"And then, all of a sudden... an art project [gets] all key stakeholders...participating." -Heidi Quante
HQ: My name is Heidi Quante and I primarily work in the realm of creative communication. For the last year-and-a-half, I worked with 350.org, the largest international grassroots climate change organization, to use creative communication to educate the public about the impacts and solutions to climate change and ideally to spark them into action.
“Before [The Alley Project] there were many murders in a in a three-, four-month period…And what’s incredible about this particular project is that residents can see [crime] actually move away. Now it actually feels peaceful. That’s what’s amazing. This place, you can stand here and it feels … peaceful, and it’s because of TAP.”—
Dan Pitera, advisor to the TAP Gallery, Associate Professor of Architecture, Director of Detroit Collaborative Design Center
Check back soon to see an interview with founder Erik Howard and professor Dan Pitera as they give a walking tour of TAP.
"This fence was installed in case of riots provoked by mass falsifications during upcoming elections. Sorry for the temporary inconvenience."
Meet Partizaning, a website and public project seeking to create a new social art movement. On March 4th, they launched their English website (eng.partizaning.org) in Debalie, Amsterdam, during Welcome Back, Putin! – a festival showcasing Russia’s leading art activists.
Their projects have included:
Car Impounding: an event organized to kick start an automobile intervention in collaboration with Flacon Design Factory on February 27th. The idea was to deal with the issue of growing car ownership and the irresponsible attitudes of drivers towards pedestrians, the environment and their city. Volunteer participants received sticky labels that resemble official traffic and parking violation tags - and invited members of the community to stick them on badly parked cars - aka blocking crosswalks, trolly and bus paths. The goal was to create a sense of shame among drivers to raise awareness.
Wiki Parliament: a response to the crisis in Russia and ideas of political representation. It emerged following the November 2011 elections and the many protests and meetings held thereafter. It lets all enthusiasts and/or professionals connect and work on the basic text, which should serve the interests of the overwhelming majority of users and citizens. People can supplement the main proposals, or create separate articles based on you areas of expertise, interest or knowledge – especially related to governance and lawmaking.
The Residence: a container which has been installed at 4 different locations across the city, and currently sits at the Flacon Design Factory. It is an artist’s studio, and a repository for materials necessary to create works in the city: paint, tools, a bicycle trailer, a mattress, a small supply of food, boards, plywood, cardboard, paper, buckets, and boxes. It was part of the 4th Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art.
Want to get involved? Join them at the event ‘Delai Sam' from 14-21 April 2012. OR you can join the Car Impounding intervention through their group on facebook or by picking up labels and instructions at Cafe Moloko at Flacon. They also invite street artists to work in the shipping container/mobile street art studio - the Residence, currently located at Flacon.
Email them at partizaning.org[at]gmail.com for more information or to collaborate on projects.
Below is an interview with the members: Make / Anton Polsky: activist, art-historian, designer. Igor Ponosov: street artist, curator of The Wall project (Winzavod). Sonya Polskaya: art-historian. Shriya Malhotra: urban researcher, english editor.
"What appeals to me [about graffiti tagging and the Internet] is that anybody can do it."-Dan Bejar, artist, notorious Googlegänger
Daniel Bejar: My name is Daniel Bejar. I like to say my practice is interdisciplinary. I work with intervention, site specificity, sculpture, performance, and photography as a way to do a cultural critique. I’m interested in critiquing culture and appropriating more or less everything around us.
ArtRoots: What inspired you to work outside a gallery-museum context for Get Lost and Discover?
DB: Well, coincidentally both of them take place in the subway. They’re not connected, but the critique I wanted to make meant they had to be within the subway system.
For Get Lost what I was doing was returning the subway map and the language and signage back to what it hypothetically would have sounded and looked like prior to colonial intervention when Henry Hudson showed up in 1609. Then I wanted to put it back into the system to make it alive.
Someone referred to my work as being populist and there is something nice about everybody being able to experience it. You don’t have to be in the art scene or go to Chelsea. And if you don’t get it on the first time, maybe it’ll pop up on another train and you’ll see it again.
AR: Is accessibility an important like factor in your work?
