Choque Festival – street art or just marketing?

Pagu for Choque Festival. Photo by Jéssica Freitas.

Vanessa Rosa, the author of this post, is an artist based in São Paulo.

This is a story of an alleged attempt to create dialogues between opposite worlds: street art, and one of the world’s most oppressive police forces.

In November of 2016, the same terrifying week that Trump conquered the presidency of the USA, a project called Choque Festival brought street art to the headquarters of a São Paulo military police squad. The plan was to cover the walls of this police station with murals (some of the murals are on exterior walls, but the walls are all inside a gated space that is not open to the public). According to some media and the Festival’s official Facebook page (since deleted from Facebook and Instagram) the event was intended to open an artist-driven dialogue between police and citizens, an artist-driven initiative to make the police recognize the importance of street painting. Other times, it’s been described as part of the military police’s community outreach activities, a police initiative, a festival that would also present other police projects, like kids with disabilities participating in equine-assisted therapy with police horses. When it was first announced, the project received praise in both progressive and conservative media. And although one curator/artist/producer appears front and center in all the videos and articles, with little visibility of other participants, the project did manage to involve several people from street painting scene in Brazil. But things went sour, with artists dropping out and graffiti writers taking aim at those who did participate. What the hell happened?

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Weekend link-o-rama

Lady Liberty at Pedro Reyes' Doomocracy
Lady Liberty at Pedro Reyes’ Doomocracy

Between two projects launching at Creative Time and preparations underway for two major personal projects (more on one of those in just a moment), Vandalog has been pretty quiet lately. Taking a step back has allowed me to get excited about all the good things happening in street art, graffiti, and public art over the last month or two, and there’s lots more goodness still to come in through the fall. So here’s a bit of a round up of what I’ve been working on, the great things some friends of Vandalog are doing, and all the interesting stuff that people who I were were my friends are doing.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Catch RJ at The Art Conference

RJ Rushmore

Later this month, catch me at The Art Conference, a new arts festival in London. I’m excited to be speaking alongside some amazing artists, including Jordan Seiler, Dan Witz, Tinsel Edwards, and Lucy McLauchlan. I’ll be there to speak about what street art can be when it goes beyond decoration.

The Art Conference will take place July 23 and 24th, and includes a ticketed conference portion and a free exhibition component. Friday the 8th is the last day to pick up early bird tickets to the conference, so don’t delay if you want a deal. For more about the speakers, schedule, and tickets, check The Art Conference’s website.

Speaking of Dan Witz, he’s got a Kickstarter campaign going for an upcoming series of street pieces, which he hopes to install inside London’s iconic red telephone booths.

GoddoG latest murals in Cambodia and France

Phnom Penh, March 2016 for the “Cambodia Urban Art” Festival.

Goddog is a French artist from Avignon, well-know medieval city in southern France. He started practicing graffiti at a young age, then turned to figurative work that he’s put aside for a moment to achieve more abstract compositions. In time, he began to combine both trends to define a style he calls figurative abstraction. GoddoG takes inspiration from movements like Constructivism, Bauhaus, to create androgynous figures. The narration is never linear, and the dreamlike poetry that emerges encourages multiple interpretations. His hope to allow everyone to build their own story from what he paints on the wall.

The main quality of an artist is to be able to put him always in danger, to be able to renew itself, which GoddoG does successfully again and again. He does not claim a clear way of thinking, socially or politically speaking. He has always painted in order to escape, to dream, to create a comfort zone.

You can see in versatility and passion above the mural he did during the “Cambodia Urban art” Festival in Phnom Penh in March 2016, and following that his work for the French project “Le M.U.R de Bordeaux,” also in March, and a wall painted in Marseille, France, for “la cité des arts”, in February.

“Le M.U.R de Bordeaux”, Mach 2016.
“Le M.U.R de Bordeaux”, detail.
Cité des Arts – Marseille, February 2016.
Cité des Arts – Marseille, February 2016.

Photos by Damien Mauro.

Meeting of Styles Melbourne 2016

Meeting of Styles Melbourne 2016.
Meeting of Styles Melbourne 2016

A few weeks ago now, Melbourne was host for the first time to the internationally renowned Meeting of Styles events. Meeting of Styles Melbourne 2016 saw around 300 artists paint all of Melbourne’s legal laneways over four days – as well as a couple of secret spots in and around the city. This was the first time this many lanes had been painted simultaneously.

This event was different to the usual arts events I have attended and posted about in the past, this one focused on graffiti and paid homage to Melbourne’s rich history and still strong graffiti scene.

Apart from the amazing pieces produced and having all of he city’s walls look their best, the vibe over the four days was incredible. Artists and their friends and fans filled the streets – it didn’t feel like we were right in the middle of the Central Busienss Districy of Melbourne at all, which is where many of the lanes are located. Thousands of spectators came to watch and tourists stopped and took hundreds of photos. Check some of the photos out here: #MOSMelbourne

It was refreshing to see some of Australia’s best writers come to town and remind us why Melbourne/Australia has a rich and vibrant graffiti culture, and how much we have to thank graffiti for it’s cousin, street art – also a massive and important part of our city’s fabric and culture.

Locations included, Hosier and Rutledge Lanes, Union Lane, Flinders Court, Croft Alley, Blender Lane, Electric Place, Drewery Lane, Lovelands (next to the Queen Victoria Market) and Whiteman Street and a number of “secret” spots in Footscray and South Yarra.

Check out these great photos by David Russell of the event – more here.

Meeting of Styles Melbourne 2016

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Nano 4814 mural censored in Besançon, France

Nano 4814. Photo by Quentin Coussirat.

Last June, during the 5th edition of Bien Urbain (a Public Art Festival in Besançon, France) the Spanish artist NANO 4814 was invited to participate and paint the mural above. To the great surprise of the organization and the artist, the mural was erased in early December, after a decision by the owner of the building. It’s really discouraging… This festival is organized by a non-profit association that just wants to give artists space to express their art in total freedom. Murals cannot be just decorative, as noted by this press release issued by Bien Urbain (here translated into English for convenience):

On December 3rd, we were shocked to see that Néolia proceeded to erase the mural by Spanish artist NANO 4814, painted in June 2015 at 13 Bouloie Street, as part of the Bien Urbain Festival.

At the beginning of last summer, the landlord organization informed us of their desire to remove the mural, after it an unfortunate interpretation of the piece. We immediately proposed a meeting and went there to talk with residents of the neighborhood. We have obviously not met everyone, but no one we came into contact with on site mentioned any wish to cover up the mural. On the contrary, most liked to see the building embellished by art, as is the case of several buildings in the area. Some people we met had questions about the presence of a knife or a dark veil, which could represent a niqab, others saw a ghost, or a Marsupilami wanting to use a knife to cut the thread that surrounds his friends. NANO 4814 saw a scene symbolizing the difficulty of the artistic act and questions about the relationship between his work and the history of art more broadly. Art is always open to interpretation. In September, Néolia, the building’s owner, asked us to clear the wall. However, our role is to allow artists to intervene in the public space, not erase their work without prior discussion. We had heard no news from the company after that, and only found out on December 3rd that the painting was about to be covered, so neither the artist nor our association were notified beforehand.

We regret this unilateral act of artistic censorship and defend the view that exchange and dialogue are always more fruitful than “sweeping things under the rug.” If this artwork had actually caused arguments (which we have not seen), it would have been more interesting to take the opportunity to discuss, exchange, and confront points of view, rather than give in to fear. “Preventive censorship” has never been positive for “living together.”

Nano 4814 mural’s erased. Photo by Chloé Cura.

Photos by Quentin Coussirat and Chloé Cura

Wallpaper for your neighborhood

A mural in DC by Jason Woodside

It’s no secret that the muralism model pioneered by Tony Goldman’s Goldman Properties is being imitated across the country. It seems that every city has a property developer eager to give artists paint and walls (and sometimes an additional fee) in exchange for murals that are easy on the eyes and attractive to the crowd that will pay $10 for a latte. In Washington, DC and the surrounding cities, that developer is property behemoth JBG. They finance the JBG Mural Project.

JBG has commissioned about 30 murals for their properties, including some by internationally-recognized names like Jason Woodside and Reka. Of course, I like to see talented artists get paid, and I like to see new public art. Still… public art projects led by developers and marketing agencies rather than non-profits, governments, or professional curators give me pause. Public space belongs to all of us, not just one property owner intent in installing billboards for their neighborhoods.

The JBG Mural Project was brought to my attention thanks to this article in The Washington Post. It’s definitely worth a read, as one of the most balanced and well informed articled I’ve read from the mainstream media about property developers embracing muralism. One quote in particular sums up my views on the JBG Mural Project and many initiatives like it:

“When you put something large-scale in the public domain, I think the most exciting potential is the discourse associated with that work . . . as opposed to being just another Urban Outfitters billboard,” said Elizaveta Meksin, an artist and associate professor of visual art at Columbia University in New York. “There are so many interesting artists who work in the public domain and do installations that have a message and have some sort of a critical approach or message. And, obviously, we are not seeing this company support that kind of work.”

Photo from Jason Woodside

Largely self-promotional link-o-rama

stikman in Philadelphia
stikman in Philadelphia

Apologies that this particular link-o-rama is full of self-promotion and conflicts of interesting, but I do think these are all interesting projects and I hope you do too:

  • It takes a lot to get my excited about a mural festival, but this year’s Wall\Therapy in Rochester, NY looks great. It’s difficult to put on a mural festival. One short cut is to work with obvious artists. Your festival will look like 50 other festivals, but the walls will probably seem impressive. Wall\Therapy has not gone that route. This year in particular, they put together a surprising and diverse line up to create an arguably cohesive body of new work, and the quality of the murals is still strong pretty much across the board. Check out Brooklyn Street Art’s photos and review for the full story.
  • From the selections I’ve read, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book What Do One Million Ja Tags Signify? by Dumar Novy, but a philosophy book centered on the work of a prolific graffiti writer seems like something that should at least catch the interest of Vandalog readers.
  • Phlegm is in the middle of his latest art-making experiment, spending a month making art in the woods of rural England. I’m loving the results so far, and of course the concept of challenging himself in this way.
  • Shepard Fairey’s latest print about corporate greed and campaign finance reform is about to drop. It’s a nice print, and I’m always glad to see Shepard tackling this important but not particularly sexy topic. Plus, the profits from this print go to two great organizations fighting for campaign finance reform. I’ll just note that Shepard is working on a couple of projects right now for my employer, but campaign finance reform and political corruption really are topics that I care a lot about.
  • Speaking of my employer, I recently got to work on a really fun project with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Ben Eine. Back in June, Eine came to Philly for a few days and painted almost 40 of his classic shutter letters. Philly now has a complete Eine alphabet, and then some. Eine’s work can be found throughout the city, but the shutters are definitely clustered in South Philly around Southeast by Southeast, a community center and art space for the neighborhood’s large Southeast Asian refugee community. Brooklyn Street Art has more on this project.
  • And one more Mural Arts project to mention: JR recently installed a huge mural right in the heart of Philadelphia as part of Open Source, our public art exhibition curated by Pedro Alonzo. The mural is a portrait of Ibrahim Shah, a local food truck chef who came to Philadelphia from Pakistan about a year ago. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a great profile on Ibrahim. I love how this mural looms large on the side of one of the biggest buildings right in the center of Philly, but isn’t actually that visible from the ground except from a few choice locations. Sounds like that could be a problem, I know, but the mural actually pops out from behind buildings in the most surprising places, and catching a glimpse of it winds up being a thrill, a bit of hide and seek. Plus, that game plays into the meaning of the mural, which is about how immigrants are a big part of our cities, but aren’t always celebrated or allowed to be made visible.
  • Okay, actually, Mural Arts has something coming up with Steve Powers too, but hopefully it will last longer than these signs in NYC! No surprise, a great series of street signs by Powers, installed legally as part of a project with the NYC Department of Transportation, seem to be being ripped down and stolen by greedy collectors or maybe thieves hoping to make a buck. It’s no surprise, but it is still disappointing.
  • A few days ago, I appeared on Al Jazeera English as a guest on their show The Stream. Gaia and I joined their panel to talk about street art. You can watch the full episode, plus some bonus online content, here.
  • If you’re in New York City, do not miss Faile’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s on now, and visiting is a really exciting experience. Vandalog contributing writer Caroline Caldwell currently works as an assistant at Faile’s studio, but even hearing bits and pieces from her as things were coming together did not prepare me for the awesomeness that is Savage/Sacred Young Minds. Without a doubt, the highlight of the exhibition is the latest and (I think) largest iteration of Faile and Bast’s Deluxx Fluxx Arcade, with custom foosball, pinball, and of course video games. It’s just an unabashedly fun experience. Arrested Motion has photos of much of the exhibition.

Photo by RJ Rushmore

Supplemental materials from Nuart

Maismenos at Nuart
±maismenos± at Nuart

One of the great things about Nuart is the content that gets created around the festival. Participants in Nuart Plus conference write critical essays (something all too rare in the street art and graffiti worlds), the artists are interviewed for professionally-produced videos, and parts of Nuart Plus are posted on the web. It’s a bit late as these materials have now been online for a while, but I’d still like to share them.

Brooklyn Street Art‘s Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo have always been champions of the little guy, the artist getting up because they love it. In their Nuart essay, the duo reminds us not to get too caught up in celebrating the global abundance of street art festivals and mural programs, because such murals always come with strings attached, namely censorship and the risk that grassroots street art is silenced among the mega-murals.

I wrote a brief essay titled Art Ignites Change, which is our slogan/mission at the Mural Arts Program (I was attending Nuart as a representative of Mural Arts). In the essay, I try to take a new approach to looking at the perceived divide between muralism and street art. In contrast to Steven and Jaime, I tried to show how some legal murals can be even more powerful than street art when it comes to bringing about social change. As I say in the essay, I’ve never felt more like an agent for positive change than now that I am working for “The Man.”

In his essay, Peter Bengtsen writes about how unsanctioned street art can turn cities into sites for exploration, which is harder to do with mega-murals.

Juxtapoz editor-in-chief Evan Pricco’s essay is on some level the most honest of all. Evan declares that it’s inevitable that corporate interests would embrace street art, and suggests that maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

And there’s my favorite part of Nuart Plus: Fight Club, a no-holds-barred 2 on 2 debate on the local pub, surrounded half by Nuart fans and half by random patrons who are generally confused as to what all the fuss is about. This year, Evan Pricco and I teamed up against ±maismenos± and Mathieu Tremblin on the topic of illegal street art versus legal murals. It was a fun debate. Here’s what happened:

Nuart also conducted video interviews with a few of the artists.

I love the ±maismenos± interview in part because he echos my thoughts in Viral Art, that the internet is like a virtual street:

Mathieu Tremblin’s interview is interesting because I’ll watch anything where a street artist brings up Situationist philosophy, and because it shows a hint of the true final product of Temblin’s indoor installation at Nuart:

Similarly, Fra.Biancoshock’s interview includes video footage of a few of his Nuart street interventions that didn’t get much photographic coverage:

Photo by RJ Rushmore


Gane and Texas in Philadelphia
Gane and Texas in Philadelphia

Sorry if some of these links are a bit dated, but hopefully they’re still interesting:

