Organizing street art – what for?

August 10th, 2015 | By | 3 Comments »
Example of illegal street art in Tartu by MinaJaLydia. Photo by suur jalutuskaik.

Example of illegal street art in Tartu by MinaJaLydia. Photo by suur jalutuskaik.

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.

Ms. Reet by MTO, from the 2014 Stencibility festival. Photo by Sirla.

Ms. Reet by MTO, from the 2014 Stencibility festival. Photo by Sirla.

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.

Read the rest of this article »


Category: Featured Posts, Guest Posts, Random | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Largely self-promotional link-o-rama

August 10th, 2015 | By | No Comments »
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


Category: Art News, Festivals, Gallery/Museum Shows, Photos, Print Release, Random, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Exploring cities with street art (de)tours

August 8th, 2015 | By | 2 Comments »
Found on the deTour "CBD Street Art At Night: When Street Lights Become Spotlights"

Found on the deTour “CBD Street Art At Night: When Street Lights Become Spotlights”

Editor’s note: Recently, CDH has been teaching a fantastic class about street art at the University of Melbourne alongside Lachlan MacDowall. One of the projects to emerge from that class is a sort of alternative/subversive way of thinking about the “street art tours” that have become ubiquitous in many major cities all over the world. Today, we have guest post from, J. Isaac, the man leading that project. – RJ Rushmore

Hello everyone, I’m an independent researcher working with students at the University of Melbourne where we’ve just finished a project called Street Art deTours that RJ has been kind enough to let me share on Vandalog. It’s a crowd-sourced website that lets audiences create, or follow, their own self-guided ‘detours’ around public spaces in Melbourne. Unlike regular tours, these detours aren’t informational, and they don’t give background on any images or street artists. Instead, they’re participatory adventures that use the city to create new ways of understanding its physical spaces.

Some detours, in fact a fair number of them, do use street art and graffiti in order to guide their viewer, but they focus on the experience of moving through public spaces rather than on the artworks, which themselves are always changing. A mural could be painted one day, tagged the next, and buffed after a week, giving the viewer three different readings of the same location. Time of day can also affect your environment: taking a ‘murder mystery’ detour alone at midnight would be extremely terrifying compared to starting that same detour with a group at noon. Different people taking the detour will thus have different experiences, and as the city changes so too will the detour itself.

Found on the deTour "Melbourne Street Art Hives of Activity"

Found on the deTour “Melbourne Street Art Hives of Activity”

The detours themselves can be regarded as a new type of street art through their physical appropriation of the city. Much of early street art was focused on using public space in a new and innovative way; it directly confronted our understandings of what was allowed and what should exist. But as the movement has grown in popularity, street art has become valued more for its ability to transform its surroundings into an open-air gallery, rather than its potential to activate the city as a source of adventure. The project reincorporates this temporary suspension of the city’s rules by allowing participants the opportunity to let their imaginations take over their realities. It’s not just about visiting the stops on a detour, but how you move from one stop to the next, and how much you decide to play.

A lot of the project borrows its ideas from Situationist International, a 20th century avant-garde group that argued in favor of creating new experiences within our everyday lives. So much of how we understand our urban environment is based on rigid schedules around work, around eating, around traveling, that eventually we end up auto-piloting through most of our day, not noticing anything we don’t have to. This project is meant to create an imaginative detour into everyday life, interrupting our concentration to offer us something new about the city we think we already know. The plan is for the project to be updated regularly by students, but also by anyone in any city who wants to create their own detour as well.

So come visit the site: take a detour, make a detour, and experience Melbourne (or any city for that matter) with a fresh perspective.

Photos courtesy of Street Art deTours


Category: Guest Posts, Random

It’s the law link-o-rama

July 6th, 2015 | By | No Comments »
chip

Chip Thomas aka Jetsonorama mural in Bushwick.