DB: I think so, yeah. I think it’s also about public space. Like it happens, it’s real, people experience it. A lot of my projects take place at different sites and happen in the real world. And I think that it is really important that they not be closed off to any section of society.
AR: Do you ever think about your work as illegal?
DB: No. I mean I knew what I was doing was illegal but to me it’s not illegal. I know companies pay thousands of dollars to advertise in the subway, so why not? It’s just another voice.
AR: Do you feel like your voice is something that the public wants to hear?
DB: I’m not interested in what they want to hear, you know, I’m interested in what I want to say and if it’s heard it’s heard, and if it’s not it’s not. A lot of my work, well, some of it, does fly under the radar and I really like that. Like the Discover poster, a lot of people don’t get it. It’s just so subtle, you know, the ships that I put on there just look really natural. But I’m okay with that, like if you get it, that’s awesome, and if not, that’s okay too.
AR: I wanted to talk about your Discover poster, which more than your other work, is very obviously political.
AR: Do you think that art is a particularly good tool for the political?
DB: I think it is. Well, I think it can be. I don’t want to sound cynical, but when you’re going up against politicians who have super PACs with unlimited funds, like there really isn’t a way to compete with that spectacle. So that’s why I like going to the other, opposite end, like the so quiet end. But I think art can be political and it should be. For me it’s very important to be political, in my work and in my practice.
AR: Would you call yourself an activist?
DB: No. You can use art in your activism, but I don’t think my work or my goals are activist goals.
AR: What type of goals do you have when you start a project?
DB: That’s a good question. For me a work is to be smart and it needs to be critical. And, then aesthetics would come behind those two.
AR: How do you define success of a project?
DB: Well for Get lost and Discover it worked because I did what I set out to do. Some people saw them, some didn’t. But for me the principle is that I got them up, I carried out what I wanted to do.
But, I mean, to me there’s two layers of success. If I carry out my initial goals for the project, my idea, then that’s one layer of success. And if it’s, say received well within the community or the public space then that’s, to me that’s like bonus, a cherry on top.
I do check on Internet hits for my online projects like Googleganger, just to see what is popular. But that’s just the nature of the site, like that, that’s the context, the Internet, that’s just the way that space works.
In the subway, there really is no way, outside of like maybe seeing a blog or something, to gauge a project’s impact. I mean unless I sat there all day and watched people look at it, and I really don’t have time for that.
AR: How do you see the online space? You talk about site specificity, and if you put something just online, what does that mean?
DB: Umm … to me that’s, it’s just, it’s another space, just like we’re in this room, like that’s just another place to make something.
AR: And do you think about the audience or … is that less important online? Or maybe it’s more important because that’s a bigger audience?
DB: Yeah. I mean again, audience isn’t in my mind when I’m thinking of executing something. It’s the second thought. But online things can go viral. Things are much faster.
With Neither Here Nor There, I just checked the other day and over a thousand people had viewed it, which was kind of awesome, which I never thought of, but it’s good to see.
Niether Here Nor There is an image and coordinates photographed and posted on google earth by Dan that mark the halfway point between the United States and Puerto Rico.
AR: How do you get funding for these projects?
DB: Yeah, good question. That’s the bad part of what I do. I do freelance illustration and that’s pretty much how I fund everything. But that has to change because it’s, it’s not a sustainable way to work at all, and up until now that’s, it’s been self-funded.
I mean a lot of the stuff is not really saleable. And then sometimes when you’re doing things that, I don’t want to say are illegal, per say, but it can be hard to get money for that, you know.
AR: What inspires you?
DB: The movie Style Wars is pretty, pretty good. It’s about the history of tagging in New York.
AR: What appeals to you about tagging and graffiti?
DB: What appeals to me is that anybody can do it. I’m not saying everything is good, but everybody can do it. Which is what I like about the Internet. Everybody has the tools and it’s almost like Andy Warhol’s idea, you know, today everybody has the tools to have 15 minutes of fame.
AR: In the rest of your life, do you do any organizing or activism or any sort of other civic engagement, or is it mostly just your art?
