Venice Gave Me a Superpower: My 2015 Biennale Experience

I came back from the Venice Biennale preview a few days ago and I’ve been feeling different ever since. All the art I’ve seen has been giving me extremely vivid dreams and I feel like I’ve gained a superpower, which is to store lots and lots of beauty and let it be quietly within me. I feel happy and privileged and have majorly boosted my belief that art possesses an unequaled power of transformation and revelation. IMG_20150508_131826076 This is not a Biennale review, but a collection of impressions and thoughts that I believe have made me a richer person. It also comes from someone who has never been to the Biennale before, so might contain details which veterans will find superfluous. But if you plan to go and want some starting points, here is my version of this wonderful, wonderful event. IMG_20150507_140700752_HDR It makes a very big difference to be there for the preview. This is already useless information for 2015 but should be considered for future editions: there is a strong general feeling that all else pales in comparison to the atmosphere in Venice during the Biennale preview.

Take each and every piece of art that is in Venice during the Biennale and move the whole thing to anywhere else in the world, and it won’t have half the impact it has right where it is. The magic of the palazzos, the unchanged urban infrastructure, the rhythms of the city and the constant joy of encountering yet another unexpected gem could not be equaled in any other location. Nor could all the Spritzes, lunches and dinners that make all the walking and art viewing possible.

What brilliance to see so few white cube spaces and realise how much this impacts on how one perceives contemporary artworks – not only because of site responsive works, some of impressive scales, but also because of the visual and spatial relations that get created between the opulent palazzos and the art that is of the present. This can blow one’s mind in many different ways.

The Giardini and Arsenale have so much work, that the only way you can realistically see and experience everything is to allow for two days each (I did it in one day each). This probably still wouldn’t allow you to see most of the video work, but I would dare anyone to actually sit down and watch all the moving image that is available throughout the exhibitions! Conclusion: video art = bad idea in a show of such breadth, with very very few exceptions (one of which detailed below). Do not make the mistake of thinking that Giardini and Arsenale are the main Biennale venues, they are merely the biggest, most densely-packed ones. All the exhibitions scattered throughout the city are equally important to see and for most people who will have a limited amount of time to spend in Venice, choosing these is a bit of a lottery – albeit a potentially well-informed one.

I feel reluctant to write about my favourites and I strongly feel that this story would have been completely different had I written it two days ago, or if I write it again next week. In a way the equation is simple, the best = the most memorable for each of us, but it is hard not to let political or national affinities guide one’s preferences, apart from the obvious personal taste in art. The Biennale is very good for educating and clarifying taste, as you readjust your attention spans according to the most unexpected criteria, learn how to look and expand your standards, and accumulate sights, textures, ideas, information, impressions. Everyone should have the experience of being exposed to art in this wonderful way.

Reluctance aside, perhaps my stronger affinities were with the two national pavilions that showed liquid-based installations, Switzerland and Tuvalu. I found these tranquil and well-paced, immersive enough to entice the senses as well as the mind, and I have very clear memories of the smell and feel of the environments. I must have spent at least 30mins in the Tuvalu pavilion, in two separate sessions, and I wish I had gone back to the Swiss one for a revisit.

I am very proud of the Romanian pavilion for showing Adrian Ghenie’s painting and nothing else. After seeing so many national pavilions and collateral exhibitions fail because of too loose curatorial concepts (many overkills, excessive accumulations, failed juxtapositions of too many artists etc), Romania’s was one to stand out through clarity of concept and outstanding painting works. As much of a Ghenie fan as I was, this exhibition has not only made me an even bigger fan, but also a proud Romanian. And what courage to just show painting in a world of installations, videos and other objects – I believe there is consensus about the sharpness of this choice.

Other wins: the Japanese key installation, the Korean videos, some of Italy’s (excessive) representation, the massive Chinese outdoor dragon sculptures, the blue sand in the Kosovo room, the British representation with Sarah Lucas, the different Russian environments and the uncanny sculpture, as well as the architectural and sound installations at the Nordic Pavilion. Oh and I also liked the Joana Vasconcelos installation in the watchmaker-sponsored Biennale pavilion.