Coincidentally, today’s links all revolve around the law…

  • It looks like Starbucks ripped off Maya Hayuk‘s work, and now she’s suing. You might be thinking, “Is Starbucks really ripping her off, or are there just some similarities? A coincidence isn’t impossible. Just try Googling ‘abstract geometric bright colors’ and see what pops up.” Except that ad agency 72andSunny contacted Hayuk to license her work for a Starbucks Frappuccino campaign, and she declined their offer. Now, work remarkably similar to Hayuk’s is appearing in Frappuccino ads worldwide. Plus, Hayuk cites specific paintings of her’s that the campaign rips off. So yes, clearly Starbucks and 72andSunny are in the wrong here morally. Legally speaking though, does she have a case? Wired has a great article on the uphill battle that Hayuk faces.
  • The Detroit police want to arrest Shepard Fairey for some wheatpastes that he allegedly put up back in May.
  • There is now a second 5Pointz lawsuit. This time, specific artists are suing the 5Pointz property owner for whitewashing their work. Now, we could argue whether or not those individual murals on 5Pointz qualify for protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (an important question that this article covers in detail), but there’s a larger issue here: With this lawsuit, the artists are shooting themselves (and muralists in general) in the foot. I’m now disinclined to work with any of the artists in this lawsuit, and I suspect others will be too. I don’t want to tell a property owner, “Here’s a great artist who will paint a stunning mural for you, but if you ever remove the mural, they might sue you.” And if I’m a property owner and I hear about this lawsuit, I’m a lot less likely to put any murals on my property. VARA is an important law. It protects artists. But these artists aren’t using it responsibly, and that means consequences for all of us.
  • The Bushwick Daily has a must-read piece on the billboards that have begun to infest The Bushwick Collective. The neighborhood is transitioning from a mural hub to a new Times Square. It’s extremely lucrative for property owners, but detrimental to the surrounding artwork and the neighborhood vibe. So what are property owners to do? As Jordan Seiler notes, no reasonable property owner is going to turn down $24,000 per year to have a billboard on their wall, so the answer is regulation. If we, as a society, decide not to allow billboards in public space, or at least in certain neighborhoods, then those neighborhoods can have murals instead. Because of Little Italy’s status as a historic district, property owners cannot slap up billboards on every available surface. That’s part of why The L.I.S.A. Project NYC is able to get so many great walls. Maybe all of NYC, or at least Bushwick, should get the same protection.
  • Speaking of The Bushwick Collective, it’s nice to see them relaxing their unofficial rules barring political murals (where they can still get permission to paint). Chip Thomas aka Jetsonorama installed a stirring mural in Bushwick just in time for the 4th of July (shown above). The Huffington Post has the story behind the piece.

Photo by Chip Thomas


Category: Art News, Photos, Random | Tags: , , ,

One year inside the mural machine

July 1st, 2015 | By | No Comments »
11055841_694284627348887_475301585_n

Murals and graffiti in Philadelphia.

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:

  • Street art’s greatest strength is its ability to be nimble. Gaia made a similar point at an event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in May, where he described street art in Philadelphia as something that can fill in the cracks that Mural Arts doesn’t reach. April Fools’ Day? Street art is there. Black Lives Matter? Street art is there. Potholes need fixing? Street art is there. Street art gives artists an almost unrivaled opportunity to respond quickly to the world around them, whether that means making work with timely pop culture references or commentary on world events, or being inspired to the architecture and design of the city. The nimbleness of street art is also closely related to its use as a space for experimentation and free(ish) expression. For all those reasons and more, street art is an essential element of a healthy public space.
  • Decoration is rarely enough. I love art for arts’ sake as much as the next guy, and sometimes there’s nothing better than seeing a beautiful piece on a cool building and just having your day brightened up a bit. If you really feel like your contribution to the world is to make it a more colorful and exciting place with funny wheatpastes or huge murals at street art festivals, that’s great. Do that. But do that because you believe it makes a contribution to a space, not because you want to paint a bigger mural than the last guy and get more likes on Instagram. If the right crop on a photo means that I can’t tell the difference between your studio work and your street work, you’re probably doing it wrong.
  • As we say at Mural Arts, it’s not just about the paint. The most rewarding projects I’ve had a small role in at Mural Arts do things like tell stories about Philadelphia’s history, provide jobs and training for men coming out of the criminal justice system or change the conversation around homelessness and housing insecurity.
  • All that is to say that it’s rare for social practice and socially-engaged art making to be combined with strong aesthetics, but when that does happen, there’s an amazing synergy. Swoon‘s work is a great example. For the most part though, street artists and the street art press (myself included) place far too much of a focus on the aesthetics and decor, not enough on truly transformative work. That’s a lot of wasted opportunities, because street art and public art in general can do so much more than just look cool.
  • Some projects need institutional support. Institutions can provide the resources, credibility, and access necessary to take a project from good to great, from non-existent to a reality. Open Source is going to be amazing, and most (if not all) of the projects in the exhibition would be impossible for artists to do on their own, even with substantial financial resources.
  • Some projects succeed because they don’t have institutional support. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile series is powerful in part because it can appear anywhere, and that anonymous bust of Edward Snowden is powerful because it appeared somewhere that the state would never allow. Institutions always come with strings attached (like, for example, not breaking the law or not bringing up certain topics).
  • Artists should be paid for their labor. If you cannot pay an artist a fair wage to participate in a project, you should ask why not and seriously consider whether or not the project is worth undertaking at all.
  • Certainly not a revelation, but an important reminder: There is an art world outside of the commercial art world, and it is beautiful. The most powerful art in the world is the art that can’t be constrained to an investment portfolio.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