DB: Only seriously through my art. I mean I’ve gone to, to like rallies and things and marches and the Occupy movement.
AR: Have you made stuff for Occupy Wall Street?
DB: No. Well, I started one thing but that didn’t — it’s kind of on hold right now.
AR: Is it that funny hat-thing?
DB: Yeah, this is a Phrygian cap. They look like Smurf hats. They were passed down through history. Freed Roman slaves would wear them to symbolize their freedom. Then during the French Revolution, the revolutionaries would wear them and even in America, during the Revolution, the Sons of Liberty that were down here in lower Manhattan, would wear them.
But what the French would do, they would take the Phrygian caps and put them all over, like on the statues in the city to symbolize freedom. So I made one and I put it on statue in Zuccotti Park. But I started doing this in December and these women were like, “Oh, it’s so cute, it’s a Santa hat.” So the context was lost because of the time.
AR: So you have to wait ‘til it’s the summertime to put them up?
DB: Yeah. I think I’ll wait ‘til like spring or something to start doing it again.
DIY Freehand Murals: Interview with artist and designer Remy Holwick
step 1: whitewashing the previous mural
ArtRoots: How do you plan a mural?
Remy Holwick: I plan in Photoshop— I shoot photo-reference for everything. I manipulate the photos into the composition by cropping, duplicating, and cloning. Then I grid the image out— usually into 1 foot squares. I don’t use pencil, but I do use a lot of sharpies doing the layout. If I’m working on a large canvas, I’ll use pencil rather than sharpie, because gesso accepts pencil but primer on a wall responds much better to sharpie, and with glare, sharpie shows up better.
Doing the giant grid is actually harder than the drawing— finding ways to measure and park out 200 or more square feet of grid is hard! I measure along the top and bottom first and work inwards with a measuring tape, and rather than drawing whole lines, I make dots at the 1’ by 1’ marks. Otherwise, it would get complicated fast and you’d have to commit to painting over those grid lines— not worth it!
step 2: layout the entire composition— 11x13 feet, 4 figures— in sharpie
AR: What tools do you use?
RH: If it’s a canvas, I prime it. If it’s right on a wall, I prime it. You can use the drying time to poke around at the drawing. I use black house paint for the outlines and black fills, and diluted oil paint (with liquin, not oil, for a super quick dry and luminous, washy look) for everything else color wise. Having an assistant to continuously be soaping up the oil paint brushes is key. I try to work one color at a time, but that almost never ends up being a hard-and-fast thing. If something looks wrong 2/3rds of the way through, and it needs a color you’ve already used, you GOTTA go back.
Oils blend well, but liquin reduces the opacity a lot and the drying time drops dramatically— from 3 days down to 30 minutes for some colors. It’s toxic, so make sure you’re ventilated, and it’s not terribly cheap… it cost well over a hundred dollars to get the mural pictured up on the wall.
…it took a lot of sharpie…
AR: How do you find a location for the work? Or does finding the location come first?
RH: The locations have to come first. I am on probation— if I just walked up to a wall and started painting, I’d go to jail, and as a mom, business owner, and all-around good girl, I can’t do that. If I don’t have a wall, I work on a 10 foot or larger canvas.
step 3: mix oil paints. LOTS of oil paints!
AR: Your advice for somebody who wants to paint murals?
RH: Don’t get intimidated— it’s hard to find a wall, so start smaller and solidify your ideas. “Do” the concept to death— seriously, do one version small, then another one, then another… and work your way up to the wall. If an idea is great, you can stand doing version after version while you refine it and look for the right space!
step 5: start adding color
AR: Best part about mural painting is?
RH: It’s huge, and you can’t look away. It’s public. It’s not for sale, so you’re not motivated by money. There’s a great Scott McCloud thing about defining art where he asserts something like, art is anything made without a thought to motivation aside from pure creative drive. I think murals are a great way to approach that ideal of “ART”, in all caps, because money is such a major motivator, and since you can’t usually sell a mural, it is instantly removed from the equation.
… more color…
AR: What are you inspired by?
