Note from RJ: We at Vandalog are excited to publish Tristan Manco‘s first post on the site, hopefully the first of many. Tristan is one of contemporary street art’s greatest champions and most-distinguished writers. Tristan curated by iterations of Cans Festival, worked at Pictures on Walls for half a decade, has written or in some way contributed to 8 art books since 2002 as well as numerous magazine articles in publications such as Juxtapoz. I’ve known Tristan for a couple of years, and he is one of the people whom I really trust when it comes to art.
Taking place in the 24-hour daylight of a Northern Norway summer on a small island town called Vardø north of the Arctic Circle – Komafest was always going to be a unique event…
Vardø is the oldest settlement in Northern Norway and in recent years has become depopulated with many buildings left empty, partly as a result of the collapsing fishing industry. The curator and organizer of the festival, the Norwegian artist Pøbel saw the potential of a street art festival to make a visual transformation of the town and to show the local people it was possible to make changes. While developing the idea Pøbel spent time getting to know the locals and with his unassuming nature and enthusiasm he began to gain their trust. Soon the public began to get behind the idea and offer up buildings for artists to paint on and volunteering to help in the organization. It became a truly grassroots movement rather than something imposed on the community.
The island, shaped like a butterfly, has an otherworldly atmosphere and is only accessible overland by a winding 3km undersea tunnel, which appears out of the ground like something out of a science fiction movie, but the real stars of the show are its traditional wooden buildings. Many of the wooden jetties, warehouses and buildings are abandoned, weather-beaten and in a state of beautiful decay. Although standing empty these heritage buildings all have owners who are often unable to afford their proper restoration. The idea of project is that the art that is created on them can awaken these buildings out from a coma, giving the festival it’s name – Komafest.
What I found inspiring about this project was the way the invited artists responded to the place. Each artist had some idea of what they might experience but in most cases their preconceptions soon changed once they began to speak to the locals and learn more about their environment. According to local fisherman Aksel Robertsen, Philadelphian artist Steve Powers had many ideas planned but scrapped them as soon as he began to meet the people and experienced the place for himself – all those encounters shaped his final murals; such as “Cod is Great” and “Eternal Light – Eternal Night”. The French artist Remed painted a mural on an old seafront warehouse, which took some of its imagery from the seascape but included the text Hellige Heks Fortuna, (Hellige Heks means Holy Witch in Norwegian). This references to witches dates back to the Vardø witch trials that were held there in 17th century resulting in many of the accused being burned alive at the stake.