Archive for the 'Politics and society' Category

Art, Posters, Graffiti, Stickers and Tags = Smear, Smudge, Scribble and Scrawl

Marja Salaspuro, Amsterdam — No discussion, No tolerance, No Smudge in the Clean Image of Helsinki. Zero tolerance towards graffiti includes a strong resistance against an open discussion around what is allowed in the public space.

Last week in Helsinki, a celebration of the Anti-Smudge project gathered as a counterpart, a public demonstration demanding legal graffiti painting places. The battle was ready, several participants of the demonstration got arrested, newspapers were filled with discourse of war. To be honest, I don’t care who is right and who is wrong (I guess nobody is perfect), but I want to spread a dream of more open discussion around what is allowed in the streets of Helsinki.

Hierarchical Division

Yesterday I found from my unloaded moving box following post card. It is presenting Slovenian artist Igor Stomajers project called ‘Foreign’. Foreign was displaying current verdicts about the different countries and was especially emphasizing the stereotypical division between East and West Europe.

'Foreign' was exhibited by Visual Corresdondents

 In Stomajers’ art work, the hierarchical division between the East and West changes once you try to read the sentences. The words tumble and meanings become interchangeable, just like in the current Graffiti/War discourse in Helsinki. There is a need to break stereotypes between ‘East’ and its scrawling subcultures and ‘West’ the Public Work Department of Helsinki city. In the end, a discussion about what visual elements are allowed in the urban public space should be an ongoing dialogue following the changing needs of the citizens and done in a manner which respects diversity and freedom of expression. Unfortunately, tolerance towards more diversified street communication is zero.

For those who are not aware, an Anti-Smudge Campaign has been in charge of Helsinki’s effective cleaning process towards all kinds of unauthorized street communication in the public spaces. The definition of ‘SMUDGE’ includes graffiti paintings, posters, stickers and basically anything added in the urban public space. The zero tolerance means that there are no legal graffiti painting places and even ordered paintings have been eventually removed. The project has been going on for 10 years, but effective cleaning hasn’t stopped the dream of more open discussion around what is allowed in public space as this weeks demonstration showed.

West has solved the Problem

On Tuesday the ‘invitation only’ event in Finlandia Hall gathered Clean Image supporters for celebrating 10 years success of Anti-Smudge campaign. According to their statistics: in 1998 there were in excess of 67.000 smudges or graffiti in Helsinki, while last year the figure was a mere 5771.

The ‘invitation only’ event meant also effective gatekeeping. The reporters were kept out. According to Helsingin Sanomat, a national daily, even two Helsinki city councilors Paavo Arhinmäki (left party) and Kimmo Helistö (green), were evicted to enter the event. Not to mention that possible contradictory voices such as Youth Department was not invited neither.

Not everybody are convinced about the efficiency of zero tolerance policy (neither that Anti-Smudge has proved anything else that cleaning is done effectively). In fact, the demand for neutral non-aligned research around Anti-Smudge Campaign was even headlined in the main national daily newspaper.

Article in Helsingin Sanomat 22.9.2008 (main newspaper)

Article in Helsingin Sanomat 22.9.2008 (main newspaper)

Meanwhile in the East

Around 500 people took part in a “Smudge Fest” public demonstration, which was organised as a counterblast against the Anti-Smudge campaigns’ Anniversary celebration. The demonstrators were gathering around Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to demand legal graffiti painting places. By nine o’clock in the evening, the police had apprehended 27 demonstrators for throwing bottles, vandalising police vehicles, and spray-painting shop windows.

Afterwards the City is pressing charges for 1500 new smears which appeared during the chaotic “Smudge Fest” demonstration. Meanwhile demonstrators are accusing police force for being too rough, and the newspapers headlines emphasize emphasize ‘war’ position.

Calming down the young demonstrators in Helsinki

News material from Helsinki: Calming down a young demonstrators

How about some tolerance and understanding?

