Street art tackles the crisis for migrants

November 7th, 2015 | By | 1 Comment »

A still from DE-FENCE. Image courtesy of DE-FENCE.

Earlier this week, two very different pieces of street art landed in my inbox within half an hour of each other. That’s not so strange. Plenty of people send me photos and videos every day. What was strange is that both pieces aim to shed light on the crisis facing the thousands upon thousands of people in the midst of international migration, and that both pieces were installed without authorization.

The first piece is by two of my favorite artists: John Fekner and Fra.Biancoshock. “Family Portrait ” (Displaced And On The Run…) is the first time these two artists have collaborated. Fekner comes from the first generation of contemporary street artists, putting up his first stencil in 1968. Biancoshock is a young Italian street artist making some of the most exciting interventions in public space today.

"Family Portrait " (Displaced And On The Run…)

“Family Portrait ” (Displaced And On The Run…). Photo courtesy of Fra.Biancoshock.

Fekner and Biancoshock have intentionally avoided saying where Family Portrait is located, but they do have a bit to say about why they did it:

Drawing on the spirit seen in Dorothea Lange’s photographic portrait documentation of rural poor families and migratory farm workers during the Great Depression, the artists’ intent is to create an empathetic reflection of the plight of the migrant; an intimate portrait of a family “left hung out to dry” and on the run.

While Fekner and Biancoshock’s intervention is quiet and meditative, a group of artists and activists in the Czech Republic have responded to the plight of the migrant with a very different energy.

A still from DE-FENCE. Image courtesy of DE-FENCE.

A still from DE-FENCE. Image courtesy of DE-FENCE.

The DE-FENCE collective has made their presence felt at detention center (a former prison) in the Czech village of Drahonice. The detention center currently houses refugees that were caught by the Czech authorities. The refugees are incarcerated indefinitely and watched over by up to 100 guards, and each refugee is charged $275 a month for the privilege. On September 28th, Czech Statehood Day, DE-FENCE visited the detention center, which they compare to a concentration camp. DE-FENCE brought with them a can of paint and some bolt cutters. Here’s what happened:

Now, the heart-shaped section of fencing that they cut out of the detention center is going to be auctioned off, with all profits going towards “grassroots refugee aid activities.” The starting price is 10,000 euros. If you’re interested in buying the object, contact

The  DE-FENCE object. Image courtesy of DE-FENCE.

The DE-FENCE object. Image courtesy of DE-FENCE.

PS, in case you missed it, Banksy also recycled materials from Dismaland for use in the camps in Calais, and then someone stole the sign.

Photos courtesy of Fra.Biancoshock and DE-FENCE

Category: Photos, Videos | Tags: , , ,


October 2nd, 2015 | By | No Comments »


Because it’s 1am and I’ve spent the better part of my night scheduling tweets and Facebook posts, I thought I’d just very quickly share this latest piece by Fra.Biancoshock. It’s called #PICOFTHEDAY. Seems appropriate. It can be found somewhere on the streets of Lithuania. And also on the internet, which is all that really matters, right?

Photo by Fra.Biancoshock

Category: Photos | Tags:

Fra.Biancoshock invades Facebook’s walled garden

May 31st, 2015 | By | 2 Comments »

ad approval

On any day, Facebook might have thousands of potential stories to show to any given user, of which that user will only ever see a handful. So does Facebook decide what to show, and how do you stand out on Facebook? How do you get your content on everyone’s News Feed? Fra.Biancoshock decided to find out.

The trick to being seen is, of course, to buy ads. So Fra.Biancoshock bought one…

order nothing


Compare the results of Fra.Biancoshock’s ad to a typical post on his Facebook page…

The unpaid post on his Facebook page was seen by 192 people.

The unpaid post on his Facebook page was seen by 192 people.

The sponsored post was seen by almost 5,000 people, for just a few dollars.

The sponsored post was seen by almost 5,000 people, for just a few dollars.

As Fra.Biancoshock’s piece shows, slots on your Facebook News Feed don’t go to the best content. They go to the highest bidder. Facebook may be in favor of net neutrality on the internet as a whole, but what are Facebook ads if not viral content’s version of an internet fast lane?