Fails: all overloaded pavilions that lacked a tight curatorial concept (sadly too many to name), Austria (where it took me a while to understand whether there was anything there or not, and what exactly that was), Germany (needlessly convoluted use of space) and Australia (felt like a visit to the natural history museum).

Off-site favourites: installation by Liu Ruo Wang as part of the San Marino – China Friendship Project, with a pack of sculpted wolves that can give you nightmares; gorgeous minimalist, patterned Korean painting Dansaekhwa that felt like a breath of fresh air; clean and tight Danh Vo-curated Slip of the Tongue at Palazzo Grassi, despite not being enthused by most work in the show; and a decent amount of work in the Personal Structures exhibitions, especially the ones at Palazzo Bembo. Regarding exhibitions not on this list, readers should assume I haven’t seen them and not judge the list by its exclusions.

There was an official collateral event called The Bridges of Graffiti, whose highlight by far was the fabulous life size video installation of a running painted train. There were also other well composed works but overall the show seemed too thin, like there was not enough work put into it, or the work hadn’t been properly finished. A nice surprise during our visit was running into Futura and taking a photo with him.

A special nod goes to Aussie crew of Black Art Projects and artist Reko Rennie’s Regalia piece in the courtyard of Palazzo Mora – our conversations, shared visits, spritzes and meals have made the whole experience even more rewarding.

I will close with my absolute favourite thing at the Biennale, which is the video piece I was referring to earlier on, 001 Inverso Mundus by Russian collective AES+F. This is one of the best things I have seen in my life. An epic, mind-blowing video installation of gigantic scale and sublime grace, whose conceptual scope and exquisite execution almost had me in tears and gave me an overall personal upgrade. You can read about it here, or buy a ticket and go to Venice until late November to see it and gain your own superpower, there is nothing quite like being there.

AES+F

AES+F/ image from website

Studio189 Spring Ball

I have recently set up a new creative venture with my friend Fay Trier, running creative soirées from her stunning flat in central London. The project is called Studio189 and it was conceived as an alternative to conventional artistic experiences by offering a more intimate setting and make sure we get people connected. Private soirées in residential settings are increasingly popular in London at the moment, but we want to make a difference through quality of space, artistic programme and guests.

Studio189 SB invitation

Our next event will be a Spring Ball happening on April 25th, details below. Tickets are selling fast so get one now if you want to join.

The Spring Ball is a creative soirée hosted by Studio189 in an exclusive Central London location. For one evening only, the Studio will be open to a limited number of guests to celebrate art, music, words and the arrival of spring.

Join us for:

An exclusive erotic art viewing featuring painting, photography and collage by Femke van Geffen (NE/UK), Héloïse Delègue (FR), Julia Bellamy (GE/UK), Santiago Torres (CO/FR) and Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez (CO/UK)

Live music in our beautiful city garden with mezzo-soprano Adriana Festeu and guitarist Raj Curry

A deliciously naughty spoken word performance read by Alex Woodhall and written by Michael Clarke.

Tickets include complimentary drinks and canapés, an exhibition catalogue, 10% discount on any of the artworks on display and a Spring Ball goodie bag.

Open bar. Dress code: elegant, spring, erotic. Art prices range £50 – £2800, ticket price gets ten percent discount. Address to be revealed upon confirmation.

About the organisers:

Studio189 is a provider of high-end soirées of art, music and spoken word in a unique London studio. www.studio189london.com

I Know What I Like is an arts facilitation organisation providing social, curatorial and educational art programmes from various locations in London and beyond. www.iknowwhatilike.org

Tickets here: http://www.studio189london.com/april25th/studio189-spring-ball.

Graffiti Sessions

Mr. Sable painting outside the Bartlett at 140 Hampstead Road by Sonia P Sanchez Lopez

Mr. Sable painting outside the Bartlett at 140 Hampstead Road by Sonia P Sanchez Lopez

UPDATE: Guardian Cities released a new article on 7 January 2015 following from the Graffiti Sessions conference: Is urban graffiti a force for good or evil? Read the piece by Athlyn Cathcart-Keays here.

I feel exhausted, grateful and anxious about the great responsibilities we were left with after the Graffiti Sessions event, both as a team project and in terms of my own research. This post is to share some of the main points that were made during the conference, both by invited speakers and by audience members. This is by no means an exhaustive list of arguments and ideas, and I cannot emphasize enough how this project was a collaborative effort from speakers, audience and organisers alike.

Tom Oswald by Luana Kaderabek

Tom Oswald by Luana Kaderabek

Tom Oswald, graffiti writer and director of Underbelly, a film about graffiti on the London Underground: Graffiti can teach its practitioners skills like companionship, goal orientation, fast response, dedication, self belief, team work and commitment. Imposing custodial sentences on graffiti writers (prison time) rather than community punishment only stunts their development, instead of encouraging them to apply these skills to mentor and inform children.

Cameron McAuliffe and Robyn Buseman by Alice Hellmann

Cameron McAuliffe and Robyn Buseman by Alice Hellmann

It was widely agreed that restorative and community-based justice are preferable to prison sentences in dealing with graffiti, and incarceration for graffiti writers should be abolished. Robyn Buseman, who leads the restorative justice section of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Programme, illustrated the results of this approach with a number of examples based on bringing together arts, communities and the criminal justice system. She introduced a wide array of outputs produced by Mural Arts, whose 220 employees have been working on producing social change through art for over 30 years.

Alison Young and Ben Campkin by Luana Kaderabek

Alison Young and Ben Campkin by Luana Kaderabek

Alison Young, visual criminologist, author of Street Art, Public City, which I reviewed here, launched the following provocations: tags are no different from corporate logos; damage is a euphemism for challenges to property ownership; illegality has its own hierarchy; street art is the beneficiary of discriminatory criminal justice practices; locating uncommissioned words and images is complex; valuing street art over graffiti is dangerous. She also called for more autonomy, and less undermining of people who respond to cities by wanting to make something else of them.

Ben Eine by Luana Kaderabek

Ben Eine by Luana Kaderabek

“No one cares!” seemed to be the message Ben Eine was emphatically transmitting from the large screen in his recorded presentation. The artist was making a point about how graffiti and street art are now integrated in our cities to such extent, that they have lost their shock value and their capacity of interruption, leading to a point where nobody cares about them like they used to thirty, twenty, or even ten years ago. Ben Eine was given plenty of time to make explicit his conflict with Colin Saysell (see below), recount his train writing days and give a detailed version of the events surrounding the painting that David Cameron gifted to Barack Obama. Indeed, one of these details was picked up by Guardian’s Matthew Weaver in this piece he wrote, much to the disappointment of our team and his readers.

Adam Cooper, Senior Officer for Creative Industries, Greater London Authority: Culture happens by itself but sometimes needs to be encouraged, recognised or protected.

Charles Mynors by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Charles Mynors by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Charles Mynors, barrister, author of what he now refers to as the outdated ‘The Control of Outdoor Advertising and Graffiti’: There are slippages in the law when it comes to definitions of “sign” and “advertising”, so one could arguably build a defense strategy based on these slippages (this is something I have been researching myself and will publish here in due course). Perhaps most importantly, local authorities have powers, not duties when it comes to graffiti removal, and are dependent on frequently low budgets.

Rafael Schacter, Glynn Judd, Tom Fuller and Tom Oswald by Luana Kaderabek

Rafael Schacter, Glynn Judd, Tom Fuller and Tom Oswald by Luana Kaderabek

Tom Fuller, Service Delivery Manager at London Overground Rail Operations: It costs London Overground Rail Operations £150 per sqm to remove graffiti from their trains. They lease the trains they operate and are bound by contract to keep them graffiti-free at all times, any delays incurring in fines and extra charges.

There is an opaque system of contracts governing privatised public transport operations, that not only maximises graffiti-related costs, but also masks the decision-making process that led to the current protocols. Where is the evidence to support the assumption that users of public transport feel threatened by graffiti, and who can be held accountable for operating on this assumption?

Glynn Judd aka NOIR, graffiti writer who was incarcerated for his practice: Legislation puts property before people.

Colin Saysell by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Colin Saysell by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Graffiti writers are viewed by the police as career criminals and graffiti is considered a gateway crime to theft, robbery, assault and drug use; it may lead to mental illness and even death. Detective Colin Saysell is known as the only registered graffiti law enforcement expert in the UK, and his presentation reinforced a number of unevidenced claims about graffiti, illustrating law enforcement’s standpoint in relation to this practice: trust and guidance from the broken windows theory, a belief that graffiti writers are violent offenders (Saysell’s illustrative image was of a man in a hoodie and a baseball bat in his hand), and a manner of conducting investigations which leads to conspiracy charges and vastly disproportionate sentences. UPDATE: Another story picked up by the Guardian from the conference was based on Colin Saysell and his work – see here.

Cameron McAuliffe and audience by Luana Kaderabek

Cameron McAuliffe and audience by Luana Kaderabek

Cameron McAuliffe, human geographer based in Sydney, introduced a number of different regimes of value through which to understand street art and graffiti: aesthetic, economic, subcultural, gender, socio-spatial, regulatory, commodification, temporal, advertising, planning. The relation of street art and graffiti to each of these could constitute a research field in itself, and McAuliffe’s own input was at policy level. His proposals for local council included the formation of a graffiti and street art register (not an approval mechanism, optional and anonymous) and an advisory panel in order to improve graffiti management at local level.

Dotmaster did a video presentation on the NUArt Festival in Stavanger, highlighting the logistical and administrative effort in making a street art festival grow and be proudly accepted by its host city. Lois Acton told the stories of collaborative mural projects she organised together with children and elders.

Patrick Turner, Lois Acton, Jay Edlin and Henry Shaftoe by Luana Kaderabek

Patrick Turner, Lois Acton, Jay Edlin and Henry Shaftoe by Luana Kaderabek

Jay J-SON Edlin brought us first-hand accounts of the 1970s New York graffiti scene, which he says remains largely undocumented. He came as Martha Cooper’s ambassador at the conference and presented some of her photographic work, but he also held a masterclass in 70s wild style graffiti, with a large number of illustrations and anecdotes from the period.

My copy of Lee Bofkin's Concere Canvas, signed by Jay Edlin as Terror 161

My copy of Lee Bofkin’s Concrete Canvas, signed by Jay Edlin as Terror 161

Chris Chalkley heated up all conference spirits by presenting the work he did in Bristol with the People’s Republic of Stokes Croft – an energetic grassroots organisation which continues to change the face of Stokes Croft. This project felt very much like a hands-on, action-driven and not petition-driven series of interventions, turning the area from dilapidation into a culture makers’ hub.

Chris Chalkley by Sonia P Sanchez Lopez

Chris Chalkley by Sonia P Sanchez Lopez

Ingrid Beazley introduced her Dulwich Outdoor Gallery project which has been growing for a number of years, reflecting on the process and consequences of bringing street art in a middle class suburb like Dulwich. She asked a number of artists to paint their own interpretations of baroque paintings from the Dulwich Picture Gallery in the streets, pioneering an atypical mural project in an unlikely area. Ingrid discussed issues such as ownership, access to art and different community responses, and offered her own assessment methodologies for the impact of the Outdoor Gallery.

Ingrid Beazley by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Ingrid Beazley by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Lee Bofkin, who was also involved in putting this event together, presented the different strands of activity produced by Global Street Art, from the prolific Walls Project to their commercial appointments. He made a case for what he called a more painted city and highlighted the role of organisations such as GSA in exposing an increasing number of people to higher quality art by taking on the administrative burden and allowing for artists to paint legally in publicly visible spaces.

Lee Bofkin by Luana Kaderabek

Lee Bofkin by Luana Kaderabek

Devon Ostrom presented his work on public arts campaigns in Toronto, where he set up a billboard tax to fund the arts, generating over $22m so far. Pedro Soares Neves spoke about setting up Urban Creativity as an academic platform for the discussion of urban creative practices. Xavi Ballasz presented his work on street art and graffiti in Barcelona after the city clamped down on these practices. Lucinda Ross talked about Jean Michel Basquiat and the politics of race between the graffiti and fine art worlds.

Rome-based artist Alice Pasquini told stories of interaction through art and offered her first-hand experiences of working as a street artist in different parts of the world. She emphasized public artistic production as an opportunity for conversation and exchange, not only as responses on walls but also as engagements with passers-by.

Alice Pasquini by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Alice Pasquini by Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez

Is graffiti something that occurs only when it is executed in the street? Is graffiti in the age of digital reproduction still graffiti? And is graffiti turning into its own image over and over again? Radical sociologist Jeff Ferrell built a wonderful argument for maintaining the ambiguous nature of graffiti and street art, focusing on their function in contemporary urban environments. He highlighted the context of neoliberal urban development based on privatisation, surveillance and risk management strategies, which leads to consumer-driven societies where urban life is sold back to the inhabitants of the city as urban experience (living in the city). Graffiti and street art are therefore considered legal or illegal according to the way they serve this type of urban development: some serve it, and help drive prices up, contributing to gentrification and exclusion (and are therefore legal), while others are produced outside this system and in opposition to it – and are therefore maintained illegal. The ambiguity of status is what gives graffiti its power, argued Ferrell, who proposed that confusion about graffiti reflects on changes in urban life. “Graffiti is the ghost that haunts the machinery of the neoliberal capitalist system”. As such, it occupies interstitial spaces, and lives a spectral life in a territory of in-between-ness.

Jeff Ferrell by Luana Kaderabek

Jeff Ferrell by Luana Kaderabek

Political theorist Chantal Mouffe defined agonism as a democratic confrontation that takes place among adversaries and not enemies, where difference is accepted and there is no possibility of reconciliation. Agonism generates a multiplicity of concomitant spaces and subjectivities, whose objective is never the creation of consensus, but co-existence in a permanent, productive state of tension. Agonism therefore felt like a useful tool to discuss individually driven and produced urban inscriptions that fall outside a system of permission, commission, collaboration or community consensus.

At the same time, we heard from a number of people about projects born out of local collaborative initiatives, which then grew in scale to the point where they became power systems in themselves. These projects have the capacity of imposing visual regimes on the urban environment, and they often seem not to include any room for contestation (tags get cleaned, works are deemed inappropriate and get removed, and what is perceived as low quality art has a shorter life span than the more apparently aesthetically pleasing pieces). These are indeed considered success stories which contribute to neighbourhood regeneration, but it was felt that there was a danger in the uncritical acceptance of these methods of work, as we might end up reinforcing discourses of exclusion.

Chantal Mouffe by Luana Kaderabek

Chantal Mouffe by Luana Kaderabek

The central dichotomy of the conference was this in my opinion:

we either agree to agree when it comes to the production of publicly visible inscriptions: work on projects within the system, adapt to power institutions and attempt to transform them from within. We produce collaborative work based on permits, authorisations, commissions and a certain consensus towards positive impact;

or we agree to disagree and work independently outside institutions, by excluding them through critical creative practice. The work does not require permission or consensus and does not claim to contribute to what is perceived as a bigger common goal.

There is no right answer to this question, only a multitude of welcome arguments. As Jeff Ferrell would say, the power of this issue lies in its ambiguity, not in trying to solve it.

Jeff Ferrell and the spectre of graffiti by Sonia P Sanchez Lopez

Jeff Ferrell and the spectre of graffiti by Sonia P Sanchez Lopez

Thank yous with reasons:

The team at Central Saint Martins’ Design Against Crime Research Centre, led by the force that is Lorraine Gamman who relentlessly pushes all of us to more challenging places; the eloquent Adam Thorpe and his powerful on-the-spot syntheses of conference discussions; and my number one partner in putting this together, tireless Marcus Willcocks; Dani Davies and Chloe Griffith, who probably put in most hours into making this happen, Milena Kotseva and Emma Jonsson who made the three days run smoothly; Joao Infante and Vlad Borlea who did the filming; and our photographers Luana Kaderabek, Sonia P. Sanchez Lopez and Alice Hellmann. Also thanks to the Socially Responsive Design and Innovation Hub which offered generous financial support for the conference, and to the Graffiti Dialogues Network, both based at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London.

My PhD supervisors Iain Borden and Ben Campkin for supporting this idea from the beginning (two years ago) and helping with the organisation. I was very glad to have them both there for the entire three days, although I am aware that all the notes they made will forever change the nature of our doctoral meetings! Shane Johnson from Security and Crime Science at UCL who helped us with getting our first bit of funding and has been supportive ever since; James Paskins and the UCL Grand Challenge for Sustainable Cities, who not only funded our project, but also featured it as part of their research project highlights for 2014; Jordan Rowe at the UCL Urban Laboratory for sorting out complex logistical issues; Rafael Schacter for his critical spirit, excellent chairing and for bringing 50% discount flyers for his new book; Elizabeth Lee from UCL Estates for her generous interest and support of our idea to paint on UCL hoardings as part of the conference; Fiona Davidson from UCL Communications who facilitated the hoardings painting as part of the Transforming UCL project; and Alan Penn, Dean of the Bartlett, for offering a generous amount of money to this project and for the best tweets of the three days:

Linzi Whitton and her big team at the Southbank Centre who supported our idea and produced it flawlessly on the day; my friend Lee Bofkin who was the first driving force behind this whole thing and who aptly negotiated a number of interests, conditions and constraints for organising the painting of the 140 Hampstead Road hoardings; an artist that is very dear to me, Clement Lalande aka Mr. Sable, who had a number of creative inputs for the Graffiti Sessions: he designed the image for the official conference poster, which we sold in a limited edition print run of 100 (a few still available via the conference website); he painted two sides of the 140HR hoardings, part of the Transforming UCL project; and he ran a painting workshop with conference participants on boards in the Bartlett yard. He is also an artist I represent through I Know What I Like, and whose work I wrote a bit about in the past. Thank you to Sterling, Sky High and Meka, who bore through twelve hours of terrible cold to paint their own massive piece on the side of 140HR. May this be just the beginning!

Best ever!!! audience, with interested, interesting people who came from from countries like Germany, Italy, Brazil and Belgium especially to attend the Graffiti Sessions, and who made well informed, relevant and meaningful contributions throughout the duration of the conference. My biggest thank you goes to all the people who participated over the three days, causing passionate reactions, unrest and contestation and assuring that we had a tense and productive unravelling of events.

Presenters’ slides available here: http://graffitisessions.com/presentations;

Full photo gallery available here: http://graffitisessions.com/photogallery;

And video recordings of presentations to be available soon via the conference website: http://graffitisessions.com/.

Competing Urbanisms Workshop in Melbourne

The graffiti research scene in Australia in general and Melbourne in particular has attracted my attention for a number of years, through the published work of Alison Young (and her co-authored papers with Mark Halsey), Kurt Iveson, Lachlan MacDowall, Kim Dovey (especially through his collaborative research on graffiti with Simon Wollan and Ian Woodcock – available here and here) and Cameron McAuliffe. They form part of a mature graffiti research culture that feels very well embedded into the local policy-making context, and have been working with graffiti writers, street artists and local authorities for years in order to develop more progressive understandings and management strategies for street art and graffiti.

Photoshoot in Hosier Lane

Photoshoot in Hosier Lane

It was an honour to be invited to take part in the Competing Urbanisms workshop organised by Alison Young, Lachlan MacDowall and David Mence at the University of Melbourne in early November 2014. The day was about the publicness of cities as much as it was about the practice, management and conflicts between street art and graffiti, with presentations from a number of artists, authors and public sector representatives. In a way, it was a good kickstarter for discussions we were planning to have at the Graffiti Sessions conference, with the obvious differences between a one-day, intimate and less formal gathering, and a major three-day international event. However, I would like to emphasize the success of inter-institutional dialogue in the Melbourne research culture, and note how much we could learn from their way of doing things here in London. Not only were a third of the people there representing different local authorities, but they were also very well embedded in conversations about the cultural values of street art and graffiti and the provision of spaces for their practice and contestation. Simply getting some authorities to sit at the table felt like an achievement for our London-based event, so I can only be very grateful to have Alison and Cameron here in December to perhaps share more of their way of doing things.

Car Park by FAD Gallery in Chinatown

Car Park by FAD Gallery in Chinatown

The paper I presented was called “Show and Tell: The Role of Walking Tours in Configuring London’s Street Art Scene” and was the result of some research I did last year on London’s street art tours industry. This was the first time I presented this material and it was well received; and I will publish it on this website once I get to refine it further.

Car in Fitzroy

Car in Fitzroy

Will end by mentioning a few other people I met, and whose work I would recommend to anyone interested in urban walls, street art and graffiti, or informal urban practices and their role in cities, galleries and urban branding. The keynote of the workshop was given by Andrea Mubi Brighenti, whose work on visibility and territories is essential to my own research; Paul Gough’s whose book Banksy: The Bristol Legacy, is now available to purchase; and CDH, who guided me through the city and whose street actions and conceptual street work is full of meaningful provocations about the place and quality of Melbourne’s inscriptions. Thank you Melbourne for an excellent experience.

View from a car park in Fitzroy, overlooking the Central Business District

View from a car park in Fitzroy, overlooking the Central Business District

100 Days of Leake Street at Cities Methodologies

100 Days of Leake Street has been selected to take part in the annual Cities Methodologies exhibition between 28 and 31 October 2014. The project was presented in the form of three life size looping projected videos, accompanied by three panoramic photographs of Leake Street Tunnel.

Cities Methodologies is organised by the Urban Laboratory at University College London and aims to bring together a number of international exhibitors each year, all focused on innovative methods of researching cities and the urban environment.

Research outputs showcased at Cities Methodologies in previous years include films, participatory photographic projects, sculpture, maps, sound installations, board and card games, posters and other images and objects that offer a new approach to urban-related questions.

I Know What I Like Group Show Opening Night

The first I Know What I Like group show opened on Thursday 2 October 2014 with a large crowd of beautiful people at the Curious Duke Gallery in London EC1. We showed the work of fifteen contemporary international artists working with 2D media like painting, collage or photography.

This was the first in a series of arts facilitation activities that I Know What I Like has planned to make a difference and improve the way people encounter, understand and appreciate art.

You can subscribe to I Know What I Like updates here: http://www.iknowwhatilike.org/.

Story of I Know What I Like to reach 140,000 arts professionals world wide

I have recently been interviewed as Director of I Know What I Like by Art Media Agency about the organisation, its history and goals, and also about the inaugural I Know What I Like group show.

Art Media Agency is an international news agency focused on the art market, which produces articles on all aspects of the art world, including galleries, cultural policy, museums, artists and auction houses. Its free newsletter goes out to a readership of 140,000 art world professionals world wide.

Read about the early days of I Know What I Like as an art book club, its members and discussion topics, and find out what to expect from the October group show in my Art Media Agency interview. 

The Graffiti Sessions

GS_squares

I am proud to announce the Graffiti Sessions, the biggest street art and graffiti conference London has ever seen, which will take place in December 2014. This event ties in directly with my PhD research, and I have been preparing it for almost two years, together with colleagues from University College London, The Urban Laboratory, The Graffiti Dialogues Network at Central Saint Martins and Global Street Art. Our ambition was to create an open international event, bringing together artists, writers, community members, urban managers, authorities, academics and policy makers to discuss and create the futures of street art and graffiti.

The Graffiti Sessions will take place from 3-5 December 2014, at The Southbank Centre, University College London and Central Saint Martins. See all programme and speaker updates here.

The event comprises a three-day series of talks, workshops and panel debates exploring the evolving roles of graffiti and street art in the urban environment. The aim is to challenge deep-rooted preconceptions that have until now limited the progress of both policy and practice related to street art and graffiti. Bringing together key institutions and individuals, we are hoping that the project will establish a sustainable discussion forum for the exchange of a broad scope of viewpoints on street art and graffiti, and for the evaluation of their impacts on the quality of life for urban communities.

GS_squares_horizonal

The Graffiti Sessions were funded by the Grand Challenges for Sustainable Cities at UCL (funding body which supports inter-disciplinary research projects addressing global issues), the Socially Responsive Design and Innovation Hub (SRDI) and Research Office at Central Saint Martins at University of the Arts London, and the Bartlett School of Architecture at UCL.

Registration is now open and early bird tickets have a limited availability, so I would suggest getting a ticket as soon as you can. We are all working very hard to make this an excellent event.

Why the Mobstr Exhibition Failed

A few weeks ago I was tweeting a Vandalog interview and was enthusiastically calling Mobstr “my favourite street/ conceptual artist”. After two visits to his solo show “Sex, Drugs and Painting Walls” at the Truman Brewery, I feel the need to revisit my position, and clarify what I think about the work in this exhibition.

DSC08291

First of all, there is too much of it. Almost all the work in the show is based on statements reflecting on the status of art in general, the art market or the indoor production of graffiti, each of which is meant to pack a punch and deliver it with sharpness and wit. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t get stronger with accumulation, and seeing so many of these statements side by side only dilutes their punch and makes them look, well… repetitive. Mobstr was on to something when he kept brevity at the core of his text-based work, but it seems that this principle should have also been applied when editing the work for the show.

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I have seen and heard many enthusiastic visitors on the two occasions I visited the show, first for the opening evening and second with a great group of people from I Know What I Like. Smiles, laughter and the words “clever”, “witty”, “brilliant” and “playful” seemed to be on everyone’s lips – but have all these people forgotten all about the existence of text-based conceptual art? Mobstr’s show had a rather unpleasant feeling of familiarity hovering in the room, as many of his statements seem to have already been stated decades ago, in very similar (if not identical) forms, by the likes of Lawrence Weiner, Christopher Wool, Mel Bochner or Matthew Higgs. The only new elements were the additions of #hashtags and of comments on indoor graffiti, which are really not enough to create a distinctive artistic voice in any history of conceptual art.

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So why is it that one can still produce, show and sell art made from quasi-clever black-and-white text that references art and text, and be received with such enthusiasm?

Mobstr is indeed a well-loved character in the graff/street art scene and for good reasons (I am still standing behind my tweet), but how come these works can acquire such kudos and visual capital when they seem to fail most of the important tests – material and graphic skill, message, self-awareness and situatedness?

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The tricky bit about this show is that it seems to actually check all these boxes: letters are hand-painted, surfaces have different finishes according to their statements, labels are (counter-)parts of the works and there is a mention of the art world being “full of stupid actions that end up being declared as clever” (referencing Duchamp and Warhol). However, there is no real provocation, no memorable insight, no visually stunning display (except perhaps for the Writer’s Block installation) – and in the end it all comes across as a bland story that has been told many times before.

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It seems to me that it’s a matter not so much of the works themselves, but of the entire cultural field of street art and graffiti. In order to establish itself as legitimate, this whole area of cultural production has to undergo formative moments and processes that fine art has already traversed in its history. Legitimation then comes by re-producing these moments and offering them to a new and candid audience, who is prepared to receive them as fresh and genuine artistic outputs.

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It’s like everything has to be done again, because this time it’s being done in the street art world and for a street art audience, and there was still a gap to fill in the conceptual street/ urban/ graff section (although Lush produces some excellent conceptual graffiti work and manages to somehow be very specific to the trade – as obnoxious as he may be). Mobstr has indeed successfully filled the gap, making sure that conceptual art doesn’t remain uncharted territory in the field of legitimised street art – but let us keep an open memory and give the conceptual art credit where it is due.

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On my part, I have two end credits to give, both of which go to a different side of Mobstr’s work: the HUH? installation in the exhibition – paying tribute to his tag, his crew and his roller:

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– and the HUH? tag on Holywell Lane, which still remains one of my favourite bits of street work in London.

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