Category: Featured Posts, Random | Tags: , , , ,

The bots are coming for your tweets

May 10th, 2015 | By | No Comments »
The profile page for the Twitter bot @anagramatron

The profile page for the Twitter bot @anagramatron.

It’s no secret that Twitter bots can be pretty entertaining and/or confusing. Sometimes they’re artworks or jokes. Sometimes they’re somewhat useful tools or coding experiments. Generally speaking though (and excluding spambots), Twitter bots don’t actually interact with other users. You could follow @everyword, but it wasn’t going to follow you back or respond to your tweets. And most of the bots that will respond to your tweets won’t respond unless you’ve reached out to them in some way first (like @DearAssistant). There are, however, a handful of non-spambot Twitter bots that will find you even if you’re not looking for them. These bots are examples of invasive viral art, art that exists only online but acts a bit like street art or graffiti, treating the Twitter stream as public space and public tweets as content to appropriate or engage with.

So what do these invasive viral art Twitter bots look like and do? They all seek out other users’ tweets to engage with, and from there things can go in a few different directions.

Darius Kazemi, one of the most prolific and best-known creators of Twitter bots, has @VeryOldTweets. The bot simply “retweets one of the first 7500 tweets (first 90 days of Twitter) four times a day.” The tweets of Twitter’s earliest users are recontextualized as a semi-random look back at “history.” As much as the bot is interesting to random outside observers, there’s also the engagement of the users whose content is being appropriated. I would find it weird and a bit shocking if a tweet of mine from almost a decade ago was suddenly retweeted.

The most obviously “artistic” Twitter bots of this sort relate to poetry and word games.

Colin Rofls has @ANAGRAMATRON and @HAIKU9000. Both bots mine Twitter and then combine “matching” tweets from separate, otherwise unrelated, users.

@ANAGRAMATRON finds tweets that are anagrams and then retweet the matching pairs. For example, on April 9th, @pranksterstyles tweeted “i did my nails before”, and on April 19th, @warneholly tweeted “I’m so drained by life”. When @ANAGRAMATRON found that the pair matched, it notifies Rofls, and with his okay, the bot retweeted both tweets. @ANAGRAMATRON’s retweets are approved by Rofls so the process isn’t completely automated, but that’s mostly to keep out spambots. It’s still the algorithm doing most of the work. As Rofls notes, “[anagrams are] especially interesting because they’re so hard to come up with manually.” Really, without any cheating, who was ever going to think up the pair “i did my nails before” and “I’m so drained by life”?

Similarly, @HAIKU9000 searches for tweets that each fit the rules to be one line in a haiku, and then combines three such tweets into one poem/tweet with credit to its sources, pulling together disconnected Twitter users and appropriating their words in a way that was probably not the author’s intent.

Maybe I’m just too naively optimistic, but I wonder if any of the users appropriated by @ANAGRAMATRON or @HAIKU9000 have ever connected with one another after their tweets were brought together by the bots. I asked Rofls how people respond to his bots, but the result was disheartening. He said, “Mostly they don’t, to be honest. Very occasionally they’re thrilled, sometimes confused, but mostly just silent.”