On one level, this is all good fun, and technically Facebook made a few bucks in the process so they shouldn’t be too upset, but it’s also a bit scary. Facebook’s algorithm turns the internet into a walled garden, and you have to wonder: When Facebook decides what news you see, what news are you not seeing?

Screenshots courtesy of Fra.Biancoshock

Category: Viral Art | Tags:

Installations by Toni Spyra

December 26th, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »


Between Brad Downey and Fra Biancoshock, sculptural interventions are some of the more interesting things happening on the street right now. Toni Spyra is an Austrian based German artist, whose work involves the impractical modification of public space. His indoor work is equally cheeky, and reminiscent of work by the Dufala Brothers. Hoping to see more from Toni!








Photos courtesy of Toni Spyra

Category: Photos | Tags: , , ,


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

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

The two sides of Nuart

October 9th, 2014 | By | No Comments »


This year was my third time visiting the Nuart Festival. I went first in 2009 as a tourist, returned in 2012 to participate in Nuart Plus (the conference portion of the festival) participant, and finally this year participated in and helped a bit to plan Nuart Plus. I have a lot of love for Nuart. For me, the three models of muralism festivals that I look to most often are Nuart, FAME and Living Walls. But, out of the three, Nuart has always confused me the most.


John Fekner

FAME is (or was, since it’s no longer active) perhaps the only no-holds-barred street art festival. It can be difficult to tell what’s been painted legally and what’s been painted illegally, and festival organizer Angelo Milano doesn’t hide his face. In the small town of Grottaglie, Italy, it would be easy for anyone to track down Milano and confront him about painting on their home. Still, Milano never seemed to care. He just wanted to invite amazing artists to town to paint walls and maybe make a print or two at his studio. Grottaglie now has one of the finest collections of murals, graffiti and street art in the world.

Living Walls is one of the most professional DIY outfits I’ve ever encountered. They are the model of a well-run muralism conference with next to no budget, sometimes stumbling but always trying to do something great for Atlanta. Living Walls has the uncanny ability to launch or at least predict the impending launch of a muralist’s career. They produce some blockbuster murals, but usually not from the artists you would expect.

Martin Whatson at Stavanger's Scandic Hotel. His art also decorates the inside of the hotel.

Martin Whatson (with BON and Alex Face) at Stavanger’s Scandic Hotel. Whatson’s art also decorates the inside of the hotel.

Nuart is a brilliant schizophrenic beast, oscillating between Martyn Reed’s seemingly dueling interests of creating a spectacle of corporate art and disrupting The Spectacle. That was more true than ever this year, with an artist line up including Martin Whatson, SpY, Tilt, Fra.Biancoshock and others. What I mean is, there are artists who were invited to paint murals that function as billboards for print releases and decor for posh hotels, and artists who are invited to install “interventions” (Nuart’s euphemism for illegal street art). Even Nuart Plus was split (and this is an idea I agreed to when we were planning the conference so if this is a problem, I’m as much at fault as anyone) into one day about “activism” and one day about “muralism.”


Maismenos’ intervention for an existing public sculpture

Sometimes, this schizophrenia results in beautiful things that few other festivals would be able to facilitate. Maismenos‘ mural, indoor work and outdoor interventions this year are a great example. Reed isn’t afraid to let artists get political, with their topic of choice typically being oil, since Nuart takes place in the oil city of Stavanger, Norway. And maybe he’s only able to get away with that because he also brings in artists like Tilt and Etam Cru.

Read the rest of this article »

Category: Featured Posts, Festivals | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fra.Biancoshock’s loving destruction

April 17th, 2014 | By | No Comments »
Detail of "Come to see my graffiti collection"

Detail of “Come to see my graffiti collection”

These new works by Fra.Biancoshock make me really uncomfortable. I love them. They are all part of his new series Graffiti is a Religion and were unveiled last month at his solo show Ephemeralism at 77 Art Gallery in Milan, Italy. The series is Fra.Biancoshock’s tribute to graffiti and graffiti culture, but it’s not as straightforward as that. Other artists, if they wanted to pay tribute to graffiti, might replicate what they see on the street onto a canvas. That’s certainly not unheard of. But that’s sort of work is just a facsimile. Fra.Biancoshock wanted the real thing, so he went out onto the streets of Italy and got it. He chipped graffiti off of walls and is putting it back on display in a series of artworks.

