Saturday, December 3, 2011

Writing on the Walls

So. I have been doing plenty of things that I've neglected to put on here. Mostly homework,(corsets, journals, other uninteresting things. I'll post about the corset eventually.) But the thing I've recorded best is street art.

Now,street art......Well, I'll just post what I journaled about it.

Be warned. This will be an epic long post. I'll put all my photos at the bottom, so if you just want to see that, skip the text.

I went to Shoreditch today, with a knowledgeable man who took my Space Place and Culture class on a street art tour. Street art is difficult to catch sometimes because it’s constantly changing, disappearing, wearing off, being painted or arted over. Sometimes not. I'll explain.

There were several names I’d not heard: Malarky, Swoon, Stix, who used to be homeless, Citizen Kane or CZK, Ben Eine. We saw lots of ROA, he’s one of my personal favorites. The crane off Brick Lane is very beautiful, one of his best bits. There’s also a rat crawling out of a wall that I love.

On the wall of the club Cargo, which is under a bridge, there is a very famous Banksy piece, which now has plexiglass over it to keep it from being painted over. Not at Banksy's command, I guarantee. How funny. Protect the vandalism.
For technically,it is vandalism,but it is now part of London, and most people love it.

There was another, rather political bit in the Cargo garden, by someone whose name I cannot recall, had a definite OWS feel/message to it. That whole wall is covered with street art. You can just wander in in the daytime, when there’s no one there.

There was also an incident, our guide informed us, where people would make art with gum on the walls, and stick flash drives in it, with art files on them. You could take a flash drive and in return, replace it with your own art on a drive. Sort of an anonymous art swap. But then it disappeared, as all such urban phenomenons do, likely someone started putting viruses on the drives or something.

There is a street near Petticoat Lane Market which has all the letters of the alphabet on the shutters of the shops. They are not in order, and the only time to see them all is at night or Sunday. We went by at about dinnertime, and only one was down. Ben Eine did that street.

Other well-knows art streets are Rrrrrivingdon? Riverdon? Starts with an r? I think? The street that Cargo is on. Redchurch St. is also a hot spot, and Fashion St. And everywhere else in that neighborhood. It's like someone stuck a knife in London's grimy little urban heart, right about at Shoreditch High St. Station, and spraypaint splattered out for a mile around. It is covered.

Our guide was pointing out that the popular places for street art are always a little bit run down, a little edgy. One of the best spots for street art is on a shop shutter, which you generally only see in poorer places, as opposed to the burglar alarms that operate in places like Oxford Circus.

Also observed that London is a palimpsest, a place with a thousand million shadows of what has been there before, like the shadow when you paint over a bit of street art. Brick Lane/Shoreditch area has always been a place for outcasts, weirdos, artists, immigrants, etc. Jack the Ripper, the Huegenots, Bangladeshi immigrants, the pioneers of street art, working at night, cloak and dagger. You can sort of smell all that, walking down there in the dusk, the past leaking out of the ground. Jack the Ripper. Wow, that's surreal.

But street art, at least, is more accepted than it once was. People actually ask for their walls to be arted, and one walks past galleries full of the artist's work that you can hang on your wall.

The hipsters may whine about commercialization. I say shut up, hipsters. This is the course of a movement, the way that art works. Street art began as a very political thing, still is. Then it becomes prolific, and more people see it, more people are exposed to the message it is trying to convey. If you are truly trying to communicate, the more people the better. Also the artists tend towards the middle-aged, and the middle class. So what? They are artists. What they make is beautiful, insightful, whimsical, disturbing. Art. There's enough drabness and despair in cities and the world in general.

Some of it is political, some of it is just that primordial artistic instinct that leads kids to draw on the walls with crayon. It is a blank space, begging for beauty and interest and humanization. It is a quiet revolution of the concept of space, of the concept of walls. It is also anarchist. The wall may belong to someone. But when you alter it, it belongs to you as well, you've left a mark on it.

That is what street art shares with graffiti, I think, that territorial aspect: I was here, I exist, this is Mine. For my part, walking around looking at all this, I felt very......very much part of a tribe, if that is the way to put it. It makes you feel less alone. And alone can be a terrifying thing anywhere, but particularly in a city, in all the hurry and fear and worry and inevitable loneliness. You begin to feel invisible, non-existent, constantly scooting over the pavement, no trace left behind, passing no one you know. It's basically people leaving little bits of themselves around, little chunks of their humanness. Also vandalism is fun. Yes, I speak from experience. Sue me, arrest me. :) (i only really did it twice, and once was on the bathroom wall in Hard Times Cafe, which doesn't even count, because they pretty much encourage it.)