Rofls was inspired to create @ANAGRAMATRON after seeing Ranjit Bhatnagar‘s @pentametron, a very popular Twitter bot with this fantastic bio: “With algorithms subtle and discrete / I seek iambic writings to retweet.” Like @ANAGRAMATRON, @pentametron searches out matching pairs to retweet, in this case tweets in iambic pentameter that get retweeted together as rhyming couplets (“You fuel my desire to succeed.” / “How many chances does Hernandez need!”)

And then there’s the (currently inactive) Accidental Haiku from Cameron Spencer, which used to find entire tweets that could be broken down into a single haiku. For example:

The other major category of bots search for certain keywords and offer an (often unexpected) canned response, usually related to pop culture. Maybe not as intricate or clever as the anagram and poetry bots, but a pleasant or confusing surprise for users nonetheless.

Colin Mitchell has been a bunch of these kinds of bots, but unfortunately most are currently inactive/retired (@mirror_magick, @for_a_dollar, @iaminigomontoya). My personal favorite from Mitchell is perhaps the most predictable, but it’s also still active: @Betelgeuse_3. Simply tweet the magic words (“Beetlejuice Beetlejuice Beetlejuice”), and see what happens… Like this guy did.

The most famous bot in this category is probably @DBZNappa. Do you know how often people tweet about something being “over 9000”? Apparently, it’s all the freaking time, because @DBZNappa responds to all of those tweets with “WHAT?! NINE THOUSAND?!”, from a Dragon Ball Z meme, and the bot has tweeted well over a million times since it when live in November 2009. Daniel Lo Nigro, who created the bot, describes it as “a pretty good example of a simple ‘search and reply’ Twitter bot, that could easily be extended to do more useful things.”

A personal favorite of mine, although now inactive, is @StealthMountain, which responds to tweets that use the phrase “sneak peak” instead of”sneak peek”. The one beautiful thing about this bot now being inactive is its last tweet:

Good catch, @StealthMountain.

Of course, there’s no better bot to end on than the most hilarious and low-brow: @fart_robot. The bot searches out mentions of farts on Twitter, and retweets them to its 12,000+ followers with the note: “FART ROBOT APPROVES.” For example:

While not all of these bots creators (Daniel Lo Nigro for example) consider their bots to be artworks, I disagree. Or, the very at least, I think bots like @DBZNappa can/should inspire artworks. It’s fascinating that you could just be going about your day, tweeting whatever silly thing you might tweet to your followers, only to have your words appropriated by @pentametron or to be perhaps mildly embarrassed by @fart_robot, which is not unlike walking to work and being surprised by a piece of street art or graffiti. Most people might ignore that piece or street art or an odd retweet, but for some, the occurrence catches them at just the right moment and it affects them.

We live our lives in the public spaces of the internet. Let’s put art there. I hope there are more Twitter bots to come.


Category: Random, Viral Art | Tags:

Sunday link-o-rama

April 12th, 2015 | By | No Comments »
"the beauty of un-advertising" by VladyArt in Catania, Italy

“the beauty of un-advertising” by VladyArt in Catania, Italy

Got a few things that caught my eye recently, so I’m going back to the old link-o-rama format for a day:

