholars and academics who are currently grappling with the nature and characteristics of this self-directed art-making practice rooted often in discontent – now organized inside an exhibition that is ticketed and sold as a family friendly show.
In his descriptions of the public sphere, the writer, historian, author, and cultural critic McCormick often refers to graffiti and street artists messing with “contested space”. It’s an apt description whether we are talking about the public space in high-density gleaming metropolises or the bombed-out grid-less and polluted quagmires of human fallibility and urban un-planning that dot our globe; all public space its nature is contested.
Here is a place used by many artists to protest, agitate, advocate, or deliver critique – and many of the artists in this exhibition have done exactly this in their street practice, often pushing limits and defining new ones. Dig a little into many of the individual story lines at play here and you’ll see that the vibrant roots of social revolution are pushing up from the streets through the clouds of propaganda and advertising, often mocking them and revealing them in the process.
Ultimately, this Magic City experience is an elixir for contemplating the lifelong romance we have with our cities and with these artists who cavort with us within them. “Our Magic City is a place and a non-place,” McCormick says in a position statement on the exhibit. “It is not the physical city of brick and mortar but rather the urban space of internalized meanings. It is the city as subject and canvas, neither theme park nor stage set, but an exhibition showcasing some of the most original and celebrated artists working on and in the city today.”
BSA curated the film program for Magic City with a dynamic array of some of the best Street Art related films today presented together in a relaxed environment. In this video hosted by Andreas Schanzenbach you get a taste of the works that are showing that we draw from our weekly surveys on BSA Film Friday. Over the last few years we have had the honor of presenting live in-person to students and scholars and fans an ever-evolving collection of videos that speak to the spirit experimentation, discovery and culture-jamming outrageousness of urban interventions, graffiti and Street Art. The BSA Film Program at Magic City presents a survey of some of the very best that we have seen recently.
Magic City artists include: Akrylonumerik, Andy K, Asbestos, Ben Heine, Benuz, Biancoshock, Bordalo II, Brad, Downey, Dan Witz, Daze, Ernest Zacharevic, Ganzeer, Henry Chalfant, HERAKUT, Icy & Sot, Isaac Cordal, Jaime Rojo, Jens Besser, Juandres Vera, Lady Aiko, Leon Keer, Loomit, MAD C, Mark Bode, Martha Cooper, Oakoak, Odeith, Olek, Ori Carin / Benjamin Armas, Qi Xinghua, Replete, ROA, Ron English, Shepard Fairey, Skewville, SpY, Tristan Eaton, Truly, WENU Crew, Yok & Sheryo
The BSA Film Program for Magic City includes the following artists: Borondo, Brad Downey & Akay, Ella + Pitr, Faile, Farewell, Maxwell Rushton, Narcelio Grud, Plotbot Ken, Sofles, Vegan Flava, Vermibus
Some behind the scenes shots days before the Premiere
The emancipation of the proletariat will be at its own hands!
Just thought we’d announce something vaguely Marxist on Presidents Day to get your attention, since the masses are awakening to the idea of a democratic socialist as a possibly viable Presidential candidate. Ah, but we citizens are now deep in the stew of consumerism, quite cut off from the means of production. Now we city people just buy stuff, and sell stuff.
Part of that selling, especially when it comes to beauty and fashion, is to create obsolescence. Integral to the street messaging is to continually insult and degrade the passerby and plant insecurity about our appearance and physical attributes in our minds, ensuring that we never actually are good enough until we buy this new shirt, blouse, lipstick, purse, watch, cologne, sunglasses, sneakers, underwear.
Now as New York’s fashion week is underway with new looks for next fall and winter, street artist Vermibus continues to mount his personal DIY full frontal attack on beauty culture and fashion, one street poster at a time.
The Situationists of the 1960s would likely smiled at his brand of détournement, pranking the everpresent models who belittle you as you walk in public. Ironically in New York people are so focused on the game of keeping their jobs and their rents and their social lives that they pass right by Vermibus in broad daylight as he replaces these ads with his dissolved/repainted ones.
Some curious folks stop to watch as he replaces the gorgeous healthy wealthy young people who have fabulous lives and smooth complexions with these brutal and stylized grotesques. It’s like a jolt to the commercial streetscape in the frigid winter. The subtle changes are a curiosity that brings out the cell phone for a quick shot and a question to a companion. Then they hurriedly clop up the sidewalk to the next appointment.
What are you celebrating this season? We’re celebrating BSA readers and fans with a holiday assorted chocolate box of 15 of the smartest and tastiest people we know. Each day until the new year we ask a guest to take a moment to reflect on 2015 and to tell us about one photograph that best captures the year for him or her. It’s our way of sharing the sweetness of the season and saying ‘thank you’ for inspiring us throughout the year.