This blog post is an open invitation to explore more tolerant ways to approach the battle around visual street communication in Finland (and everywhere). Actually stickers have already taken room from paintings. 

If you have seen some incredible projects that were celebrating urban visual language, feel free to share. Helsinki needs new tools for expressing (legally) more diversified voices in the city space. Maybe creativity can be solution.

Example of Concrete Ideas:

At the moment in Amsterdam, there are several projects related to Graffiti as a part of urban play and more sophisticated methods (easier to ‘remove’ or temporary by nature). Two of them are presented as a part of the Experimenta Design and Picnic cross media week.

More information:

Graffiti Research Lab

Outfitting graffiti artists with open source technologies.

Projects like Green Graffiti might claim a better status for Graffiti among entrepreneurial citizens: 

Green Graffiti

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Mega Engraving

Sergio Davila, Amsterdam — The beauty of the chaos in Mexico City is that anything can happen. The lack of regulations and the oligarchy of the government might be frustrating sometimes, however in a few special occasions is the perfect space for unique ideas to become real. Is quite likely that Mexico City would never have a regulation on graffiti making as the zero tolerance nowadays in Helsinki, therefore prohibition is not the answer for a mega city, it is otherwise orientation. City governments in this century should see the possibilities that cultural agency can bring, and one outstanding possibility for cultural agency is the PUBLIC SPACE artistic production. 

This technique is widely explored in the Netherlands, during the EXPERIMENTADESIGN festival in Amsterdam several designers were introducing a social behavior with their different proposals for public space art. For instance the ‘Moving Forest’, a piece by NL Architects, is thought to be an answer to the lack of green spaces in the contemporary urban environments, trees on shopping carts that people can rearrange and distribute around the city.

Moreover, the piece of Marti Guixé engages the participants in a common creation of a sculpture. The idea consist in a monolithic square surrounded by a bench and with chisels attached so that everybody can participate in the design development and modify it with their own ideas. 

These and other pieces in this festival are opening the conversation about urban issues and participation. This social art in public space is not only expressing beauty, it also engages the society in the discourse that the art piece aims to communicate. The possibility for city governments that are open to public space art production has a lot of potential. I mentioned in pasts blog posts what happened in Bogota when the government of Antanas Mockus decided to implement cultural agency in public space. The government in Mexico City has been also very inspired by these techniques and they have tried to mimic some of them, however every city needs to find their own methodologies:

The 15th of September is the celebration of independence in Mexico. In this day people normally celebrate on the streets, and the president is expected to come to the central plaza and pronounce ‘the shout’ a proclamation of independence and praise of the national heroes. This year the celebration happened as it should be in Mexico City, with the only difference that during the 15th and 16th of September 200 artists were called to participate in a ‘Mega Engraving’ throughout Reforma avenue. This Avenue is, by the way,  occupied normally by public demonstrations of syndicates and political parties, but in this occasion the pavement was not punished by the feet of masses in anger, instead it became the showroom of the Guinness record largest engraving.

Among the participants were some Novel prizes and famous artists like Leonora Carrington, Boris Viskin, José Luis Cuevas,  Vicente Rojo and also students from the art academy, writers, youth brigades and volunteers. The piece of more than one kilometer long became an space for cultural creation in a collaborative way, engaging the society in a deeper understanding of the national identity and teaching the use of engraving in a massive two days workshop assisted by huge plates and a road roller.

In my opinion we are still at the starting point of the exploration of the techniques that can be used for social enabled art and art in public space.

Collectivism after modernism

Martijn van Berkum, Rotterdam – – This cover could completely go without a book. My first thought at seeing the picture on the book Collectivism after modernism, a collection of essays that “explore the ways in which collectives function within cultural norms, social conventions and corporate or state-sanctioned art”, reads the back.


