Thursday, August 8, 2013

UK, London: Olympic street art fumble

When the Olympics is on the way to your city, one of the first things the organizers do is try to set the city like a stage for all the TV coverage that will follow. Erasing graffiti art and street art (and sometimes ads and signage) is one of the things that such committees (and film companies), feel very comfortable doing, apparently.

This practice is bad enough, because now your locals don't get to show their stuff on TV and you've Disneyed up the place. Generally the local artists aren't even consulted, because the two ends of the conversation can't find each other, and anyway, money talks and oly is a steam rolly.

In London, something more egregious occurred. Not only were the locals reportedly redacted from the landscape, but some international artists were brought in to paint in their stead ...  on the walls formerly occupied by our heroes. 

Well, at least they were the right kinds of artists and good people deserving of recognition, but you can just imagine how it all chafes. And it still goes on, because...

To add injury to insult, the new works have been protected with antigraffiti coating, so the local artists can't take back their halls of fame. This all makes sense from the curator's perspective, but not at all from the street artists' and writers' standpoint, because the walls should be dynamic, not static.

Graffiti art and street art pieces (and murals) in their natural environments stand the test of time by being both great and locally respectable. The changing work in the local halls of fame also become part of the landscape, part of the local interest. And that change brings spectators to the area regularly, just as the changing shows at the museums and galleries do.

Preservation and ephemerality will always be in tension. We want to save the things we love. We want to preserve value in the things we paid for. There's a place for both art change and art preservation in our urban environments. Replacing one with the other is not the best way to go. Curatorial heavyhandedness destroys authenticity and embarrasses everyone.

Similarly, the local-international tension will always exist. As the argument goes, the international component is key to the Games. Clearly, however, promoting international harmony means not insulting the locals and not leaving them out.
Ideally, the locals would get to paint something spectacular for everyone's enjoyment in a winning scenario for everyone.

The artwork would be just as wonderful had the talented artists, both local and international, been welcome to produce it together. Such collaboration happens all over the world today, and it's organized by the graffiti community. Here is one such project that worked spectacularly, Chromopolis, for the Greek Cultural Olympiad in 2002. Greek artists invited both local and international writers and put them in collaborative teams, who designed their own murals and painted them at preservable sites around the cities. Problem prevented.