Dismaland closes on Sunday, but I’m a slow writer, so I only just finished my review today. Check it out on Hyperallergic.
Photo by RJ Rushmore
Category: Featured Posts, Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags: banksy, dismaland
Dismaland closes on Sunday, but I’m a slow writer, so I only just finished my review today. Check it out on Hyperallergic.
Photo by RJ Rushmore
As the leading American street artist and one of the country’s most recognizable graphic designers, Shepard Fairey himself needs no introduction. But these are strange times for Fairey, and a refresher might be in order. His latest exhibition, On Our Hands at New York City’s Jacob Lewis Gallery, is set to open on Thursday evening. The show tackles the influence of money on politics, the way that legalized bribery has corrupted our democratic system. His new book, Covert to Overt, is due out later this month. The book tackles the influence of money on Fairey’s art, the way he’s fed his ever-growing fame and commercial success back into the work he’s always been doing. He’s on top of the world, or at least the art world. Except that Fairey also standing trial in Detroit for some wheatpastes that the city calls “malicious destruction of a building,” and he could wind up going to prison. So the next few months could really go either way.
Fairey has left an indelible mark on American politics and culture. No matter what happens next, I suspect he’ll continue on that path in one way or another. As he prepares for the opening of On Our Hands, we had the opportunity to ask Fairey a few questions about his career, his place in the art world, and his politics.
RJ Rushmore: As your own fame has grown, as you’ve gone from covert to overt, how have you learned to strike a balance between using your fame for positive change and simply enjoying it?
Shepard Fairey: There are pros and cons to being known whether you call it famous or infamous, but I definitely try to leverage my higher profile to push socially conscious and sometimes provocative ideas. I have a large audience now, which I view as a tremendous resource but also a group to be considerate of and responsible toward. It may sound trite but I take my situation seriously as, for lack of a better word, a role model. I try to provide strong justification for my actions and my viewpoints and I think one of the reasons many of the doors have opened for me that have, is because I’m community and socially minded, not only with my work but with the organizations I support and the activism I engage in.
Today we have Vandalog’s second guest post from Sirla, an organizer of the Stencibility festival in Tartu, Estonia. I find it inspiring to see festival organizers thinking deeply like you’ll find in this post. – RJ
Street art festivals are the most organized form of street art – coordinated, sponsored, approved under certain conditions, etc. Street art festivals also garner significantly more attention on most blogs and other media than illegal and spontaneous street art marching to the beat of its own drum. Street art festivals are hot stuff and new ones are constantly popping up. According to a recent letter I got from the Freiraumgalerie in Germany, there are close to 125 different international street art festivals in Europe alone.
In many cities with active street art and graffiti movements, the authorities ruthlessly combat spontaneous public art, a move largely supported by the people in those cities. With that in mind, it can be fairly complicated to hold annual legal street art festivals in cities such as those. As a solution, the festivals are held as one-off events or in smaller cities that don’t have years of experience with fighting the so-called “graffiti problem.” Due to the absence of a local scene, however, it’s typical in those smaller cities that nothing much happens on the streets before or after the festival, and the festival’s emphasis tends to be on murals rather than street art as a whole.
This brings us to an exception that’s by no means singular, however it’s closest to my own heart, namely the city of Tartu and our street art festival Stencibility, of which I am an organizer. With her 100,000 inhabitants, Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia. Known for its university and a generally youthful vibe, it has also been dubbed the street art capital of Estonia. Since Stencibility has evolved out of the local stencil scene, both the illegal street art and the legal festival are thriving side by side, supporting one another.
Stencibility began 6 years ago as a small get-together of local street artists, and it has expanded every year since. Three years ago, we hosted Kashink, our first foreign artist, and two years ago we garnered some major media attention when MTO painted Stencibility’s first large-scale mural.
Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is known for its graffiti, but street art is practically non-existent and, much like the neighboring capitals Helsinki and Riga, Tallinn upholds a strict policy of zero tolerance. Just a few months ago, a highly illustrative incident took place when Edward von Lõngus, one of the most popular Estonian street artists, made a stencil piece in the city centers of both Tallinn and Tartu for the anniversary of the Estonian Republic. It depicted a naked emperor as a commentary on the way the government is functioning. The one in Tallinn was erased after a few weeks with an official statement that it was not art, while the one in Tartu still stands. The situation went viral when MinaJaLydia, another stencil artist from Tartu, placed her own stencil right on the cleaned spot in Tallinn, a still life with the line “Is it art now?” which the media reported as a clash between the spirit of Tartu and the authority of Tallinn.
One year ago today, I started a job at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. At Mural Arts, we have a fundamentally different way of thinking about and creating public art than I’d ever experienced spending time around street art, graffiti, or even mural festivals or programs like The L.I.S.A. Project NYC or The Bushwick Collective. A year inside of “Philadelphia’s community-engagement juggernaut” has taught me a lot. It’s made me fall deeper in love with street art than ever before, and it’s also helped me to better understand the medium’s shortcomings. Here are a few observations:
Photo by RJ Rushmore
Last Sunday, I visited Coney Island for the first time. I was there to see The Coney Island Art Walls, Jeffrey Deitch‘s latest mural project. Deitch is a master of fun, and he has a habit of causing controversy. The Coney Island Art Walls are no exception. The murals are a great addition to Coney Island’s myriad of attractions, but artnet in particular has been treating Deitch like their personal punching bag, in large part because of the project’s ties to Joseph J. Sitt of Thor Equities, a real estate developer whose company owns the lot where the murals are being installed.
People were mad at Sitt for attempting to destroy the history of Coney Island and leaving lots his lots vacant. Those are completely legitimate concerns. Now, they’re mad that Sitts has put something in one of his lots: A bar, some concession stands, and murals by an amazing array of artists, many of which explicitly celebrate the history of Coney Island. Or rather, it’s arts journalists who are attacking Deitch, on the basis of those complaints, for helping Sitts DO THE VERY THING THAT PEOPLE WERE CALLING ON HIM TO DO. Their anger makes no sense, unless those journalists are just desperately searching for one more reason to hate on Deitch.
That said, The Coney Island Art Walls are entertaining, which makes the project easy to dismiss as unimportant. But the murals are literally across the street from an amusement park, so of course they’re entertaining! Are the murals tools for gentrification and mindless amusement more than social justice and disrupting the everyday? Probably. And most days I’d prefer to see a piece of illegal street art or graffiti or a “socially engaged” public art project than a wall where the art functions primarily as decoration. Most days, I’d also rather eat a salad than a hot dog. But on that rare occasion when I visit an amusement park, I am there to be amused and I definitely don’t want a salad for lunch.
The key to the project’s success really is the setting. These are not murals that you’ll just stumble across randomly. It’s a project that you travel to the end of the subway line to see. It’s its own Coney Island attraction, and a good one at that.
Artnet’s Brian Boucher suggested that organizing murals for Coney Island was a new low for Deitch. That’s such a closed-minded view of what and where art can be. The bulk of the murals celebrate the history of Coney Island or at least fit in perfectly among the area’s existing cacophony of iconic rides, amusements, and signage. Aiko‘s piece looks like it belongs on the side of a carnival game, and Jane Dickson captured spirit of wonder in the air. I’m not sure I’d enjoy AVAF’s mural if I had to live across the street from it and see it every day, but it’s fantastic as a contemporary take on an crazy Coney Island signage. The Coney Island Art Walls are an opportunity to install a series of murals that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else.
Artnet’s Christian Viveros-Fauné was also flat wrong when he dismissed the project for its “Uniformly colorful murals that individually deploy some of street art’s standard motifs—bright hues, stencils, and graphic punch—but engage in neither activism nor neighborhood politics.” Amongst the color and revelry, there is in fact some politically-charged worked: Shepard Fairey‘s fitting tribute to classic seaside advertising features a call for environmental responsibility, Mr. Cartoon‘s painted a young person of color being chased by a white police officer while the grim reaper lurks in the background, and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s portraits of neighborhood residents are accompanied by this statement: “The day before Easter and the day after Labor Day – People still live here. People die here. People love here.” Politics and activism are far from the focus of the project, but they’re not absent.