RH: My dad was a very early street artist. He is my hero. I alternately just want to continue the mission he was on, which really was one of making that great art as defined above, and to define myself as separate from him— my own artist, in his tradition, and by his ideals. Also, I’m really interested in sex! I know that sounds dumb, but so much art is implying something sexual in the way men and women are portrayed, but it’s almost as though no one wants to visually “say” the word— I like going there! I think it’s fun and it frees you up to actually ask what the work is about BESIDES sex, for a change— like, okay, we get that there are two pretty hip kids having sex on that carpet— now, what is it saying culturally? Personally?
Mike Zuckerman: Working on Cité Soleil's Memorial Wall
Fresh off a plane, and back in San Francisco after a month in Port-au-Prince, Mike Zuckerman talked to me about how he organized a community around a memorial wall going up in Cité Soleil where he was an outsider, a blanc, and a foreigner.
Originally from Palo Alto, CA and raised in Long Island, Mike’s eclectic career (corporate world to green night clubs to photographer/community organizer) has led him to fascination with the 3rdSpace (a term invented by Ray Oldenburg). Mike describes the 3rdSpace as the place people spend their free time (as opposed to home or work time) and ultimately where they build community. This led him to an interest in public art, specifically how to transform public spaces into 3rdSpaces. He also got an unexpected lesson in the importance of flexibility, but I’ll let him speak for himself.
ArtRoots: How did you end up working in Port-au-Prince? Mike Zuckerman: I wanted to help out, but not just in a give money sort of way. So I hooked up with Haiti Communitere. They pick you up from the airport, provide clean water, toilets and a safe place to sleep. Then you can work on anything you want.
AR: How did you start working with in Cité Soleil, a community where you were a complete outsider? MZ: Cite Soleil is widely considered one of the worst slums in all of the western hemisphere. There are 300,000 people living in extreme poverty with little access to power, plumbing, and municipal services like trash removal. It is also considered very dangerous so has not had much aid or relief from NGOs and the UN. Many Haitian will not even go there, it was even difficult to get rides there as one driver told us “it is better to live than to die”. Because there has been little outside assistance, the residents have taken matters into their own hands and have launched Konbit Soley Leve (Rising Sun Collective), a local community organization. They started with cleaning the streets, painting the walls with art and are now adding agriculture. From my last trip I knew Sabina Carson, a Blanc (a white girl) who lives in Cité Soleil and is part of Konbit Soley Leve. She let me know that the community was planning a memorial mural for the two year anniversary of the earthquake.
Whenever working as an outsider it is best to assist locals achieve their own goals. I call it the “art of intervention”. It’s about creating a forum and participating in what people are already doing and help them create it. In Uganda this was soccer during the World Cup. In Cité Soleil it was meeting with local leaders. They wanted to create a mixed media instillation so adding wheat-pasting to graffiti was what we came up with together. I brought 30 large black and white photos from my last trip that were printed by JR’s Inside Out Project in New York. They liked the photos, but wanted to make sure the mural represented Cite Soleil so I had to take new photos and figure out how to print them in country. It was community driven and the outcome looks very Haitian.
AR: Part of what you did was build a social network, right?
MZ: Yeah, well bringing people together to enhance the community. The plan was to build a collaboration for the mural with Haitian street artists Jerry and Snake and my photographs. Although Jerry’s work is iconic and all over Port-au-Prince, he had never done any graffiti in Cite Soleil because he didn’t know anyone to get permission from and it would not be safe to go in uninvited. Snake is an up and coming graffiti artist that has been tirelessly working to fill the walls of Cite Soleil with art and positive messages. They had never met each other until the morning of the install. Snake was so excited to finally meet his hero Jerry that he took a photo with him and sent his friend to go print it out for his house. Jerry is now acting as a mentor to Snake. Later in the week I introduced Jerry to JR (2011 TED Prize winner) who is an internationally renowned street artist, and like Snake was enamored with Jerry, Jerry was enamored with JR.
We ended up using the black and white pictures of faces and the collapsed National Cathedral with graffiti. And we brought places that kids in Cité Soleil don’t get to see (like the Cathedral) to them. There were already some undesired tags on the wall so we positioned the photos to cover them up.
