If you thought, “Hmm, Vandalog doesn’t seem to be updating as much” throughout 2017… Here’s why: We were focused on Art in Ad Places, a 52-week campaign of ad takeovers across New York City! We worked with Faust, Shepard Fairey, Molly Crabapple, Jess X Snow, and dozens more artists to install their work in NYC payphones.
Now that the campaign has been going for a year, we’re ready to celebrate!
On January 26th, find us at LUCAS LUCAS in Williamsburg for an Art in Ad Places exhibition, and the launch of a book celebrating all of our ad takeovers to date. We’ll have photos from Luna Park, books, a special installation with the help of fellow ad takeover activist Jordan Seiler, and drinks from Ilegal Mezcal. We open at 7pm.
And if you can’t make it to the opening, the show will be open through February 3rd.
In 2017, I curated the We The People series for Mural Arts Philadelphia, a series of six murals by some of my favorite artists. I probably should have been writing about We The People on here regularly since July, but here’s a very belated update from Philly.
Before we get into We the People, a bit of context. The last year has seen the floodgates open in the USA, with national conversations on crises that have been festering under-reported for years, like sexual harassment and racism. The arts community has added their voices to the mix through projects like the Amplifier Foundation, Not Surprised, and the Whitney’s An Incomplete History of Protest.
It’s in a similar spirit to all of those projects that we tried a little experiment in Philadelphia with We The People. When Mural Arts invited me to curate a series of walls for them, I figured it had to be of the moment, and with artists that they weren’t already doing a lot of work with. So we invited Molly Crabapple, Chris “Daze” Ellis, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Dennis McNett, NTEL, and Jess X. Snow to create work celebrating the best of the American spirit right now, while also reflecting current national concerns. Plus, it was a continuation of Mural Arts’ years-long effort to work with more street artists. There was little community engagement beyond what I and the project manager did while hunting for walls, but I think that by being careful about sites, artists, and content, we brought to life some strong, timely, and site-responsive work.
The word sideshow comes up several times in conversation when discussing the traveling installation centered on Andrew H. Shirley’s Wastedland 2 film. The touring exhibition is as much of a whirlwind as the artist himself, connecting collaborators from across the country in an ever-evolving project.
While the upcoming screening of Wastedland 2 this Friday at Superchief Gallery is the first screening with an emphasis on audience participation through costumes, the film had previously shown in New York City at the Knockdown Center. At this venue, from the moment I stepped into the installation it felt like a family reunion, a theme that is echoed throughout the film. It was a feeling I couldn’t quite put my finger on, and decided it was probably all the personal connections I had with the people and left it at that. However, when I went to interview Andrew, I had to ask if he could illuminate why even people I knew who were not personally familiar with the crews involved still came away with this sense of kinship. Shirley explained, “In many ways Wastedland 2 created not only a new platform of film exhibition, but perhaps exemplified the idea of collaborative action and support from a community that is sometimes over looked as far as how genuinely loyal and generous they are. The graffiti community not only looks out for each other, but they are a family that looks out for people in need- in many ways.” From assisting in the entry of buildings to a floor to call a safe home for the night, the filmmaker was quick to name all of the people and places who helped him out. It may not have been a direct connection, but maybe a friend of a friend, because as he stated they are the family that always looks out for one another.
Obviously, that headline is misleading. And the above video is pretty messed up. But it’s pretty messed up inside the heads of Alex Jones’ viewers! Which brings us to… Inside the Crisis Actors Studio, hosted by James Lipton, a show based on things that far right conspiracy theorists actually believe. Admittedly, this is maybe an odd thing for me to post about, but I’ve been thinking about Inside the Crisis Actors Studio all week. Plus, although the video’s creators have chosen to remain anonymous, at least one of them has been covered on Vandalog before, and they’d be familiar to the street art/activism community.
No doubt that Inside the Crisis Actors Studio is disturbing. Four actors who were due to audition declined after reading the script. But it’s also rooted in a kind of truth, the truth that some people actually believe this stuff. The references that Lipton and “crisis actor” Mark Hannigan make are based on conspiracies that people Alex Jones and his fans actually subscribe to. Yes, seriously. If you’ve never before heard of the concept of a crisis actor, consider yourself lucky, but sheltered. Realizing that these conspiracies are out there starts to explain a little of why gun control is so difficult. Plus, it’s got me thinking about the media that I consume and the bubbles of odd beliefs and consumption that we all fall into. Inside the Crisis Actors Studio is some necessary but dark (very dark) comedy. Hopefully, more episodes are forthcoming.
Who doesn’t love popsicles? You? If you don’t love popsicles, maybe you work at JCDecaux (and even if you do work at JCDecaux and claim they aren’t your thing… we all know you still love popsicles).
Well, I love popsicles, and it seems that my friend Vlady is also a normal popsicle-loving person. For JCDecaux Ice Lolly, he covered up a series of JCDecaux’s ad spaces in Turku, Finland. This particular kind of outdoor ad, where the ad just pops up out of the ground, unattached to a pay phone, bus shelter, or any other public amenity, is sometimes referred to as a lollipop, for obvious reasons. So, Vlady took the hint and turned all of these annoying lollipop ad kiosks into summer treats.
It’s a wonderfully simple intervention, one that doesn’t even require a key to open to ad kiosks, since Vlady just paints right over them. I’ve been thinking about how New Yorkers could do something similar with the LinkNYC towers that have been popping up everywhere… Maybe white sheets that turn the towers into ghosts for Halloween? But the popsicle idea is just perfect. Turn something hated into something everyone can enjoy.
Here’s one more:
Thanks Vlady! This series really made my day. Certainly the best street art I’ve seen all week (although Banksy at the Barbican is pretty great too), and something that anyone who feels inspired can replicate or adapt to their own environment.