  • Don Leicht, the original Space Invader, has a exhibition of his work on now at Mary Colby Studio & Gallery on City Island in the Bronx. Leicht has been making space invader characters for the street and for galleries since 1982, often in collaboration with John Fekner. Both Leicht and Fekner have never really embraced the spotlight in the way that others from their generation have (particularly in recent years), and so Leicht’s place in early New York street art often goes unacknowledged. Whereas Space Invader’s characters are generally lighthearted and fun and more about interesting placement than interesting content, Leicht’s content is political. His invaders, painted in camo, serve as a reminder/warning that war is real and of the relationship between videos games and the military.
  • The app NO AD, which I was pretty excited about when it launched and even more excited about once I got to try it out myself, recently announced their next exhibition on the app. NO AD is working with the International Center of Photography to display images from their current exhibition, Sebastião Salgado: Genesis. I love that the ICP is into this idea. NO AD is a fantastic exhibition platform, but it’s also a bit of an odd one, so it’s very cool to see the ICP embracing both augmented reality technology and an anti-public-advertising platform. Click here for more info on the exhibition.
  • Speaking of public advertising, this crazy thing happened in Hong Kong.
  • And over on Hyperallergic, Julia Friedman addresses the major discrepancy in how  New York City enforces laws relating to public advertising. Essentially, the current enforcement strategy seems to punish artists and activists while leaving corporate interests to do whatever they please.
  • I really enjoyed this article on the painfulness of advertisers appropriating street art and graffiti for their own ends, to the point that Perrier actually replaced a mural of Nelson Mandela with an advertisement featuring the hashtag “#streetartbyperrier”.
  • Speaking of water companies, street art and hashtags…  The folks being the for-profit bottled water company WAT-AAH (aka Let Water be Water LLC, or as I like to call them “Evian for Kids”) sent The L.I.S.A. Project NYC a cease and desist letter for using a hashtag that they claimed to own the trademark for (they don’t). Animal has more on that ridiculous story.
  • Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada created a massive piece on the National Mall. Impressive piece. Impressive location. Good stuff.
  • Conor Harrington had a great show in NYC, at a pop up space with Lazarides Gallery from the UK. I went up for the opening, and despite the space being lit like a haunted house and seemingly pumped full of mist from a fog machine, the work looked even better than I had anticipated. Plenty of artists can paint traditionally beautiful paintings, and plenty of artists can use drips and tags and half finished elements and things like that to make their paintings look “street” or to make it look like they are saying “screw you traditional notions of beauty and fine art painting!” Few artists can do what Conor does, which is to utilize all of those styles and techniques, from beautifully staged scenes painted with perfection to all the different ways to make a painting look rough and cool, but utilize those things in the right balance and with respect. To Conor, it looks like a drip is no different than the a detailed brush stroke. The “disruptive” elements look like they belong. He isn’t trying to destroy painting. He’s trying to bring it to new heights, and he’s much better at it than most.
  • It was a surprise to see that Jonathan Jones at The Guardian actually liked a recent Banksy piece, but then again it was a good piece with an even better story in the end.
  • This article on the utter failure of a major “street art biennial” in Moscow is an absolute must-read.
  • This fall I’ve seen (online) two interesting pieces of endurance art, both of them by female artists in New York City who took to endurance art to address what they see as crises.
    • gilf and Natalie Renee Fasano walked 15 miles barefoot around the city. 60 million or more people worldwide live every day without shoes. Interestingly, Gilf’s project was not so much an awareness campaign as an opportunity for self-reflection that she documented and publicized. None of her Instagram posts on the performance provide information about what can be done about this problem, and the video documenting the work provides no context except the text “A day in the Shoes of the Shoeless with gilf!” On some level, I find that frustrating. But of course the work wasn’t about raising national awareness for this issue. gilf’s own description of the project makes that clear. It was more a project for herself. And that’s great and useful too, but on some level I can’t get over the missed opportunity here to make the project more than personal suffering/meditation and self-promotion. Why not simply say, “And if this project is bringing the issue of people without shoes to your attention and you want to help, here’s something you can do.”? Yes, it’s a personal project for self-reflection, but it’s also an artwork that was promoted all over the web. So, I’ll close by saying that if you do want to help provide shoes for people in need, Soles4Souls seems to be the place to go (thanks to Animal for that tip).
    • Emma Sulkowicz has to be one of the bravest, most impressive people I’ve read about in a long time, and I almost hesitate to call what she’s doing an art piece, lest it devalue her actions in an age when so much art is devoid of the kind soul this particular performance/way of living requires. For nearly two months, Sulkowicz has been carrying her dorm room mattress with her to every class, every lunch break, every party, and everywhere else she goes, constantly, and she says she will continue to carry her mattress with her “for as long as I attend the same school as my rapist.” More about this piece, and the reaction she’s received from her fellow students at Columbia University, at Hyperallergic.

Photo by RJ Rushmore