So, go to Coney Island. Check out The Coney Island Art Walls. But go with the right mindset. It’s an attraction to be enjoyed. Take a selfie with Ron English‘s sideshow characters. Snag the perfect photograph of eL Seed‘s mural with a roller coaster in the background. Climb onto Skewville’s oversized boombox and do a little dance. Go home with a smile on your face. It’s good for you.
A car commercial currently airing on UK television for the Hyundai i20 appears to steal the work of at least half a dozen street artists in just 30 seconds. Here’s the ad:
I guess this just goes to show you what advertising executives mean by “inspiration”.
How many stolen pieces can you spot? Spoilers after the jump.
Tod Seelie is one of my favorite photographers, and his recent book is something that I seem to take off the shelf and show to just about anyone who stops by my place. You might be familiar with his work for any of a dozen reasons, but Vandalog readers are probably most likely to know his photographs of Swoon’s rafts, or his documentation of Bike Kill. His most recent body of work is Outland Empire, shot earlier this year in Southern California during a residency with Superchief Gallery.
In Outland Empire, Seelie explores the eccentricities and underground of Southern California, from the streets of LA to the characters in Slab City to crazy to the literal underground of storm drains. Seelie’s photographs oscillate from depicting the forgotten vestiges of humanity to wild moments full of energy, always with his unique eye and penchant for exploration. Outland Empire is a reminder that the world is more than just carefully manicured people and places. There’s still a bit of dirt and magic out there, for now.
There are a bunch of photos in Outland Empire that I’d love to get the back story on, but the above photo in particular seemed relevant to Vandalog, so I asked Seelie about it. Here’s what he had to say:
I shot this image while with some friends deep in the storm drain tunnels of LA. There is a spot, over a mile deep, where the floor is slanted so the water is more concentrated to one side leaving a “beach” area for hanging out. I have been down here with friends a few times for various things, dinner parties, live music, (there was flaming tall bike jousting, but I wasn’t there for that) and painting graffiti. It’s a very chill spot and worth the wet feet.
For more stories and photos from Outland Empire, check out this post on Hopes&Fears.
Outland Empire is also being exhibited this week at Tender Trap with Superchief NYC.
Photo by Tod Seelie
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from the anonymous artist/activist collective RexisteMX. I want to thank RexisteMX for drawing attention to and providing this local perspective on a recent case of censorship in Mexico City. – RJ Rushmore
Everything started on a February evening when a bucket of black paint and a roller met a wall in Mexico City, a wall that had just been painted by a well-known artist as part of a local gallery’s street art festival. That evening, the festival succumbed to fear, a deep fear that runs through the veins of this country, permeating citizens’ hearts and souls.
#ManifiestoMX is a street art festival organized by FIFTY24MX, a gallery of “young art”. For the festival, they invited artists such as Blu, Swoon, Ericailcane, JAZ, Bastardilla and Saner to create murals around Mexico City. The goal, in their own words, was to create murals that “pointed out themes about the protest and the awareness of the contemporary situation in Mexico. Using art as a social tool to complain, debate and propose.” The artists were there “to express through murals their opinion.”
At first, this project awakened a great interest among local artists and fans of street art. For the first time, we would be able to see international icons of critical art and resistance creating murals in our neighborhoods.
One of the #ManifiestoMX artists best known for critical and politically charged muralism, as well as the resistance to the commercialization of art, is Ericailcane. It was his mural that sparked a controversy at #ManifiestoMX and brought the deep-seed fears of so many Mexican citizens to light.
Ericailcane’s mural was a critique of Enrique Peña Nieto, “President” of Mexico, pictured as a circus monkey who dances to the tune of applause and clanging pesos. Powerful, right? Perhaps because that’s the truth about a man who found his way into government thanks to the applause of television and the power of the money, buying the votes of the poor; maybe because it is the reality of a Mexico governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has worked hard to dismantle the country’s democracy and kill indigenous people to steal their natural resources, all the while feigning a war against drugs that leaves thousands of civilians dead while the drugs are still running and reaching the United States. It was an honest mural. Too honest for a Mexico where the government has made its people fear that anyone who thinks differently from the PRI might be silenced or disappeared, just like the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.
