Urban Walls: from graffitism to street art
Federica Araco - 01/02/2014
For years, hundreds of artists all over the world create their works in the streets and on the walls of our cities with diverse techniques, materials and objectives. It is a very variegated and complex creative phenomenon, constantly expanding.
Babelmed interviewed Simone Pallotta, curator of public and urban art and artistic director of WALLS - Contemporary Public Art.
How was the street art born?
Determining the origins of a world-wide phenomenon is certainly very complex. The term, coined by the media at the end of the nineties, actually contains a very vast and diverse world that has its roots in the sixties and seventies, when some artists began to work for the first time in the urban space. Then there is certainly a strong continuity with graffiti, which since the ‘80s spread to the streets of New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and then to the rest of the world. Writing one’s own name on the buildings of the city in those years was an attempt of re-appropriation of public space that no longer belonged to anyone. Some of those who made these works of letter-design then began to produce other things with completely different contents and forms. Over the years, the phenomenon of street art has been partly absorbed naturally by contemporary art.
Who are the main representatives?
Banksy, who recently left the United States after the project “Better out than In”, followed very closely by the media; Shepard Fairey, another American; and Blu, the most famous Italian artist are among the most important in the world.
They first started, at the beginning of the new millennium, to build a visual imagery that quickly became international.
Are there certain cities or locations where the phenomenon is more lively?
At the national level, Rome and Turin are becoming major centers with visibility also in the European context. Many things happen in Barcelona, Berlin, London and New York, and Philadelphia also organizes major events.
The countries of the East are also becoming interesting places: in Russia, for example , there is a very important festival. But artists are constantly moving, because they are called by curators and organizations who work in urban areas .
The role played by the Internet is also crucial: in the network you can run projects in a fast, comprehensive and free way.
What messages are generally expressed by these works?
The Street art has an extraordinary communicative power because the messages and the images it produces are clear and recognizable and are in direct contact with the audience, citizens of urban space. But the contents are very different from each other.
If we think of the early work of Mexican muralism, which in some ways is a precursor phenomenon of painting in contemporary public space, we remember that their messages were very political.
Today they are few street artists who criticize the society with their works. In Italy, for example, there is only Blu and a few others.
When street art becomes public art it often loses its "revolutionary" strength and it is important to question how much the artist is actually free to do whatever he wants despite being in an urban space...
Freedom of expression is essential in order to remain within the framework of true art and not mere decoration. In general, I would say that the phenomenon today has little political aspect but a great technical aspect.
With WALLS in general we create projects with a strong willingness to include social partners. In 2011, we realized "Waves" in Civitavecchia, creating an ongoing dialogue between artists, students of art and citizens to transform the wall into a territorial experience, making it return to a more complex cultural process. After a year, works were realized on the exterior walls of a tenement house, a school and a private building in the periphery and in the center, also to create a link between different areas. The artists involved in the project were Aryz, Dem and Augustine Iacurci. In Rome, when Veltroni was the mayor, we created 40 legal walls for Roman writers, a regular space where they could express their creative potential, an alternative to lawlessness. ( www.urbanact.it ) .
Graffiti and street art have played an important role during the uprisings in the Arab world…
When there are big changes and uncertainties in the social and political level, the artists, even if they are not street artist by nature, take to the streets to send messages directly to the people. In these moments the art truly becomes a bridge of communication with the society. In Arab countries, the phenomenon has blossomed in all its strength and its revolutionary power, becoming at the same time, art, communication, sharing, political struggle.
What are the next WALLS projects?
A new project that will cover a neighborhood on the outskirts of Rome in schools and with the involvement of young people with workshops is about to start. We will invite also artists who will produce wall arts in the area.
Currently WALLS is in India, in New Delhi, where these days there is the first Festival of Street Art (www.st-artdelhi.org) with a mix of Indian and European artists. The project is supervised on site by Giulia Ambrogi, our project manager, and implemented with local partners. This is the first event of its kind in the country.
Translated from Italian by Övgü Pınar