Alison Young is a Professor at the University of Melbourne, an expert in Cultural Criminology, winner of many academic awards, and author of a number of Street Art related books, including her most recent Street Art, Public City: Law, Crime and the Urban Imagination. In it she considers the ways in which street art has become an integral part of the identity of cities such as London, New York, Berlin, and Melbourne, at the same time as street art has become increasingly criminalized. Alison is also a simply indispensible source for many who are studying the intersections of art, culture, law, and urban space.
London, United Kingdom
20 September 2015.
Photograph by Mark Rigney
2015 was a year in which arguments about whether street art can still be considered in any way radical became ever more intense. At times, it seemed like the answer was obvious: when the sides of New York subway cars were used to advertise a ‘street art reality tv show’, many assumed that street art had lost any radical edge it might have had. Other examples were less clear cut. Some argued that muralism is making our streetscapes bland, as local neighbourhood character gets replaced by a uniform aesthetic in cities around the world; for others, the presence of a striking and skillful mural is a vast improvement and a source of community pride.
For me, one of the most exciting examples of street art’s radical potential is found in the work of ‘subvertisers’ like Jordan Seiler, or the various artists working with Brandalism, who used techniques of street art and subvertising to take over 600 advertising panels in Paris before the UN COP21 Climate Conference at the end of November.
Another such artist is the Berlin-based Vermibus, who travelled to various cities hosting a Fashion Week in September and October 2015. He replaced advertisements with his own hand-painted images of women designed to make people think critically about the fashion and cosmetics ads conventionally displayed in public space.
I was fortunate enough to meet Vermibus in London, and watched him install these two pieces in the bus shelter outside Harrods department store – in broad daylight, with hundreds of people walking back and forth along the street, in a clear demonstration of the ways in which ‘street art’ can still be deeply politicized.
A lot of people thought so, and the rise of commercial festivals and commissioned public/private mural programs probably brought more artists to more walls than in recent history. Judging from the In Box, 2016 is going to break more records. Enormous, polished, fully realized and presented, murals can hold a special role in a community and transform a neighborhood, even a city.
But they are not the “organic” Street Art that draws us into the dark in-between places in a city, or at its margins.
We keep our eyes open for the small, one-off, idiosyncratic, uncommissioned, weirdo work as well, as it can carry clues about the culture and reveal a sage or silly solo voice. It also just reinforces the feeling that the street is still home to an autonomous free-for-all of ideas and opinions and wandering passions. For us it is still fascinating to seek out and discover the one-of-a-kind small wheatpastes, stencils, sculptures, ad takeovers, collages, and aerosol sprayed pieces alongside the enormous and detailed paintings that take days to complete.
The main image above is from a vinyl subway advertisement that was high-jacked and we published it in February of this year on our Images of the Week posting. It’s small, personal, and very effective as you can see someone suspiciously similar to Batman is jumping out of the mouth of someone looking awfully similar to Hedwig of “Angry Inch” fame.
Of the 10,000 or so images photographer Jaime Rojo took in 2015, here are a selection 140+ of the best images from his travels through streets looking for unpermissioned and sanctioned art.
Brooklyn Street Art 2015 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo
Brooklyn Street Art 2015 Images of the Year by Jaime Rojo includes the following artists;
365xlos43, Amanda Marie, Andreas Englund, Augustine Kofie, Bisser, Boijeot, Renauld, Bordaloli, Brittany, BunnyM, Case Maclaim, Casg, Cash4, CDRE, Clet, Cost, Curve, Dain, Dal East, Dan Budnik, Dan Witz, David Walker, DeeDee, Dennis McNett, Don Rimx, Ricardo Cabret, LNY, Alex Seel, Mata Ruda, Don’t Fret, Dot Dot Dot, ECB, El Mac, El Sol25, Ella & Pitr, Eric Simmons, Enest Zacharevic, Martha Cooper, Martin Whatson, Ever, Faile, Faith47, Findac, Futura, Gaia, Gilf!, Hanksy, Hellbent, Hot Tea, How & Nosm, Icy and Sot, Inti, Invader, Isaac Cordal, James Bullough, Janet Dickson, Jef Aerosol, Jilly Ballistic, Joe Iurato, John Fekner, Le Diamantaire, Li Hill, LMNOPI, London Kaye, Low Brow, Marina Capdevilla, Miss Van, Mr. Prvrt, Mr. Toll, Myth, Nafir, Nemos, Never Crew, Nick Walker, Nina Pandolofo, Old Broads, Oldy, Ollio, Os Gemeos, Owen Dippie, Paper Skaters, Pet Bird, Kashink, Smells, Cash4, PichiAvo, Pixel Pancho, QRST, ROA, Ron English, Rubin415, Saner, Sean 9 Lugo, Shai Dahan, Shepard Fairey, Sheryo & The Yok, Sinned, Sipros, Skewville, Slikor, Smells, Sweet Toof, Snowden, Edward Snowden, Andrew Tider, Jeff Greenspan, Specter, Stray Ones, Sweet Toof, Swil, Willow, Swoon, The Outings Project, Toney De Pew, Tristan Eaton, Various & Gould, Vermibus, Wane, Wk Interact
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1. Vermibus: Unveiling Beauty: New York . Milan . London . Paris
