The Norwegian mural festival named Nuart took place last week with a marked tilt toward the conceptual and the interventionist, a direct debate about the relevance of activism amidst a rising tide of sanctioned murals, and Tilt leading us down a path toward traditional graffiti.
Ironically graffiti seemed a rather tame topic for once.
"Urban interventionism is about not only making social commentary through artistic expression, but actually intervening in a public and social space in a poetic, unexpected or provocative way," said architect and organizer Nicola Markhus when speaking to the local Stavangernews. Markhus may have been thinking about the Portuguese artist ±Maismenos±, who constructed a miniature oil tanker platform from found objects and installed it temporarily atop a sculpture honoring canning workers in Lervig Courtyard, by way of contrasting the past with the present.
Or maybe she was thinking about the Madrid-based SpY, who painted a massive red-lettered "ERROR" on two sides of a brutal block long building in decay down by the waterside, an ironic judgment on the eyesores of unfortunate urban decay. Among the contextual social commentary as well were the oil-dripping sentiments of geologist/artist Andreco, who regaled the façade of a classic Norwegian building with his geometric interpretation of rocks found poking up from the soil, and the three dimensional mural of homeless people by Brooklyn-based Iranian brothers Icy & Sot only three blocks from an outdoor encampment of homeless travelers whom some locals call gypsies.
Such is one of the traditions of Street Art: social and political commentary that some call activism because of its advocacy, or at least its stubborn acknowledgement of imperfections in the human condition. This year's Nuart fosters the spirit and intellectual pursuit associated with academic examination and in doing so again separates itself from the growing number of Street Art festivals who implicitly or explicitly censor the choices of the invited due to commercial or political pressures. Even during the painting this year there were conversations among artists about a high profile festival underway elsewhere that had just dis-invited certain Street Artists because of their "political" work in the past.
As if to drive the point home, New York street and multimedia artist John Fekner, who created hundreds of environmental, social, political and conceptual works consisting of stenciled words in NYC beginning in the 1970s that highlighted failed urban planning and public policy, was invited to reprise his classic text based "False Promises" stencil here. The choice of Fekner was perhaps atypical and one that could be overlooked if Nuart founder Martyn Reed didn't decide to champion the artists work in his mini-retrospective indoors.
And need we mention that his indoor installation space for Saturday's gallery opening was shared by Fra.Biancoshock's instantly controversial merging of the nazi flag with the Facebook logo? Moments after we posted an early image of the installation in progress, cheers and condemnation populated our social media feeds - a happy discord that Nuart isn't traditionally spooked by.
"This is a representation of two different iconic movements; the Nazis and the Facebook age," says the Milan based Fra.Biancoshock who specializes in street interventions, not street art, per se. "I wanted to unite the two concepts in a unique logo as a way of describing two different ways to have control of the masses in two different ages. It is a provocative representation that is meant to say, 'Imagine if these two things had met in the same period,' " he explains of the illuminated wheel of instantly recognizable letter "f"s popping from a four alarm red background at the temporary gallery show in "tunnels" at Tou Scene.
"Obviously the story of the Nazis is very dramatic and heavy, and Facebook is only social media, but for me if it is not used in the right way it could result in some serious damage; in the areas of privacy, in having control (of people). So I wanted to make this interpretation of our contemporary situation of a certain totalitarianism in our communications today."
Comparatively the graffiti writer on display this year is a relative lightweight! Toulouse-based Tilt actually created one of the more visually compelling installations (and an instant hit) at the indoor gallery of Tou Scene entitled "Panic Bathroom", which consists of a tiled men's restroom evenly split between YMCA and CBGB. The untouched half is pristine and gleaming white while its brother across the line is slaughtered floor to ceiling by pugilistic color, swollen bubbles and drippy tags; all just out of reach of the velvet rope that holds guests back.
For the Norwegian born street artist named Strøk, Nuart this year is as much about aesthetics and the beauty of the moment as it is the intellectualizing that was on display here during the pub debate and two days of presentations for Nuart PLUS, organized by Eirik Sjåholm Knudsen. He shows us his rendering of figures casting long shadows across the wall on his glossy tablet and he talks about composition, negative space, and the serendipity of catching figures in motion.
"I like watching people running around and seeing these movements, these frozen moments when they are heading somewhere but you don't know exactly where - like a moment when time has frozen," he says. "It's a snapshot and you just happened to be there."
Fortunately for many Nuart still knows how to produce a memorable shot of art in the public sphere, and we have some here for you to enjoy.
Martin Whatson completed this new mural at the airport - after being stranded on top of the cherry picker for a few hours the first day because the balance was off. NUART 2014. Stavanger, Norway. (photo © Henrik Haven)
Levalet was one of many of the artists this year who made direct or indirect reference to the oil industry - the one that powers the economy in this town and much of the country. Installation at TOU Scene. NUART 2014. Stavanger, Norway. (photo © Henrik Haven)
Borondo. By scratching paint from the front of the glass and painting diagrams or symbols on the back, Borondo created a full illustration with shadow on the wall when illuminated correctly. Detail of the installation at TOU Scene. NUART 2014. Stavanger, Norway. (photo © Steven P. Harrington)
Mathieu Tremblin created an interactive piece that guests could participate in by photographing themselves before a bluescreen wall and sending the image to him. Installation at TOU Scene. NUART 2014. Stavanger, Norway. (photo © Henrik Haven)
BSA would like to extend special thanks to photographers Butterfly and Henrik Haven for sharing their work with BSA readers. Our sincere thanks to Nuart director Martyn Reed and the entire staff of Nuart and Nuart PLUS, including all of the volunteers and organizers.
This article is also posted on Brooklyn Street Art.
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