On the morning of February 22nd, we went to photograph Ericailcane’s mural, but we were surprised that instead of the tricolor band shown in FIFTY24MX’s photo, which was how the mural made clear reference to Enrique Peña Nieto, there was a thin black line around the monkey’s neck. We tweeted at the organizers and asked why there had been censorship, but the only thing we got was silence. Silence and more censorship. Later, we noticed that the comments addressing the mural’s censorship were being deleted from FIFTY24MX’s Facebook page. The pressure on the gallery intensified as the question echoed across social networks: Why was there censorship at ManifiestoMX?
— #YoSoy132 (@Soy132MX) February 24, 2015
Only after continued pressure on social media did the organizers of ManifiestoMX at FIFTY24MX respond briefly to say, “The owners of the building asked for the colors of the strip to be changed so the piece would not be taken down,” and “they are people of another generation who are accustomed to living in fear, and you have to respect that.”
Case solved, right? As long as the government didn’t paint out the mural, what does it matter? But PRI has been in power forever. This censorship only proves that the PRI are not a political party; they are now a way of life. It’s a daily terror, so why worry?
That fearful February evening, the owner of a wall, the gallery, and the artist accepted self-censorship. With a bucket of black paint and the fear to question or be critical, an artwork was painted out. Why? Because fear is natural and respectable; because urban art is cool; because it’s “in”; because being critical is good so long as it keeps selling, so long as it doesn’t cross the imaginary lines drawn by the state; because in Mexico art is only supposed to be a hollow shell without content, something pretty that doesn’t say anything.
Contradictory to his gallery’s practice of deleting comments reacting to the censorship on FIFTY24MX’s social media pages, Emilio Ocampo from FIFTY24MX told the Huffington Post, “They wanted us to change the colors to black. But you know what? We like that censorship, and the reactions it produced. That also means that the message bothered someone. We love both images: with the tricolored ribbon and now with black.”
And what about us, the spectators? Do we like censorship? Is censorship good now? Do we reproduce it? Do we accept it? In the face of censorship, do we protest, or we do remain silent? Is it that censorship is not so bad? Is it just part of our daily lives now, so we have to accept it? And what if we, like FIFTY24MX, like censorship? How do we express our “Manifesto”? Do we self-censor and paint nothing? Do we paint something controversial and then censor it? Or is that anti-censorship? We’re lost now.
“We think this incident is a reflection of the self-censorship that we decide to live in,” FIFTY24MX’s co-director Liliana Carpinteyro told the Huffington Post. But others, like us, believe that the normalization of censorship is a reflection of a country that we do not choose to live in. We cannot produce art that reveals or pushes boundaries at the same time that we follow the rules of a government that is keeping us silent, disappearing us, killing us. To start making critical art in Mexico, we must expel the tendency towards self-censorship that the PRI has instilled in all of us.
We should paint in a country where we do not accept silence about censorship, whether imposed directly by the government or self censorship out of fear. We can’t let another bucket of black paint cover another mural that we all know speaks the truth and points towards our shared dream of freedom. Ericailcane’s mural cannot stand as a monument to self-censorship. It has to be a starting point for discussion and debate. Its desecration will not silence us from further reflection or action. We must continue using critical art to transform our reality.
So you’re swiping right and swiping left, swiping left and swiping right, swiping right and swiping left… Tinder is a practically mindless activity, at least anytime I’ve ever seen someone use it. But what are you swiping right and left, yes and no, to? Sometimes, it’s people’s lives.
This isn’t actually a new project, but last summer artist and hacker Matthew Rothenberg was inserting imagery of drone strikes and drone strike victims into Tinder for an artwork he calls Swipe Left. That bearded young man gazing off into the distance wasn’t another Williamsburg hipster. It was Hakimullah Mehsud, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban. Mehsud was killed by a US drone strike in 2013. Which way did you swipe? And what about that odd black and white photo that you liked on “Haki’s” profile? Blurry abstract art? No. Footage from a drone about to unleash hell on a target.
Since Rothenberg has already written so well about the social and political meaning of Swipe Left, I just want to make a note about its meaning within the art world. Rothenberg considers the piece to be performance art, and yes it is, but what I think is most fascinating about Swipe Left is its relationship with street art. It’s a great example of what I’ve called invasive viral art, art that treats digital public space like street art and graffiti treat physical public space. While Tinder users are expecting one thing, Rothenberg gave them another, and he used the app for something it isn’t intended for.
Swipe Left may not immediately appear as art to viewers, but that’s okay. Plenty of street art doesn’t either: John Fekner’s random dates series, Dan Witz’ Broadway Poem, Jenny Holzer‘s Inflammatory Essays when they first appeared on the street as posters, and of course Shepard Fairey‘s early work could all appear as something other than art to someone seeing it for the first time, but it could still reach them. And as Rothenberg points out, “Tinder members who encounter the images are forced to make a decision.” Unlike street art, which can be ignored, Rothenberg’s project can be swiped away or not understood by the view, but it can’t be ignored entirely, and any reaction to Swipe Left‘s content is a valid and interesting data point.
But even if Swipe Left is a bit hidden within Tinder, arguably really meant to be be considered by observers reading about the work later on, not the Tinder users participating in the performance/experiment, the piece shows the potential for a new venue for performance art and invasive viral art.
What if someone like Shepard Fairey joined Tinder and used it to put his art in front of a new and unsuspecting audience? Every day, he could upload a different poster as a profile picture. Suddenly, his work would be reaching people in a relatively random way, like a sticker or a poster on the street does. And if people are playing with their phones and browsing Tinder as they ride the bus to work rather than looking out the window where they might see some street art, why not place that art on Tinder instead of, or in addition to, the street? Reach people where their eyeballs already are. I’d swipe right to that.
Screenshots swiped from Matthew Rothenberg
Wow. That headline is full of some jargon and gibberish… Sorry. Let me explain…
Today marks the launch of the latest exhibition in NO AD, a new evolution for the smartphone app that simulates a world in which New York City’s subway station advertisements are replaced with public art. NO AD, which I’ve written about before, uses augmented reality to digitally replace the ads on your phone’s screen. Here’s how it works.
NO AD has become a really interesting exhibition space, somewhere between a digital exhibition and a guerrilla street art exhibition. The very platform is an artwork, so NO AD’s art exhibitions exist within another work of art, and the platform gets you thinking as much as the art it displays.
I’m honored that the NO AD creators (between PublicAdCampaign, The Heavy Projects, and The Subway Art Blog under the umbrella of Re+Public) asked me to curate the first exhibition NO AD made up entirely of animated GIF art. That exhibition, titled Bob-omb, launched today and includes artwork from by The Barkers, Caitlin Burns, Dave Whyte, Hrag Vartanian, James Kerr – Scorpion Dagger, Jeremyville, Maori Sakai, Molly Soda, Paolo Čerić aka Patakk, Ryan Seslow, The Current Sea, YoMeryl, and Zack Dougherty.
In the past, the vast majority of content in NO AD has been static images, but Bob-omb takes full advantage of the platform by focusing exclusively on animated pieces, transforming static advertisements into dynamic artworks.
Bob-omb is an effort to weaponize GIF art as a tool for reimaging public space while simultaneously highlighting the variety and depth possible with the medium. The artists range from filmmakers to illustrators to journalists, and their work varies from hyper-short documentary videos to abstract digital illustration.
To view Bob-omb, simply download NO AD for your iPhone or Android device (or update it if you’ve already got the app on your phone), find a New York City subway station, open the app, and start pointing your phone at the ads. Or download/update the app and try the test image below.
I want to give a big thank you to all of the artists in Bob-omb and the team behind NO AD for this opportunity.
Images courtesy of NO AD