Needless to say, to a certain degree this weblog is a collective practice as well, and how I’d love to be with our members on that arrow-shaped boat. Even more when I read that the essays explore collectivism in social, cultural and political contexts. They are set in New York after 1975, the Cuban national crisis in the eighties, the sixties in Japan and in the last decade in Senegal. Not to mention the introduction which ambitiously plays out collectivism against the backdrop of the cold war in which collaborative practice is identified as suspicious communist activities and individualism is hailed as the prodigal practice of Western capitalists artists. Hmmm, this begins to look like a tasty menu.

Unfortunately, promising as it may sound, it seems like the authors forgot to add salt, pepper and a nice sauce. Very few manage to really give proper analysis of the relation between collectives and the contexts and surroundings in which they operate, on how they carry out political action, provide discursive places and alternatives and, most important for me, what kinds of strategies and methodologies they have developed.

To enable transformation on a social, cultural or political level, as the introduction promises, collective practices need to be translated to an operational level. How else can you be an actor in such societal fields? Only Okwui Enwezor manages to translate theory into practice in his text The Production of Social Space as Artwork: Protocols of Community in the Work of Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes.

It is a rich and intelligent text that combines insights from social studies, post-colonialism, community practice and collectivism to describe the political and cultural situation in Senegal. Situated in this complex framework he describes the practice and methodologies his case-studies Le Groupe Amos and Huit Facettes have developed. It is a theoretically complex and layered story combined with a very insightful, hands-on description of subversive collective practices. In all honesty: one the best texts I’ve read.

Therefore, my advice is to borrow the book, make a big coloured photo copy enlargement of the cover and put it on your wall. Photocopy Enwezors essay and lock yourself in the room with the poster and read it to last word! Inspiration guaranteed!

Blake Stimson and Gregory Sholette (editors), Collectivism after Modernism: The art of Social Imagination after 1945, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 2007
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-4462-9
Authors: Jelena Stojanovic, Reiko Tomii, Chris Gilbert, Jesse Drew, Rachel Weiss, Ruben Gallo, Alan W. Moore, Okwui Enwezor, Irina Aristarkhova, Brian Holmes.

“Veiling the unveiled truth”: the conceptual art of Silvio Berlusconi

Antonio Scarponi – Italy. We all know that the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a man of talents. First of all he is a man of spectacle, a perfect actor from the old school. He is able to dance, sing and his practical jokes are famous world wide. As an actor he also have very good make up artist in his stuff. He is also a good soccer coach as well as many other talents including the playboy skills he uses for his diplomatic aims. For instance he ‘seduced’, as he publicly declared, the Finnish president in order to elect the world capital of ham and Parmesan (the Italian city of Parma), as the European Capital of Food. We all know these skills, but recently in two occasion he demonstrate also to have great talent as conceptual artist.

Together with his Architect Mario Catalano, his consultant for the media design appearance, also famous for the design of the set of a sort of ‘soft porn’ TV show  from the eighties named ‘colpo grosso’ ( a sort of strip poker, see video below) they have decided use a Tiepolo painting as background for the press conference room of the Parliament. Tiepolo painting is titled “La verità svelata dal tempo” (the truth unveiled by time)

Recently they have noticed that the naked nipple of the allegoric figure representing the truth was distracting the attention of the TV audience. In the picture below you can see the press conference set with two representative members of the female gender of the Italian power. On the left there is the president of ‘Confindustria’, the association that represent Italian industries. Here you can also see the naked nipple. On the left image you can see Mara Carfagna, former show girl, now minister of the “equal opportunities” between the genders. As you can see the nipple in the right image has been covered. It is not photo-shopped, no, that is a solution that only cheap artist uses. It has been painted over the real thing!Well we do not want to say anything about Berlusconi as prime minister. The time will ‘unveil’ perhaps the wiseness of his political will, but as conceptual artist he definitely worths Duchamp. I find the idea of using Tiepolo painting as background for the press conference in the Parliament a brilliant idea. Especially with the iconographic symbolism that it has… “the truth unveiled by time” … excellent. But the real geniality of Berlusconi’s Art is to to cover the nipple that distract the TV audience! He plays with iconography of one of the masters Italian painting. “re-veil the truth unveiled by time” this is the title of Berlusconi’s Work. We can look upon it as manifesto of his politics. A genius.

