Screenings, workshops, and talks -- and murals of course.
These are the markings of at least some of the increasingly serious Street Art/Urban Art festivals that have emerged in the last few years thanks to calls for genuine scholarship and the creation of academic frameworks to help us understand something that began as a grassroots form of expression in the mid and late 20th Century.
Open Walls Conference in Barcelona this year featured new public artworks by Dumar NovYork, Fasim, Muretz, Roc Blackblock, Sam3, Sheone, Sixe Paredes, and Syrup; a relatively small roster of artists compared to larger commercial festivals - and one that is heavily weighted toward local talents.
But as an artist, researcher and educator in the fields of graffiti and street art, Javier Abarca will tell you that this fourth edition of Open Walls Conference holds the "conference" aspect on center stage, with heated debates about the politics of art in public space - and private space for that matter.
This years' debate had as its central argument the propriety of bringing Street Art into the exhibition space, how, and under what circumstances. Among the questions posed were whether it is ethical to bring urban art into the museum or whether the arts true nature is to live out its natural life wherever it has been painted illegally.
From Left to right: Elena Gayo, Christian Omodeo, Jorge Rodriguez-Gerarda and Javier Abarca during the panel discussion at the Open Walls Conference 2016. Barcelona, Spain. (photo © Enrique Escandell)
For fans, collectors, curators and artists in the Street Art world, this will sound like a familiar debate in light of an exhibition this spring in Bologna, Italy that was controversial to some because it contained illegal works taken from an abandoned factory.
The "Banksy and Co." exhibit sparked a revolt by the artist Blu, who made a splendid show of his own by destroying others of his public artworks and inspiring the support of kindred painters to assist him, with some even holding a counter exhibition.
Says Abarca, who moderated the debate, "This year's focus shifted on the very contentious topic of the conservation of public art pieces produced without permission, resulting in an extremely intense three-hour discussion in a packed auditorium where two opposed visions on the topic were scrutinized."
On panel were one of the exhibition's curators Christian Omodeo, along with artist Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada, and Elena Gayo, whom Albarca calls, "a prominent Spanish restorer and head of a think tank that for the last two years has developed a set of ethical parameters for the conservation of street art pieces.
We all benefit from examinations and cogitations such as these, and it is good to see a level of popular support to attend discussions, panels, and lectures that help shape and codify our understanding of such a widespread art movement/practice.
In addition the conference featured a publishing fair called "Unlock", which was dedicated to graffiti and street art and gathered close to sixty publishers from Europe and America, a first for the field, say the organizers. Another first, they say, is the academic study of the British artist Banksy launched here in book form as Banksy: urban art in a material world, by Ulrich Blanché.
Finally the fair featured a lecture by British journalist Marcus Barnes, "who nearly went to jail last year for publishing a graffiti magazine," says Abarca, as well as "a breathtaking reading of What Do One Million Ja Tags Signify? by Brooklyn artist and author Dumar NovYork."
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