"Graffiti Puzzle"

“Graffiti Puzzle”

With “Graffiti Puzzle,” Fra.Biancoshock plays off the idea of famous paintings that get reproduced in puzzle form. Except, this time, it’s the actual wall that players are urged to reassemble. The wall is by the VMD 70′S crew (or a member of the crew), one of the most famous Italian graffiti crews. Although the labeling on the box suggests that the VMD 70’s were aware of this project and willing participants, I’m not sure, and I’ve decided that it’s more interesting not to know, so I haven’t asked Fra.Biancoshock.

Detail of "Graffiti Puzzle"

Detail of “Graffiti Puzzle”

For “Come to see my graffiti collection,” he carefully cataloged a process of removing small pieces of works of graffiti from around Italy and has put the tiny paint fragments back on display like a series of holy relics that references not only the complete pieces from which they were removed but the entire careers of those writers. Destruction, maybe? But as Fra.Biancoshock says, “The culture of graffiti here is treated like any other theme in the history of humanity.”

"Come to see my graffiti collection"

“Come to see my graffiti collection”

“Cornerstone” goes a step further and anonymizes the artists, a tribute to graffiti culture as a whole. It is made up of fragments of graffiti by some of the most historically important Italian writers, the people who together form the cornerstone of Italian graffiti culture.



We all long for physical representations of the things we hold dear or somehow important. But graffiti is ephemeral. 99.9% of the historic graffiti has been destroyed, and it’s really only through documentation that anything gets preserved. If graffiti is a culture that many people treat like a religion, what physical representations can we hold on to when the graffiti itself is made to be destroyed? Just old copies of Subway Art and black books I guess…

In this series, Fra.Biancoshock tackles that subject, and while his conclusions may seem absurd at first, they are not totally unfamiliar. Religious relics and historical artifacts are often treated like the pieces in Graffiti is a Religion: They are chopped up and spread so thin that they no long depict the whole of what they were, only reference it. In trying to love and preserve relics and artifacts, we often destroy them, as has been done here. And of as I’ve argued in the past, even ripping an entire artwork off of a wall in one piece, as has happened so often with Banksy’s work, does not really preserve it. That only gives a reference to what once was: An artwork placed on a particular wall in a particular public space. These paint chips are not graffiti, but they are all that we have once the buffman shows up.

With Graffiti is a Religion, Fra.Biancoshock simultaneously brings graffiti indoors and humbly acknowledges the impossibility of such a task. All of these pieces make me uncomfortable. The best art does that.

Photos by Fra.Biancoshock

Category: Gallery/Museum Shows | Tags:

Safari in the urban jungle with The Wa, OaKoAk and fra.biancoshock

July 12th, 2013 | By | No Comments »
The Wa

The Wa

The Wa, OaKoAk and fra.biancoshock recently teamed up on a project across cities where all three of them made work on the theme of a “safari in the urban jungle.” The work was made in Milan, Berlin, Dusseldorf and St. Etienne. The three artists agreed on a theme, but beyond that each of them had no idea what the other two were making for their contributions to the project.





The Wa

The Wa

The Wa

The Wa

The Wa

The Wa

The Wa

The Wa

Photos courtesy of The Wa

Category: Photos | Tags: , ,

Weekend link-o-rama

April 19th, 2013 | By | No Comments »


It’s a shortish link-o-rama this week, but with some really good stories and great walls…

Photo by Awer

Category: Books / Magazines, Interview, Photos, Random, Videos | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

The Cleaner, a film from Fra.Biancoshock

April 15th, 2013 | By | No Comments »

No point in me trying to write much about this film from Fra.Biancoshock and Milkshake Studio. Just watch.

Category: Videos | Tags: