Participatory Urban Art: Boa Mistura and Hologramas por la libertad

Photos courtesy of Boa Mistura

 

Participatory urban art is an effective way for us all to learn to act like urban artists—that is, to engage unexpectedly and unrestrictedly with the cityscape.  Boa Mistura, a group of five friends from Madrid whose specializations range from graphic design to civil engineering, works with neighbors to brainstorm ways to improve their urban space through art. Once an intervention is agreed upon, the neighbors paint side-by-side with Boa Mistura. During the artistic process, a double transformation occurs: both built environment and the way the neighbors interact with it change. The neighbors experience an increased sense of belonging and attachment to their surroundings. Boa Mistura creates a feeling that the future is hopeful and the ability to imagine a better city still intact. The focus is on hope instead of hate.

An intervention that earned Boa Mistura a nomination for the 2nd International Award for Public Art in 2015 was Luz nas vielas [Light in the Alleyways]. Boa Mistura traveled to Vila Brasilandia, one of the favelas on the hills on the outskirts of São Paulo, in January 2012 in order to collaborate with the neighbors on an art project. After spending some time exploring the favela, Boa Mistura realized that an important part of everyday life consisted of the walk up and down the hill. Thought, daily life and culture occurred on those dark, dirty, and grey alleyways. By modifying them, the lived urban experience of the favela would change. With the help of the neighbors, Boa Mistura painted five alleyways in brilliant, solid colors with positive messages that reflected the spirit of the inhabitants: BELEZA [Beauty], FIRMEZA [Strength], AMOR [Love], DOÇURA [Sweetness] and ORGULHO [Pride]. (See Photo Gallery and video)

Although Boa Mistura has not succumbed to the alienation produced by modern urban life under capitalism and has not acquired a defeatist attitude, it does recognize that in cities that make it very difficult for graffiti and urban artists to work—Madrid being a prime example—it is very challenging to stay positive. The recently approved controversial Law of Citizen Safety in Spain better known as the Ley Mordaza [The Gag Law] grants police the power to impede social protest. One of the law’s articles stipulates that citizens who protest in front of the buildings of Congress and the Senate may be fined up to 30,000 euros.[i] This limitation of free expression is a direct affront to urban artists’ modus operandi of unrestricted and open interaction. Instead of wandering down the road of cynicism—a very real option—activists responded with their radical imagination. On April 10, 2015, the world witnessed the first public protest with holograms. If physical bodies will be prohibited from protesting in front of Parliament, then immaterial projected 3-D images of real citizens will demonstrate in their place. By engaging their imagination, the activists invented a way to side-step the law and express their dissent. As I have said elsewhere, the fight for a just city is not an easy one, and will require the continued radical imagination of future urban artists everywhere.

 

[i] See Ley Orgánica 4/2015, de 30 de marzo, de protección de la seguridad ciudadana, Article 36.2.

Horto Continues to Live

Blooties

Brazil has a serious shortage of housing (about a 12% of the population has none or lives in jeopardized structures). Historically, companies and other entities adopted a policy of providing housing for their employees as a form of incentive in order to be able to attract them to uninhibited areas. Such was the case of Horto in Rio de Janeiro where Emperor Dom Joao IV decreed housing for the employees of his newly constructed gun powder factory in the early 19th century. The factory later moved and the housing was appropriated to the enclosed botanical garden‘s employees.

Those employees are long gone but the houses were passed to their descendants that are currently forging a longtime legal battle against the government, which claims that those houses and land are public property. Added to the drama, in the 200 years since construction, Horto and the Botanical Garden neighborhood…

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Interview: Bahia Shebab

الفَنّ العَرَبِيّ

Egyptian-Lebanese street artist, designer and Islamic art historian Bahia Shebab talks about how she was able to respond to Egypt’s revolution through creating street art. “It’s the language of the time now.” Her project “A Thousand Times No” uses the arabic “لا” (pronounced ‘la’), a thousand times through the use of street art. See below.