The odd thing is that once there is art, beautiful, well done art on the wall,often people respect it. Occasionally someone will write some little insulting tag on the wall, but many of these pieces are pristine, and have been for some time.

So now we come to the government reaction. Street art is practically legal. The police probably will not stop you. At least not in Shoreditch. But they may paint over it. And then what? They've simply refreshed the canvas for the next artist. There are cases where the city council will paint over a piece, and the community raises a ruckus, because they liked it. Believe it or not, when someone puts a piece of art on the wall in a rather grungy place like Redchurch St., it's not the people who live there who whine. They are ok with it, sometimes the artist asks them, as was the case with the alphabet street. It adds personality.

Ben Eine is a great example: David Cameron recently gave Obama one of his pieces, and after that, that same week, Eine painted on a wall in Hackney: “The strangest week”. It was a lovely big bit of street art, just like his other stuff. Come the next week, the Hackney council had painted over it. Whilst his piece is presumably hanging in the White House.

So, I think street art will always retain a little of the anarchist artist, and be the better for it. All anonymous urban phenomenons have that characteristic: parkour, bike posses, skateboarding, urban exploring, all varieties of slightly communist sharing, like the flash drives in the gum, all the other stuff I can't recall but have encountered while poking around cities. Good. I like that.

And since talking about art is like dancing about architecture, here's the pictorial proof. LOTS OF IT.

I'm not even kidding, you're about to look at about 70 photos. I will put any relevant/interesting facts or stories before each batch. Ok? OK. k.

The fourth one here is a Banksy. CHEEKY MAN.
ha. a pun.


vampire carrots! and leetle tiny people with an anteater. I love the mini ones, they are there only for the observant. Also the shadows are painted on, a nice touch.

3rd one looks like a Banksy but isn't: it's very political though. It's a stencil of a famous football photo, but with politician's faces swapped in. It's David Cameron (Brit Prime Minister) grabbing some other politician, whose name I cannot recall, by the....not his nose. What a notion, politicians manipulating each other.....

4th is Space Invader. The wall with the blue and red piece is one of the most painted-over walls, bit of a territory war. mine. mine. mine. mine. mine. etc. forever......
and the Not Soup, best tag ever.

oh look! people actually in the act of arting!
how nice.

more little tinies!!


Also, the third one is an example of what I mean by a palimpsest: something there before, covered, still visible. Layers.

the first two are the Banksy with plexiglass over it, (come to think of it, the man in the loo has plexiglass too) and the others are the stuff on the wall at Cargo.
I like the one of Wile. E. running off with a sheep.

3 and 4 are a Ben Eine piece, 5 is by a Bangladeshi woman whose name our guide has not sent us yet...sorry. She also did the little people on the shutters eating. Wonderfully bright and rich, the photo doesn't do justice.

Not all street art is paint: 1 is a terrible photo I know, but on the corner there's a little thingie made of those melty beads we all played with as children. And the rock, the rock is so clever.

1 and 2 are a Ben Eine piece: ANTI ANTI ANTI on one side of the street, PRO PRO PRO on the other.

AHAHHAAAA that first one. Short. Sweet. To the point.
and the "useful" piece, what humor.

In order: Malarky, ROA, Stix, Malarky, Malarky.
hark hark malarky. :)

"a shortcut to what?"
but i will bet you it was no shortcut to get it on the roof.
nor to cover that bike in crochet. There was a car there too, but I don't know where I put the photo. OH WELL. use your imagination.
4 is another ROA.

1 is Stix again, 2 is CZK, and the last one is my favorite ROA, possibly my favorite so far. So unexpected.

LAST BATCH. if you read this far......pat yourself on the back. you are PATIENT.
That last ROA....the way he used the wall, made it look like the rat is crawling out, about to lick the drainpipe....I understand it's vandalism, sure. But there is another part of me that says "you paint over that and i'll feed you to the sharks." Or the sewer rats, they get as big as cats in London.
And the last one is one of those that made me feel like I'd caught something, caught London being London. I didn't alter it much either, all i did was make it less eye-searingly orange, if you can believe that.

Keep your eyes open.

1 comment:

Crazy mom said...

Okay, my favorite is the rat one, followed by the penguins. And I love all the ones with shadows! How fun! Thanks for sharing.