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How is it street art if it's not on the street?

This is not strictly about anything to do with music at all, but it happens to be the thing that is most on my mind at the moment, and this link that Linden forwarded to me this week just really made me wanna talk about it.

So you checked out the link and read what it was about right?: a group of “pixadores” in Brazil who were protesting against “the marketing, institutionalization and domestication of Street Art” by the galleries and media… And they didn’t even bother covering their faces…swoon…

This issue has bugged me for ages, probably mostly intensely around 5 years ago when in Auckland a company by the name of Phantom decided to “own” all the spaces in Auckland usually used by posterers to advertise their DIY gigs and events etc. Where you’d normally see layers of black & white A4 flyers pasted up with a mixture of lumpy flour and water or perhaps wallpaper paste for the more discerning, suddenly there appeared huge A1 sized coloured posters advertising products and large corporate bands and signs advising you that you would be prosecuted or your poster would be torn down if it was put up in any of the spaces “owned” by Phantom, which happened to be the side of every abandoned building, electric box, busted fence etc in the city.

Similarly, there has recently been a huge crack down on graffiti in targeted areas of the city, (i.e the poor parts) and while there has never been a better time for graffiti artists who want to make money in the corporate world (just look at ads for Vodafone etc), suddenly your average kid on the street, for whom graffiti has always been something outside of the system, can get more screwed over by the police than ever before, especially if they live in South Auckland and if they are brown. I lived in the privileged central city, and worked with youth in under-privileged Otara (a suburb on the edge of Auckland) for a number of years, and I don’t think I’m exaggerating to say that they seemed to be getting more and more ghettoised for behaviour that was perfectly legitimate in my eyes, me who doesn’t want to have to watch planes pulling large advertisements for Qantas across the sky while I’m sitting in the park, who doesn’t ask to be bombarded by sexist and heterosexist and racist advertising everytime I step outside the door in central Auckland….What the hell do I care if these kids want to tag everything up? I’m glad they do, the graffiti that many of those kids do in Auckland is vital and exhilirating in my opinion, cultural terrorism that resists being co-opted by being “ugly” in the eyes of society. And I’m not talking about Otis Frizzel either.

Anyways…So now I’m living in London, and where’s all the graffiti? The only concentrated amount I’ve seen so far is in this tunnel that was set aside for a “street art” exhibition, featuring the work by some public school guy called Banksy…I mean, what the hell is the point of street art sanctioned by the council? What is the point of street art that some public school guy called Banksy sells for thousands of dollars and allows to be sold off on little canvases in the Camden markets to tourists etc, or has his pieces out on the streets put behind perspex so no nobody can tag over them? And has CCTV got such a hold on this city that there are no kids or activists or anyone wanting to spray all over the walls? That’s a shame if it’s so… And I can’t say I’d risk it either.

So what the hell is up with commodifying street art? And posters and flyers and zines that are brought out on shiny coloured paper featuring advertising for Coke or whatever, disguising themselves as being “street” and therefore appealing to some youth market. Same as commodifying riot grrrl or punk or hip hop, middle class art school kids wearing “bling” and adopting some lingo outside of their experience as an expression of irony towards a group of people they don’t think would ever understand the joke.

I’ve read a few message boards about what happened in Sao Paulo. The overriding opinion seems to be, good intentions, but bad choice of target. Why target an independent gallery featuring work by artists who do actually do stuff on the street, who maybe even came from the “street”, and now are legitimately trying to make money off their skill. Dumb taggers, people are saying, who are still wearing Nike and trying to be revolutionary. Spray an adidas billboard, people reckon, if you want to make a statement.

Well you know what? What’s gonna get a bigger reaction and get people talking about this issue more? Spraying up a gallery or tagging some billboard where the company can afford to put a new ad up to cover it at 6am so nobody ever sees or knows or cares? And plus, what do the artists exhibiting at the gallery in question care? No doubt their works were insured, so they’ll still get money anyway, and what does it matter to them whether their work was used in this way or bought by some rich person to put up in their rich person’s “edgy” lounge room? So they want to make legitimate money from their skill….well that’s fine and understandable, but is it still “street art”? Is it still a zine if it’s a monthly gig guide put out by Barfly? Do we need to waste paper making posters advertising Katy Perry when everyone who likes her has a TV anyway and watches it avidly?

The kids that I knew back home when I worked in South Auckland are going to end up either with huge fines, jail time or maybe even death (e.g the situation that happened last year), OR they are going to be commissioned by the mayor who will sanction them to do a piece on some politician on the side of one of their buildings in their neighbourhood who has never done a damn thing for them. And you can be damn sure the mayor will make sure that he gets into the photo with those kids in the papers.

This is an unapologetic rant. What do you think?

Posted Sep 18, 10:23 AM | By Melissa |
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