2. Earth Crisis by Shepard Fairey
3. Vegan Flava: Abandoned Stories and Blank Spaces
4. Boijeot, Renauld, Martin: Hotel Empire. October 2015, 732 hours, New York City, United States.
BSA Special Feature: Vermibus: Unveiling Beauty: New York, Milan, London, Paris
“Unveiling Beauty, as the name suggests, reveals the beauty that lies hidden behind the make-up and the photographic retouching that are used both within the fashion industry and in the way it publically stages itself via advertising.
In September 2015, Vermibus has followed the route of the most in uential Fashion Weeks, travelling to New York, London, Milan and Paris. And he analysed and revealed the true beauty that was hidden behind the various campaigns that are imposed on the public spaces of these cities.”
Earth Crisis by Shepard Fairey
“I’m hoping to reach the average person, the average citizen,” says Shepard Fairey about this new project meant to correspond with the Cop21 climate change talks.
Vegan Flava: Abandoned Stories and Blank Spaces
“In one year I did five trips to an abandoned paper factory in Vargön, Sweden.”
Boijeot, Renauld, Martin: Hotel Empire. Octobre 2015, 732 hours, New York City, United States.
Did you miss the trip from 125th Street to the Bowery this October? Just watch this compilation of about 8,500 shots that tell the story. Warning to people who have trouble with strobe lights – this is a visual assault, albeit very educational and even entertaining. Just pause it anywhere and there is a story unfolding.
Media literacy could be a required course for an entire semester at college today, yet most people would still feel unprepared to sift through the cleverly crafted messages of our media landscape and to discern truth. The complexity and sophistication that marketers, media and advertisers are employing today to sell products, lifestyles, ideas, and wars far outstrips our average abilities of critical thinking or meaningful evaluation of messages.
One important chapter of the Street Art textbook reaching back decades is the one that recounts the earliest billboard jammers who coopted the language of marketing and advertising and turned it upon itself to reveal its conceits. Even today there are those who have made it their sphere of operations to undercut or ameliorate the power of advertising manipulation.
New York City has something like 3,500 bus shelters, each containing two spaces for advertising posters. Periodically commandeered for art by individual artists, the new contents in these displays may run for weeks without being replaced by paid ads, or may be replaced the following day.
Depending on the individual, or sometimes a campaign of individuals, the rationale for replacing ads with art ranges from being a direct rebuttal to visual pollution and insulting narratives to reclaiming public space for public messages or perhaps just something beautiful to meditate upon. Owned by global conglomerates, these “street furniture” kiosks display posters in sizes that are nearly entirely standardized, making it easier for Street Artists like Vermibus to take ads from a city on one continent and replace ads in another, with some aesthetic alterations.
Vermibus says that his work of dissolving the ink with a solvent on posters and using it to paint is 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. Not surprisingly, his posters are collected and sold in galleries as well.
Since beginning this work across Europe with hundreds of posters a handful of years ago, Vermibus has developed a style and uniquely ghoulish aesthetic that recalls horror films and works by British figurative painter Francis Bacon. Recently in New York, we witnessed new Vermibus creations as they dissolved the facades of models, which when they were illuminated from behind appeared as something resembling the diagrams of musculature in a medical manual, except with nice shoes and a designer bag.
With a moniker that is derived from the Latin translation of cadaver, Vermibus cuts deep and looks at high-fashion models as little more than bones and skin transformed by makeup and lighting; perhaps a dark view for such well-lighted work. Somewhat ironically, he calls the entire process “Unveiling Beauty”.
We spoke with the artist about his work on the streets, public space, advertising and how his efforts as acts of civil disobedience.
Brooklyn Street Art:Would you say your bus shelter works are about culture jamming, ad busting, or creating art for the streets? Or all of the above. Vermibus: I think there’s a little bit of each of these in my work. On the one hand you’ll find the activist angle with a focus on the topic of public space. Then there’s the social angle that questions the culturally imposed social canons of what beauty should be. Finally there is what I consider to be the most interesting aspect of my work, which is the artistic and personal part of it.
