Reconceptualizing the Landscape of Urban Art
Street art often creates a sense of urgent temporality. An unknown expiration date looms over spectators who wonder whether it will be the elements, the local government, or the artist’s own choice that will eventually erase the artwork from the cityscape.
The city of Paris, much like other European centres, has a rich landscape for street art, despite its semi-illegality, such as the quartier of Belleville or the famous mosaics hiding in the bends of the avenues. The art undeniably plays with the landscape of the city, such as Nick Walker’s typical “vandal girl” figure graffiting a wall in pink or a shirtless man holding a yellow paddle adorned with a crescent moon up to signage on rue de la Lune. These works are so inextricably intertwined with the fabric of the city and that very street that it would almost be meaningless if they existed anywhere else.
But street art hangs in galleries all over the world under the title of “urban art”; several artists have made their names global in auction houses. And though this type of public art has been adopted inside prestigious buildings, does it not detract from the work when it is removed from the original context?
This belief has been challenged by several unusual encounters, such as the rather atypical Fluctuart, a center realized in 2019 housing a radical project to reinvent the Seine and its image. The center itself is constructed on a barge, which is not an unusual site on the river and includes its installation pieces which spill onto the adjacent quay. The duality of space is heightened by the transparency of the windows and the open-air stairs exposed to the river below, which highlight the desired effect of the project: to establish a new and immersive relationship with art, particularly urban art. The collection on the main floor boasts street and graffiti artists such as Invader, Miss Tic, Vhils, and many others usually tucked behind glass barriers.
Despite this art being free and open to the public, it has been stripped bare of its walls; it is seemingly an architectural antithesis to street art. However, the general mission of the project is to reinvent, educate, and pose new ideas, not only about the prominent urban landmark, the Seine, but also about the art itself. By putting up glass walls and removing itself from the actual street, Fluctuart is an experimental project which challenges the stigma of street and graffiti art, the boundaries of urbanity, as well as our own preconceptions of inside and outside. This project begs the question of what happens if you remove urban art from the entire physical metropolitan terrain? And to take these concepts one step further: what happens to urban art’s meaning when you shift this work into the digital and virtual spheres?
Given the increasing possibilities posed by technology and digitalization, urban artists have set their sights on the digital realm. Much like the streets of a city, the internet allows art to be public with a vastly extended audience, since it can be disseminated almost instantaneously to almost anywhere in the world. Technology has already transformed urban art within the physical city setting – art is projected onto buildings, manifested in public spaces with augmented reality, or broadcasted to distant cities. Artists such as Blu have recontextualized their artwork with animation and distributed these films, like Muto (2008), publicly over the internet. Or the fusion between digital and urban spaces in the project Open Urban Television (2015) by Rodrigo Delso Gutiérrez, Alberto Gómez, and Javier Argota utilizes the network of surveillance cameras around Madrid allowing citizens to take control of visibility. Not only has digitization changed what urban art looks like, but utilization of the constantly changing technological landscape has allowed artists to engage with urban life beyond the physical space.
Additionally, urban art has occupied purely virtual spaces, which are devoid of the traditional architecture of a city. In these spheres, locality is irrelevant. In fact, virtual urban art challenges our conceptions of what defines “urban.” Arguably these technological advancements are incredibly urban, and shifting attention towards the virtual realms highlights the ways urbanity has been augmented by technology. These spaces for reimagined, reinvented, and revolutionized engagement with urban art not only provides the public with new lenses through which to view these artworks, but also challenges our preconceptions of what urban art should be. And though removing certain artworks from their location may render the art meaningless, the possibilities posed by reconceptualizing the spaces for urban art allows for it to take on a myriad of other meanings. Art is now transferred into a greater context beyond the metropolitan physicality and challenges our definitions of what “urban” and “public” mean in the contemporary world.
Blu. Muto a wall-painted animation by Blu.Vimeo. May 09, 2008. Accessed June 15, 2021. https://vimeo.com/993998.
Fluctuart. June 14, 2021. Accessed June 15, 2021. https://fluctuart.fr/en/.
“OPEN URBAN TELEVISION (OUT).” Connecting Cities. Accessed June 15, 2021. http://connectingcities.net/project/open-urban-television-out.
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