Domesticating Wild Art
Street art, also known as “post graffiti,” is a hybrid form of old school vandalism. Graffiti is known for its typical technique of handheld aerosol spray paint tagging, whereas street art goes beyond the boundaries and becomes more expressive and experimental. Common forms of street art include stenciling, stickers, large scale posters adhered by wheat paste, or hand painted images. The street art lifestyle is an underground world of law breaking artists, expressing a notion, an opinion or just displaying their own name in an environment that the public can interact with.
Street art and graffiti are environmentally based types of art. This art is only as effective when it is placed in a specific environment, because its intention is to work with the environment and the audience as a whole. The act of creating graffiti and street art is sometimes enough of a movement within itself- breaking the law, reaching obscene heights or even just displaying something so controversial to society. Someone caught creating street art, doing graffiti or tagging public or private property can be charged with vandalism, malicious mischief, trespassing, etc. These artists knowingly go up against the law to display their art for the public to see (whether it be for the intention of publicity or commentary.) This form of art is extremely individualized, rebellious and expressive. Recreating graffiti or street art to be displayed and (or) sold in a gallery setting is contradictory of the intent that the art naturally holds. Removing graffiti and street art from its environment and placing it in an art gallery is wrong.
Art is something that cannot be defined by one individual because it is usually so subjective. However, street art often falls under one particular category- street art is site-specific art. Forms of site-specific art range from installation sculptures or performance art in a public place, to particular paintings in a room designed specifically for the artwork itself. Site-specific art sometimes is created for and placed in an environment, which assists the piece in becoming a successful work of art. Artists will often choose or be assigned an exact area which they will be putting their art, and the piece will be designed to allow it’s surroundings be complimenting and appropriate- or possibly inappropriate and ironic. On the other hand, street art can be site-specific in the sense that it does not belong in another place, other than the public.
A popular form of site-specific art, and street art is installation art. Installation art and site-specific art go hand in hand, mostly because an installation is created then installed on the site, usually incorporating items, materials or the setting as part of the piece. Installation art also includes performance art- something that cannot happen unless it has a specific time and setting.
Many infamous spectacles in the world today are actually site-specific sculptures. For example, British artist Anish Kapoor’s, “Cloud Gate” in Chicago, Illinois. Within Millennium Park lies this 66 feet long, 110+ ton “bean shaped” sculpture. Having been inspired by of a drop of mercury, the sculpture was created using a number of large stainless steel plates. After an intense amount of time polishing the edges, it now has a smooth, seamless, mirrored effect. This large, organic shape achieves mirroring the beautiful, panoramic skyline view from Millennium Park for visitors and townspeople to enjoy. The factors of the material, size and location all come together in making this a successful piece for viewers to observe.
A lot of artists will create a piece of art to correspond with its environment, based off of the way it will interact with nature. Off the shore of Great Salt Lake in Utah comfortably sits Robert Smithson’s iconic earthwork “Spiral Jetty.” Smithson installed the piece in the 1970′s, and it remains intact, looking naturally as a piece of the land. The jetty is 1,500 feet long and 15 foot wide. The jetty is made up of local basalt rock and sediments from the Earth, which allows it to have an earthy and natural appearance. Smithson’s intentions while creating this piece were to assure that it is “intimately involved with the climate changes and natural disturbances” of the lake and it’s fluctuation in weather. Inevitably the piece eventually begun to wear away and now, although it still stands, it shows signs of erosion and “sand and silt deposits.”
Removing a piece of art that is site-specific seems counter-productive. If Anish Kapoor had decided to place his “Cloud Gate” inside of an art gallery, that could fit his 66 foot long mass of stainless steel into a room, the meaning would not be the same. The surroundings of the piece would most likely be blank, white or off white walls and a neutral floor. Although the panoramic effect that “Cloud Gate” achieves is very exciting, the mirrored image would not be. Had Robert Smithson decided to build his “Spiral Jetty” within a designated floor space in an art gallery, it most likely would have just looked like a swirl of rocks and sediment. This would be the exact opposite of the artists intentions.
In a sense, street arts intention is to have a shock factor. Even if the artist does not pick a designated wall of a store on a corner of two roads at a specific time of day- it’s made for the streets. Taking something so visually stimulating, like art, and removing it from it’s expected context in shocking.
When a piece of art is not presented in the way it was meant to, it loses a piece of significance. Taking something like a piece of street art and placing it into a confined area like an art gallery causes it lose meaning. Vice-versa, taking a piece of art and putting it in a place it does not belong seems wrong, but in the ways that art street art, it is right. Street art is guerrilla art, and the definition of guerrilla is “a person who engages in irregular warfare especially as a member of an independent unit carrying out harassment and sabotage.” It would be improper and inappropriate for something of such significance to be placed into an area where it does not belong, forcing the work to lose its integrity.