BSA:Sometimes your dissolved images highlight or accentuate features and bone structure of the model. Other times they completely eradicate detail and transform them into blunt shapes – a brutal plastic surgery. How do you decide the treatment you will use? Vermibus: My decision while in the moment of creating is not a conscious one. I try to become fluid and let the image and how I’m feeling in that particular moment guide me. In a way, the act of painting for me becomes a personal cleansing.
BSA: Can you comment on this idea of creation via destruction? You have opened so many display cases in cities across the world – is this vandalism masked as something more noble? Vermibus: There’s a big difference between creating through destruction, vandalism and civil disobedience.
I don’t consider my work to be vandalism under any concept — but rather civil disobedience. I don’t destroy urban furniture to install my work.
Creating through destruction, without a doubt, is intrinsically a key part of making art. Like making an error, both are underappreciated and at the same time both are integrated into the way in which I work.
BSA:The magician Rene Lavand said, “Someone creates a trick, many people perfect it, but its final success in front of an audience depends on the person who presents it.” What do you bring to the art of billboard takeovers that differentiates the work from others? Vermibus: René Lavand is a great source of inspiration for me and I agree with what he said.
I haven’t invented any thing. There have been people before me who have taken over advertising, people who have questioned the pre-ordained standards of beauty. Similarly, solvents have always been in painters’ ateliers in one way or another.
I suppose that with my work I have applied everything done before me but I have developed my own personal way of doing things. In the same vein there are others who will play the same tricks as René Lavand, but nobody will achieve exactly what he did. They could possibly improve on those tricks.
BSA:In a way it appears that you are setting these models free from the rigid commercial restrictions they are trapped inside – many times you obliterate all branding and text that could identify the image as an ad. How do you see it? Vermibus: In order to reduce the impact of the advertising and to avoid any association with my work and the intention or look of the ad I try to erase both the brand and the message. That’s also why I change the locations of the advertising from one city to another. Often times the brands run different campaigns in each city.
The conceptual aspect of my work is diametrically opposed to the message that the advertising campaigns are offering so therefore neither their message nor their logo have any place in my work.
BSA:Can you comment on the ease (or difficulty) of moving this street practice into the gallery environment? Vermibus: In both cases, the message and the technique are the same. I didn’t have to develop different work for the gallery. In my case the process to go from the street to the gallery was organic.
This Sunday’s Images Of The Week seems to have an overriding theme which wasn’t really planned. It just happened.
A preponderance of stencils, many of them miniature and most placed without permission are here for your consideration. Some of the pieces have been on the walls for years while others are fairly new. After a few days admiring large murals in Norway and Sweden, these little missives are sweet.
Futura also came back to New York from Norway just in time to hit the hallowed Houston Wall yesterday and Martha Cooper is hanging there as well, so you will want to check that out! Martha and John Ahearn just opened their new dual show Thursday called “Kids” at Dorian Gray on the LES, which we thought was dope.
Also in town are Ernest Zacharevic, who will be working on a special project, David Walker has been seen poking his head into things, and Vermibus is popping up here and there on bus shelters with his dissolved portraits. A number of artists and fans are in NYC for the Brotherhood show at Jonathan Levine curated by Yasha Young, and of course Shepard Fairey has his first New York show in five years coming up this week with all new work on exhibition at Jacob Lewis Gallery called “On Our Hands”. As in blood, yo.
Here’s our weekly interview with the street, this week featuring APosse, Dolk, DotDotDot, Dotmasters, Ella & Pitr, Hama Woods, Isaac Cordal, JPS, MIR, Nafir, the Outings Project, Strok, Martin Whatson and TREF.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening :
1. VERMIBUS: PROCESS
2. Aeon in Sri Lanka
3. OS Gemeos “Opera of the Moon”
BSA Special Feature: VERMIBUS: PROCESS
We join Vermibus once again with this earlier video and a piano score by Rob Costlow to erase the faces of advertisements and reveal something about their aura, their mummy-like qualities. With gestural movements of the brush soaked in solvent Vermibus transforms the perfect models that evoke emotions and longing into a mutation of same with the brutality of Bacon. Francis Bacon that is.
Aeon in Sri Lanka
On spraycation, and his honeymoon, in Sri Lanka this summer, Mr. Aeon found this abandoned hotel in a gorgeous setting. Damaged ten years ago from the tsunami, the place needed a little paint, which he laid on while wifey was sitting poolside. So this is how it starts.
OS Gemeos “Opera of the Moon”
A primer on Os Gemeos from The Wall Street Journal on the occasion of their exhibit “Opera of the Moon” at Sao Paulo’s Galpão Fortes Vilaça.