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2nd Mural Festival at Escocesa Art Factory in Barcelona

These are pictures I took at the Escocesa Art Factory in 2008 when I visited it with KRAX.

Various featured artists will be painting new murals for the 2nd Mural Festival this week, September 25-29, 2013.

2nd Mural Festival at Escocesa

The Escocesa Art Factory has an interesting story. It forms part of the Fábricas de Creación project in which six industrial factories were transformed into spaces for artistic creation: Fabra i Coats in Sant Andreu, Hangar and La Escocesa in Poblenou, La Seca in Ciutat Vella, Illa Philips in La Marina and La Central del Circ at the Fòrum. La Central del Circ is dedicated to circus, La Seca to theater, Illa Philips to dance, Hangar and La Escocesa to visual arts, and Fabra i Coats to music. The factories provide social centers, spaces for artists, public housing, private lofts and offices. La Escocesa is owned by the Barcelona City Council, but is self-managed by a collective known as L’Associació d’Idees.


Backers as Co-Owners of Kickstarter and Verkami Projects

Since my article “The TriBall Case: ‘Okupación Creativa ¡Ya!’ vs.
Okupa Hacktivismo,” I keep returning to the notion of co-authorship of the city with city developers, co-authorship of software with software developers, and co-authorship of culture through the abolition of copyrights. Urban space and the body are connected by the practice of the city as open code, as co-author who can alter the city. Crowdfunding programs like Kickstarter and Verkami are also platforms through which to become co-owners of culture.

Jon Reiss, producer and director of Bomb It, a documentary about graffiti and public space, has just completed his highly-anticipated follow-up, Bomb It 2. In order to be able to widely distribute his second feature film on graffiti, he is currently conducting a Kickstarter campaign. The Bomb It team is fighting for the right to succeed at filmmaking outside of the studio system, and need help. In Reiss’ “Appeal Video Flubs,” he talks about backers as co-owners of his film. I like that. He also discusses how difficult it is to make appeal videos.

The following call to finance la Galeria de la Magdalena, an art project to give new life to an abandoned lot in Barcelona, is an example of an interesting and effective appeal video.

 Crowdfunding is another tool that activists can use along with art to reactivate spontaneous social cooperation and unexpected engagements with the cityscape.

Extra Yarn and Yarn Bombing

extra yarn 2

I just recently read Extra Yarn, a children’s story about Annabelle, a little girl who finds a magic box with an endless supply of yarn. She not only knits sweaters for herself, but also for trucks, trees, mailboxes and whatever she finds in public space. Her engagement with her environment is unexpected because inanimate objects do not normally wear sweaters.  Her questioning of accepted behavior in public space and actions (what would be deemed vandalism) eventually transform her dull community into a colorful, more vibrant one. Why is Annabelle’s activity idealized in fiction, but criminalized in reality?

A real-life Annabelle, Magda Sayeg, practices yarn bombing, the tagging of public space with yarn. As the two images above attest, like Annabelle, she has even knitted a sweater for a bus.

Other examples of yarn bombing can be found here.

The Emergent Urban Body: The Case of Olivia

Figure 5

As I stated in the previous post, the flows and connections along the continuum going from street artist to world can be reassembled in new ways at any given moment. Street artist Olivia is a case in point. The object of her artistic work, Olive Oil of Popeye fame, drove the choice of her moniker. Olivia felt attracted to Olive Oil because, as she clarifies, Olive Oil was:

una imagen que me encantaba de siempre y el nombre lo tenía muy claro cuando empecé a hacer street art. Me iba a llamar Olivia. Físicamente tengo cierto parecido y me sentía identificada con ella.