But this is not the only prove of his wicked artistic talent. The girl on the right picture above was democratically elected as minister of the ‘equal opportunities’ between the genders. She was a very talented showgirl recently involved in a sort of ‘sex scandale’. Gossipers wants her as mister president lover, perhaps this is a bit of an exaggeration, more likely she is one of several, as we all know Berlusconi’s sensibility towards beauty. In fact the scandal apparently was about some telephone tapping of a theoretical conversation between her and another minister (woman) discussing mister president’s preferences about blow-jobs. We are not allowed to know details about this conversation, a specific law was designed to protect the public integrity of the political forces in order to protect them by the known communist forces of the magistrates that missuses their power to discredit Parliament representatives. And nevertheess is not our business not interests. So we are not allowed, now we want to know about this. But if there is some truth about the love affair, I would propose to democratically elect mister Berlusconi as one of the greatest conceptual Artist of our time. In order to elect as minister to the equal opportunities between the sexes one of his lovers, he really have to be a conceptual genius. In the picture below a picture of our minister before the public mandate.

Perhaps it is a bit courageous to say that Berlusconi is a great conceptual artist… perhaps we have to give time to time to “re-unveil again the truth” of Gianbattista Tiepolo nipple. Or maybe we have to unveil again the one of Mara Carfagna that it has been recently covered by tailleurs, a costume more accurate for her new public mandate?

What geography is really about

Made In Sweden

Trial and Error, Stockholm –– On a recent journey we visited two well-known Asian landmarks: The Chinese Dragon Gate and the Royal Thai Pavilion, both located in remote places in Sweden.

Dragon Gate
The Chinese businessman Jingchun Li discovered a run down road tavern in Älvkarleby north of Stockholm in 2004. Because of the good energy of the area, he bought land and began to build a Dragon Gate – a gate to happiness and wealth according to Chinese tradition.
This Dragon Gate will be a center for Swedish-Chinese financial relations and Mr. Li has invested 15 billion € in the project. The center includes a restaurant, a 300 square meters kung fu school, 200 terra cotta warriors, a hotel with 56 rooms individually designed inspired by the 56 provinces in China and much more.

All the building material, machines, workers, masseurs and others have been shipped from China. This has met some troubles, since Sweden is a very regulated country. One example is that in China, doors open inwards to welcome people, but in Sweden they should open outwards, in case of a fire. But despite clashes like this, the center will finally open this fall. And in the future, Mr. Li wants to import live pandas and build the largest Buddha in the world.


The Thai Pavilion

In 1868 King Chulalongkorn ascended the throne in Siam. He was, and still is, very loved since he introduced modern laws, including abolishing slavery. According to one story, a Swedish sailor in Bangkok saved one of his children, despite the threat of a death sentence for anyone who touched a member of the Royal family. Grateful for this deed, the king wanted to visit the sailor’s village in Ragunda. Another story is that he simply accepted an invitation by the Swedish king Oskar II. Anyway, he came to Sweden in 1868 and chose to travel north to study the forest industry. People everywhere honored King Chulalongkorn and his vast company, the roads was decorated and in Utanede, in Ragunda Municipality a road was named after him.

In 1992, a traveling Thai folk dancing group visited Utanede. The road named after their former king fascinated them, and things were set in motion. In 1994 a committee for Swedish and Thai interests was formed and in 1997 they began to build the only Royal Pavilion outside Thailand. The ground was blessed by monks from Thailand and ten billion € made the pavilion possible.

When we visited, carps swam in the pond, Thai people came to pray, orchids was grown from Swedish birch trees in the green house, pop versions of traditional Thai music filled the air, a light summer rain trickled down and we loved it. Much thanks to the energetic guided tour led by the project manager Ulf Edström, who also told us about his bold future plans.

