A new exhibition of Beijing street art and Hegelian concepts. Maybe.By Dann Gaymer on 11/1/16
graffiti | grəˈfiːti|
pluralnoun ( sing. graffito |-təʊ| ) [ treated as sing. or pl. ]
writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place
Is graffiti even a word we can actually define any more? Is it just another generic term thrown out onto powerpoint presentations by people who work in marketing when they're discussing how to reach the "youth subculture "demographic? I literately have no idea. What I do know is that when I walk around the piece of Beijing that I currently call home I see certain names and symbols recurring on walls, shop shutters, and the sides of delivery vehicles over and over again. Sometimes I’m curious about the people leaving their mark on this polluted metropolis.
Two names that I see frequently that I’m curious about are Zato and Mask. Both artists are featured in a new exhibition of photographs and paintings along with fine artist Filippo Cardella under the title 拆(‘chai’ lit: to tear down). The exhibition opens this week so I asked Filippo about this exhibition in the hope of learning more about Zato and Mask.
(Spoiler alert: I next to learnt next to nothing about Zato and Mask but nevermind.)
AWEH: Give us some background to you: from what I could gather from the press release you’re neither Chinese nor a street artist, so who are you, what do you do, and what interests you about street art in China?
Filippo: Correct, I am not a street artist or a writer. I have always been interested in contemporary art and back in Europe I grow up among drug addicted, soccer hooligans, thieves, drug dealers and of course vandals. It may sound strange from a Chinese perspective but in Italy you can hang around with this people quite easily if you have no prejudices. I have never been involved in any criminal activity but I had the opportunity to be very close to the world of the so called 'micro-criminality', in the end I grow up in the country that invented mafia. Some of my friends died, some are in jail, some finally decided to work. Anyway because of the strange environment where I grown up I always considered criminal activities an alternative to the system more than something morally wrong. But I am not only a sincere nihilistic and an atheist, I am also a real non-violent and for this reason I think I naturally fell in love with graffiti. Graffiti are an idealistic, non-violent form of crime: writers commit a crime that doesn't pay, a pure anarchist example of self-expression. China makes no difference, writers are these weird guys affected by some social distress that desperately try to create a position for themselves in the society and they do the most silly thing in the world: they write their name on a wall.
AWEH: How did you come into contact with Mask and Zato?
Filippo: I have my ways to get in contact with the underground world.
AWEH: A lot of people decorate public spaces in Chinese cities, from retirees practicing calligraphy on the floor to college kids writing on bathroom walls. Where does vandalism end and art begin?
Filippo: To be honest both the definitions of 'vandalism' and 'art' are not very interesting for me. They are both abstract concepts that change drastically depending on the cultural background where they are applied. In addition they are usually defined by some form of authority: vandalism is defined by the law and art by cultural elites.
AWEH: What is at stake with the reclamation of public spaces in a world already heavy with visual information in the form of advertising and political rhetoric?
Filippo: Graffiti are a reclamation of space in general, it makes a little difference for a writer if it is public or private. Graffiti writers have no political agenda, they don't want to change the world or any of these hippie bullshit. Graffiti are post-ideological: writers can be nazi, communist, vegetarian, straight-edge, drug addicted, drug dealers, religious, atheist, etc. So if you ask me what is at stake with the destiny of humanity related with the reclamation of space by graffiti writers I say nothing. Authorities can be reassured: they just need to paint over it and order will be restored. In addition you can create a lot of new jobs to clean the city: writers and in general contemporary art are a boost for the market and an endless source of inspiration for marketing strategies.
AWEH: If we take this idea that we live in a world over-saturated with imagery then doesn’t drawing/writing on a wall only add to the oppression of the senses? Should an artist, street or otherwise, have empathy for the inhabitants of the space they are creating in?
Filippo: I am not very interested in finding solutions to improve the life-quality of humanity and more in general I love pollution and I hate nature. To improve the quality of life is a job for politicians and designers but it is good that our exhibition raises questions.
AWEH: What makes the work of Zato and Mask significant in the context of Beijing?
Filippo: I don't think is 'significant' on an urban scale, I think is relevant on an artistic level. The city is the context where they develop their art, it is like to ask what makes the work of Dostoyevsky significant in the context of paper industry.
AWEH: OK. How did the idea for 拆(chai) come about?
Filippo: It is something I wanted to do for quite long, I think it is a step of my artistic journey. As an artist I am interested in the conflicts of the society and one of them is of course the impossibility of an active interaction with the urban context: the city is a 'given' space that we need to accept as it is and on the other side vandalism is, among other things, a reclamation and an alteration of the urban space, an act that subvert our usual relationship with the city.
The term 拆 is used in this exhibition as the Hegelian concept of 'negation': in order to make a step beyond the contradiction of the contemporary urban space is necessary to free ourselves from all the cultural and ethical preconditions that create it, it is necessary to demolish them. 拆 collective exhibition is an attempt of looking at the city through new eyes, the eyes of a vandal.
AWEH: Who is the intended audience for the exhibition? Who are you attempting to converse with and what is the topic?
Filippo: I am not a marketing guy and I have not a consumer target. In addition, I am a nihilist, for me life in general has no meaning or finality, unless death will be considered a 'finality'. For all these reasons I don't believe that I am in control of a specific message, I am the antithesis of a preacher. I personally work under a strict intellectual discipline but I am not so stupid to believe that my artworks will be read by the audience the way I want. My work will be distorted by my audience and I completely embrace it.
AWEH: So why did you choose to go with the 20% Picture House as the venue for this exhibition?
Filippo: I chose Michael Marshall more than the space. A room is a room but people make the difference.
AWEH: How long is the exhibition running for and what are the plans for the artwork after the show finishes?
Filippo: The exhibition will be there for 2/3 weeks and I personally hope to sell as much as possible, as Wu-Tang said: "Cash Rules Everything Around Me."
AWEH: What else do you have planned for the rest of 2016?
Filippo: I am going to publish a limited edition fanzine about a Beijing graffiti artist around March and I will have a new exhibition around mid of April. I will show new works with a new visual approach but the concept behind the exhibition will be strictly connected with 拆.
AWEH: Final words of love, hate, or destruction?
拆(chai) opens on Janaury 16, 2016 and runs until February 7, 2016 at 20% Picture House from 3pm-8pm. After the launch viewing days are Mondays and Wednesdays are 2-5pm, Fridays 2-7pm, and Saturdays by appointment.
20% Picture House is located at 30 Di An Men Xi Lou Xiang, Xi Cheng District, Beijing (北京西城区地安门西楼巷30号) on the same alley way as Club XP used to be located.
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