A common misconception in today’s society is the distinguishable line between tagging graffiti and graffiti as an art form. When presenting someone with a work of tagging graffiti, it is typically disapproved of for its lack of pleasing aesthetics and legality. Tagging graffiti artists abuse the art of graffiti, and turn it into a form of self advertisement by tagging their street name onto a surface, or to disrespect the “system” by placing it on a home or store front. This technique is expected from gang members as an act of feud between themselves and another gangs or gang members. This history of tagging graffiti is well known, and has been a fact since the 1970′s when tagging graffiti first developed.
A natural occurrence in the art industry is for a style or form of art to become known to the art world, gain popularity, then either die out or alter into a different and newer form of art. This is something that has happened to the underground world of graffiti and street art. When tagging graffiti was first invented, it wasn’t necessarily used as an outlet for the artist to express themselves, it was used to get their name out into the world. Nowadays, graffiti is not just tagging; it has developed into it’s own form of art. Street art is more visually impacting, with the use of materials and colors that are aesthetically pleasing. Street art is still a form of graffiti, when it comes to the large factor that is the environment the art is placed in, but it means more than just a name. This tagging graffiti causes street art, graffiti and any non-commissioned public art to be disapproved of by the people, because of association with gangs, violence and dangerous behavior.
Tagging graffiti, however, (as well as street art) is illegal. This is where people become uncomfortable with the idea of something like street art, because it is associated with tagging graffiti. Tagging graffiti is not the exact same moral intention as street art. Tagging graffiti artists sometimes don’t even like the idea of street artists, because street art is more likely to be bought out and put into a gallery; it “symbolizes the death of the movement.”
In Sao Paulo, Brazil lies the Choque Cultural Gallery, an art gallery which proudly exhibits works ranging from pop art to photography. During the exhibit Trimassa! a group of tagging artists broke in and spray painted tag graffiti all over the street-art being displayed in the exhibit. The feud between street artists and tagging graffiti artists is constant, due to the conflicting interior motives that the artists hold. Graffiti artists feel strongly that they have a reputation to protect and that the act of tagging is worth their life. According to the Denver Post, within a matter of three months, there had been three men shot in cases that were linked to gang tagging violence. These gang members fill the streets with what appears to be just colorful letters and words, but are actually territorial markings, or identity battles between gang members.
Street art is sometimes also called guerrilla art, which involves anonymously leaving a piece in an unauthorized public place, for the sake of leaving a statement or message. This lawfully turns this practice into vandalism, because the only thing separating legal street art from illegal is granted permission. Even though tagging graffiti and street art share this in common, it does not make them the same, because of the radical difference in intentions.
“Some of the images, the way they work, it’s a shock to see them… on the side of a bank or whatever, you know. A lot of the work does lose its power and its potency when its just not illegal,” says street artist Afroish in the 2007 graffiti and street art documentary, Bomb-It. Taking something that is meant to be in one place and putting it out of its context is counterintuitive. Taking art out of the gallery and putting it in the streets causes the viewer to be think to himself, “that does not belong there.” This reaction is partly why art outside of the gallery is so effective, because of its spontaneous yet communal qualities. Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate would not be nearly as effective without the panoramic skyline and the public crowding around, casting exciting reflections all around. The United State’s infamous Statue of Liberty would lose its meaning, had it been placed anywhere that the immigrating citizens could not see it and grow in awe of it’s beauty. Taking something that is one-hundred percent successful in a particular environment and moving it somewhere that it is not as successful causes it to lose its meaning.
Street artist Shok 1 states that, “going out and doing street work is so fucking powerful, trying to kind of take that and put it in a room somewhere and invite people to come and drink wine and look at it, you know, it becomes kind of farcical, really.” The raw energy that comes naturally in street art and graffiti is what makes it so enriching. This art is fleeting and authentic, in the way that each work is installed by the artist aware of the dangers they are putting themselves through. Taking something to morally impacting and placing it into a place where artists conform to the rules causes the work to lose all sense of rebellion and originality.
“If it’s just random tagging to scar property and identify someone’s ego — it’s a crime,” Gino Tucillo, a street artist makes a statement on the importance of street art and graffiti in the small town of Asheville, North Carolina. “However, when you happen to walk through some dilapidated back alley and you find a giant, beautiful, sweet face of Yoda staring at you on some old forgotten brick wall and it simply says ‘Jedi’ next to it, that to me expresses something powerful.”
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