To my readers: enjoy the last bits of summer. And remember: There’s no better way to enjoy the nice weather than a bit of vandalism for the public good!
Escif and Blu just wrapped up two murals each at Errekaleor, a self-managed neighborhood in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain that’s been around since 2013. The Errekaleor community is currently fighting against eviction, and has transitioned to renewable energy via solar panels after the city cut them off from the grid.
I’m not usually one for glow-in-the-dark murals, but I love this one from Escif. On his blog, Escif wrote (translated here by Google and me), “The city cut the light without thinking that night belongs to the residents, and they were given, unknowingly, the possibility of making the darkness a little clearer. They say cats can see at night. So we painted the eyes of this great black cat with fluorescent paint so that he too can be self-sufficient.”
And this Blu mural is an instant classic, and hopefully an inspiration to the residents of Errekaleor who are resisting eviction and development.
Been slow on updating Vandalog lately, and I’m realizing it’s because I’ve spent so much of this year focused on curating and project management, and that’s meant that writing has taken a backseat. Still, sometimes I come across something great that doesn’t need much additional commentary.
Today, that was this piece by Rub Kandy and Andrea Nolè, which you can find in Potenza, Italy. Aliens are welcome became immigrants are welcome. Aliens are welcome because sometimes it feels like my country is so messed up right now that it couldn’t possibly get any worse with aliens in charge (although I guess that’s the sort of logic that got us into this mess…). Aliens are welcome because if you’re gonna write something on a wall, it might as well be a greeting to a stranger. Aliens are welcome because why not.
The moment I walked away from painting this piece, I knew it was going to be defaced. I just didn’t know how soon. I made this piece as a prayer to the queer body—in a world where LGBTQ people are thrown into the margins. When home does not exist for us in this world, where can we discover home other than within the beauty of our own bodies? Sometimes that home-making looks like masturbation. This piece, resting at the top of the Lanikai Pillbox Hike in Kailua, Hawaii, lasted barely two days before the word “queer” was crossed out, and a penis was spray painted between the hands. This leaves me wondering: is queer street art/graffiti perpetually destined to be short-lived? What does that have to say about the safety of queer people of color in America and the world?
When queer people of color have no safe havens, religions, or churches in this society, we must turn to our own bodies for safety. In the same way a lover’s touch across a chest can calm the fiercest of storms, when I touch myself, I become my own queer lover. For one moment, all the forces that marginalize me cease to exist.
When I wrote this poem and birthed it into public space, I was thinking about what it could mean for queer people to happen upon acknowledgement of their own survival at the top of a long hike. I was thinking about queer immigrant children whose identities are rejected by homophobic parents and the complicated push and pull of duty and desire when you still love your family but also love yourself enough to know some identities run deeper than bone and cannot be unlearned. I was thinking about the dancers who lost their lives in the Pulse nightclub shooting, and all the queer bars and clubs across this world that have learned to operate underground. I was thinking about the late Chinese photographer Ren Hang, and queer and transgender warriors who were already living in a future so brilliant, this world was not ready for them. I was thinking about all the times where the violences of this world collapsed in on me and I too didn’t know how much longer I could stay in this world, but somehow, by touching myself, or making a piece of art, I rooted my body back into the Earth and found the resilience within me to live another morning.
Birthing queer poems and murals often feels akin to what I imagine it would be like to be a mother to queer children. I imagine bracing them for the violence of this society, preparing them for a never-ending war—where they will be bullied, forced into a closet, or pressured to camouflage with their heteronormative surroundings. Yet no violence or silencing will stop me from giving queer art the beautiful life and care that it deserves. Body bent over the wall, for once in my life, I was able to share the intimate experience of my survival in public space and make a poem out of it. These words were sacred to me, and when they appeared as a monumental prayer, surrounded by the roaring Pacific, it felt as if there were not one but thousands of mornings left for me to live.
The erasure of the word “queer” and the painting of a penis on top of a queer woman’s art is a reflection of the patriarchal and homophobic world we live in. If queer survival and masturbation is so threatening to this society, then I suppose it must be some type of magic. If our words are to be feared, crossed out and set to fire, let them burn bright like a meteorite and blind those who cannot acknowledge the beauty of queer survival. What the homophobic and transphobic world doesn’t understand is that no matter how many times our identities are crossed out, there is an impenetrable home within our bodies, which we can always return to.
This resilience is ancestral. Like the genderless leopard slugs that hang upside down from trees and mutually penetrate, or polyamorous lesbian bonobo monkeys who resolve conflict through sex, queerness and sexual diversity has existed since the dawning of life on Earth. It is the construct of heteronormativity that has been short-lived.
I will continue to put queer joy and self-love into public space regardless of those it provokes because I believe in a queer future. I believe in a world where young queers can finally be affirmed by their own secrets on the streets and at the tops of buildings—whether they are just coming out, or have long celebrated their queer crushes, or are learning the beauty of self-pleasure for the first time. We have been invisibilized, burned, and marginalized long enough. Most importantly, I believe the truths that keep us living and in love must be made public.
Note: Thank you to queer multi-disciplinary artist, Jocelyn Ng and Hawaiian artist Ittai Wong for making this piece possible and uplifting me and the beautiful communities that surround you. A few of the themes brought up in this article came from “Toward a Queer Eco Feminism” by Greta Gard.
Thank you Ocean Vuong, and his poem “Ode To Masturbation” for giving me the courage to bring these thoughts to poetry. Thank you Tatyana Fazlalizadeh for giving me the courage to bring my poetry to the streets.
Thank you Ren Hang (March 30, 1987-February 24, 2017) wherever you are, I hope there is no censorship, or borders, only joy.