  • A group of anonymous artists installed a bust of Edward Snowden at a park in Brooklyn, but the piece was almost immediately taken down by the city. Luckily, as the artists noted to ANIMAL, “The fact that a risk was taken, the fact that an image comes out of that event that can be passed around can never be undone. So you can rip the statue out, but you can’t erase the fact that it happened and that people are sharing it.” It’s all a bit reminiscent of when the British government forced The Guardian to destroy hard drives containing files leaked by Snowden, even though there were other copies of the files outside of the UK. Of course the sculpture wasn’t going to last. Take it down or leave it up, it hardly matters. We have the photos.
  • Faile and Bast are showing at the Brooklyn Museum in July. So I’m looking forward to that, and you should be too.
  • But if you’re looking for something up now in NYC, definitely stop by Roa’s solo show at Jonathan Levine Gallery. ANIMAL very cleverly made a series of GIFs of the show. I had a pretty similar reaction to this show as I had to Roa’s show at Stolenspace last year in London. Basically, I went in with a negative attitude of thinking I’d seen the work before, and I left happy as a kid in a candy store because Roa’s pieces are so damn fun to experience and play with. It’s a really stupid fear/attitude that I have about Roa’s shows, and it’s one that the work always seems to overcome, proving my preconceived notions wrong. Good stuff, as always.
  • And if you’re in Paris, Know Hope just had a show open there.
  • Check out this spot-on anonymous critique of crappy stencils in Shoreditch by terrible street artist Bambi.
  • It’s great to see Aakash Nihalani getting some love from Juxtapoz for his interactive work.
  • Niels “Shoe” Meulman is retiring his use of the term “Calligraffiti”, because he feels his work is now better represented by the term “Abstract Vandalism,” now that his work is moving away from letters and becoming more abstract. Okay, he’s evolving as an artist, but really: who cares? That’s a pretty standard evolution these days for artists coming out of graffiti. Two reasons this is interesting. First, he’s published a short manifesto of Abstract Vandalism, which I love, and I highly recommend picking up a copy for the great little tidbits like “The difference between art and vandalism is only in the eye of the law upholder.” Second, Shoe is giving up admin control of the Calligraffiti facebook page, which has over half a million likes. In a few days, Shoe will be selecting new admins for the page, artists whose work he feels is in line with Calligraffiti now that his work is not. You can learn more about that, and suggest yourself as a new admin, here.
  • Gotta love Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada’s latest pieces.
  • I’ve never really cared for MTO‘s realistic figurative murals, even though they do play with space in an interesting way, but he’s really piqued my interest with a new piece for Memorie Urbane 2015 in Gaeta, Italy. The piece is a conceptual look into the future, a future where Google controls what information we have access to (oh wait, maybe this isn’t so futuristic…) in public space. The mural is a response to the Google Cultural Institute’s Street Art Project, which ostensibly acts as a digital archive for street art and murals. The project is highly curated and controlled, begging the question: Who decides what’s included, and what isn’t? MTO’s piece also hints at a future where augmented reality is the norm. The re:art has a great article with photos and analysis of MTO’s mural. For now, I’ll just add: I can’t wait for this mural to show up on Google Street View.

Photo by VladyArt


Category: Animation, Gallery/Museum Shows, Photos, Random, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tinder as a platform for art

March 10th, 2015 | By | No Comments »
tinder

Screenshots from Swipe Left

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


Category: Featured Posts, Random, Viral Art | Tags: , , , , , ,

What and where are open walls?

December 24th, 2014 | By | 3 Comments »
Partial buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

Partially buffed Barry McGee mural at Bowery and Houston (the buff marks cover more red tags). Photo by Andrew Russeth.

UPDATE: Xavi Ballaz (known for Difusor and the Open Walls Conference in Barcelona) has responded to this post with some of the more positive advancements towards open walls, and suggests that the open walls movement does indeed need a manifesto.

A friend of mine recently used an interesting phrase: “the open walls movement.” I thought he was using the term as a synonym for “the street art festival circuit,” which upset me, because street art festivals do not have what I would call “open walls.” But really, my friend was commenting on a larger movement perceived to be spreading around the world to use public space differently (insomuch as walls on private property are public space). On the surface, he’s right. Street art festivals, grassroots muralism programs, free walls, curated alleyways and everything in between now exist in cities and small towns around the world.

Does that make a movement? I don’t know. Nobody is getting together to write a manifesto and participants’ aims and methods are diverse, but there is a disparate group of what I’ll call “open walls people” who share a new way of looking at walls and public space: Public walls are for the artists, murals enliven streets and communities, and there should be limited or no government regulation of murals, but advertising in public space should be heavily regulated or eliminated entirely. Simply put, “open walls people” believe in unrestricted art in (often odd) public spaces.

But how open are our walls today? Surfing the web, it sometimes feels like globe-trotting muralists can hop off a plane in any city, find a wall, and begin painting the next day, or that every small European city is covered in murals. That’s simply not true. Despite valiant and well-intentioned efforts, there’s a long way to go before we have anything approaching “open walls.”

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Link-o-rama

October 19th, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
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


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