AR: What were your goals at the outset of the project? MZ: The original goal was to bring JR’s Inside Out Project to Haiti to spread art and bring back some international attention to the situation in Haiti despite it being out of the news cycle with so many other natural disasters occurring lately. We planned out trip to coincide with the 2-year anniversary of the quake. Although we put up 40 posters around Haiti, this mural in Cite Soleil became the major focus of our trip.
Konbit Soley Leve is honestly one of the most incredible, inspiring communities I have ever encountered. The goal now is to help tell the story of this group of people faced with a reality few of us could imagine who are progressing faster than communities who are being given millions of dollars in aid. It is proof that with strong community you can do anything. Cite Soliel has some of the cleanest streets in all of Port au Prince. I believe that here in lies an example for not just the rest of Haiti, but for the World.
AR: What type of lasting effects did the project have? MZ: The mural is on a wall next to a park that was a tent city since the quake. I think it helped turn this site into a 3rdSpace. It has recently been cleared and reclaimed as public space for kids to play, church to be held and community to be cultivated. There was a balloon launch ceremony here at the very moment the earth shook and took between 200,000 and 300,000 lives in an instant. It is important to commemorate those who were lost, but also equally important to lay the foundation for a brighter future. Jerry has continued to work with Snake and bring his unique style to Cite Soleil. They learned how to wheat-paste and I expect to see more of these popping up around Port-au-Prince.
AR: How many people in the community participated? MZ: Well beyond the Konbit Soley Leve meetings, the installation was an event. We had maybe 6 or 7 people putting it up, and a few more holding ladders, and before that people came to clean the street,
AR: Okay, last question!
MZ: I sold 8 1/2 x 11 glossy print outs of the pictures for 20-150 dollars each, and the money sponsored each of them turning into a poster in Port-au-Prince. When the poster went up I tagged the sponsor on Facebook in a picture of the poster they sponsored. I didn’t raise enough to cover the whole trip, but it covered printing and installation of the work. I have been commissioned to install some additional large scale wheat-pastings in America and I have pledged to allocate 10% of any money I earn doing commercial installations towards future community driven ones.
This is how my political science thesis turned into a blog about public art.
I wanted to understand grassroots collaboration and change. Community organizing seemed like a good place to start, but a lot of what I read and saw was far from the work I wanted to research. Some authors and organizations were amazing, and they inform this project. But a lot of organizing literature talks about how to “empower people” and that felt condescending, and ill informed.
Reading about community organizing led me to books like Power and Powerlessness by John Gaventa, who explains (in too many words) why the people of a small mining town in Appalachia were “powerless.” He describes how they were powerless in three dimensions. But never, in 288 pages, does he mention the incredible original music that comes from Appalachia, and even with my limited knowledge of the region I knew something was missing from the story.
So I shifted gears and read Graffiti Kings by Jack Stewart. He argues that the fastest visual transformation of a city was New York in the 1970s, and that it was a change carried out by 8 to 15 year old black and latino boys. That’s a group you never read about in political science, a pretty big hint that political science is missing something, and arts would be a good place to look for it. So I started looking. I found Tyree Guton’s Heidelberg Project in East Detroit—an incredible transformation of a neighborhood carried out by a resident for basically no money (now celebrating its 25 year as well funded and expansive organization that offers educational programing and more). Closer to home I found academics and activists thinking about how art could be a tool for political change, and even economic change. I even found some merchant associations encouraging public art in their neighborhoods.
Through a series of interviews with artists, organizers, and academics, ArtRoots is a growing online database (and soon to be zine handbook) that tells people HOW to make public art and the IMPACT it can have on their community.
By creating a live working document with real internships and jobs, a calendar of upcoming events, and cutting edge developments in funding and community outreach, I hope the blog inspires real curiousity and action around how we can all make change in our own neighborhoods regardless of our wealth, gender, race, or age.
Finally, I want to thank all the lovely and accomodating interviewees who gave their time and their focus to me and to this project. I hope you enjoy hearing from them as much as I did.
I want this blog to live. Post your work, or work that inspires you, comments, questions, & suggestions or email ArtRootsProject[at]gmail.com.