[an image that I always loved, and the name I had very clear when I began to do street art. I was going to be called Olivia. Physically, I look like her, and I identified with her] (Dr. Case and Olivia)

The fixed subject/object divide is clearly loosened and obscured here. Olivia, the artist, is radically open to Olive Oil, her art, in such a way that the interaction between the two is a process of unrestricted commingling. Olivia functions less like a body and more like a bundle of networked relations connecting herself with Olive Oil, that is, the organic with the non-organic, and the material with the immaterial. In other words, Olivia is not solely body but also ecology of relations whose subjectivity is in a continual process of becoming. Also, not only is Olivia’s subjectivity in a continual process of becoming, so are the subjectivities of her Olive Oils. Olivia explains:

Empecé a utilizar las Olivias como una base para luego crear con ella otros tipos de personajes. Bueno, más que disfrazarse, lo que hago es que Olivia se convierta en otras cosas. Mujeres que o admiro o me gustan. Pueden ser mujeres que han existido o no.

[I began to utilize the Olivias as a base in order to later create with her other types of characters. Well, more than disguising them, what I do is make Olivia become other women. Women that I either admire or I like. They can be women that have existed or not]  (Dr. Case and Olivia)

Some of Olivia’s converted Olive Oils that have been seen in Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella are Frida Khalo (Frilivia Khalo), Marie Antoinette (Marie Oliviette), Botticelli’s Venus (Venuslivia), Madame Butterfly (Madame Olifly), the Virgin of Guadalupe (Virgilia de Guadalupe), Amy Winehouse (Oly Winehouse), Queen Latifah (Queen Olifah), and My Fair Lady (My Fair Livia) among others.

This is an excerpt from my forthcoming article “From Graffiti to Street Art: How Urban Artists are Democratizing Spanish City Centers and Streets.” Transitions: Journal of Franco-Iberian Studies 8 (2012): 9-34.

The Emergent Urban Body

The following is an excerpt from my forthcoming article “From Graffiti to Street Art: How Urban Artists are Democratizing Spanish City Centers and Streets.” Transitions: Journal of Franco-Iberian Studies 8 (2012): 9-34.

Figure 4

The acting out of unrestricted engagement with the city on the part of street artists is contagious, and therein lies its strength. The perception of the city as continually open to alteration has the potential to spread from urban artists to the greater population, and to reactivate and democratize Spanish public space. This type of innovative urban intervention requires a new body that is not solely a physical body, but one that is at the same time a network of constantly recombining links between the material world and the virtual world of ideas. The defining characteristic of the new body of the street artist is its register of co-existence between the street, self, and art.

The new body that street artists are modeling is one that I call the emergent urban body—emergent, because it is constantly in a process of being created again and again, and urban, because it lives in the city. Dr. Case’s 2012 project Symbiosis – Artists with Character best exemplifies the metamorphic quality of the emergent urban body. In this experiment, Dr. Case took pictures of graffiti writers and street artists, digitally removed their faces from the photographs, and replaced them with the countenances of one of their creations, thus merging the physical bodies of the artists with the imaginative, symbolic faces of their fictional characters.

In so doing, as the etymology of the title of his project, symbiosis, suggests, the material and the symbolic “live together” in the emergent urban body. The original impetus for the project was Dr. Case’s obsession with documenting urban art on the Internet. Part of the documentation that he was compiling was photographs of graffiti writers and street artists caught in the act. Because these acts are illegal and can carry fines of up to 3,000 euros in Spain, urban artists wanted Dr. Case to find a way to hide their faces. Instead of using large pixels to disguise identity, a technique employed in police photos and videos, Dr. Case decided to fuse art and artist. The metamorphosed heads of the street artists in Dr. Case’s Symbiosis are the pictorial equivalent of street art monikers, the false names that street artists give themselves. Both the pseudonyms and the mutated heads hide the identities of street artists while at the same time revealing certain heightened marks of identity. The blurring of the boundary between artist and art in Dr. Case’s project mimics the street artists’ continually evolving relationship with their exterior world. Subjectivity for the emergent urban body is a process of perpetual interaction with people, places, things and ideas. On the continuum going from street artist to world, there are different points, two of which are the street artists’ assumed name and character. At any given moment, the flows and connections along the continuum can be reassembled in new ways.

Dr. Case explains the project in his own words in the following video (with English subtitles):