Asia grows, maybe not geographically but influentially and in Sweden local initiatives have outrun Stockholm in the competition for important international connections. In Ragunda the question is: Will the Swedish prime minister Reinfeldt cancel his vacation to welcome the Thai prime minister, who will visit July 19, to celebrate the Day of King Chulalongkorn?

Official website Thai Pavilion: www.swethai.com
Official website Dragon Gate: www.dragongate.se
An earlier post on China: povblog.wordpress.com/2007/05/29/the-art-space-race/

Mexican Petrol

A collaborative post from Mariana Niembro*, Mexico City, Octavio Martínez**, Mexico City and Sergio Davila, Amsterdam.

Friday 18th of March of 1938, 22:00hrs The president of Mexico Lázaro Cárdenas declares the expropriation of the petrol. This meaning that the natural resources exploited by foreign companies became property of the Mexican nation. The 17 companies that were taken by the government were mainly American, British and Dutch. The UK broke up diplomatic relations with Mexico, The Netherlands and the US declared commercial embargo.

On the other hand the whole nation was moved by this act and they showed the support in public demonstrations, even the church supported this decision. We were taught in the elementary school to be proud about this action, and nowadays we understand its relevance, it was a declaration of economical independence, the disentanglement of an imperialist pressure that forestalled Mexico to believe in its own strength and capabilities.

The Second World War benefited Mexico obliging USA and the allies to release the embargo and to make strategic alliances instead of protecting the private companies. This situation raised the demand of the Mexican petrol and supported the economical development of the nation until now.

pemex

Seventy years after, the situation is quite delicate in the country. The Mexican Energy Secretariat declared in the last diagnosis that reserves of the Mexican Petrol Company (PEMEX) are going down. The solution that the current president is promoting is to allow international capital to invest in strategic areas mainly the exploration, exploitation and refinement. The analysis that the current governing party made is mainly economical and they claim that urgent action is needed otherwise PEMEX will soon go bankrupt.

The process begun when the president sent to the senator chamber a law initiative that includes promotion of foreign capital investment into the industry that handles the oil in México: PEMEX. This promotion is made on the assumption that PEMEX is a corrupt, anachronic and dysfunctional institution, which is not inserted on the contemporary market logic. Obviously the objective of the promotion of international investment is to insert PEMEX in this market logic, which basically means to adequate the industry to the “Washington Consensus”. To be clear on this, Mexican people have lost credibility on their governors and this initiative sounds convenient for a neo-liberal and global mind but for the critical mind it sounds like the first step to sell PEMEX.

The senator chamber is diverse during this period, and that means an ideal estate for democracy because every proposal can be discussed further. It is a fact that not everybody agrees with the current president, the risk of allowing private investment in the most important industry, basic for the national budget and the development of the country, diminish the courageous acts of previous generations that shaped the national identity.

Is strange that being such a difficult subject the current government does not take the time to review the arguments and more important ask for civil opinion. It makes people wonder whether if it was true or not that international capital has been invested in the campaigns of the two last presidents (both of them belonged to the right-wing party, PAN) specially because of the close relationship that they keep with industries like Halli Burton. Particularly since the 2002 when this company found highly reactive formations of petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico. At least we have to conclude that the topic is complicated and it requires a lot of dialogue between experts, students, lawyers, and citizens.

A huge area of opportunity in this case, in comparison with European countries like Finland and The Netherlands, is the fact that society takes civil action, meaning that they not only express their opinion but they also believe that their action will cause an impact in the national direction. Mexican citizens miss this kind of opportunities to be dynamic actors in the decision process, which is a basic element in the contemporary democratic and representative regimes.

* Mariana Niembro Martínez is a Political Science student working as a lobbing reporter at the Mexican Senate.

** Octavio Martínez Michel made his BA in philosophy and is currently assisting a research about electoral processes in Latin America.


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