Tuesday, October 30, 2012
Saturday, October 27, 2012
Gaye Lub contacted me in early October to let me know that she had been working on a public art project entitled "American History 2000-2012: A Visual History of Our 21st Century." Looking at her website I was surprised and interested to see a series of dense panels, almost like the covers of the gossip magazines that might be found near the checkout line in a supermarket. However, the images were not of airbrushed (or "revealed") stars, but rather images from newspapers, what appear to be screen grabs from news shows, and looming hulking icons of Americana. Each panel depicts a different year, with thirteen total each at 296 square feet, spanning 70 feet when place side by side (email with artist). Lub describes the project as a "mirror," but it is a reflection of historical events that perforns the desperate non-sense that animated Bush administration War on Terror policies, the almost nauseating slew of images spat out at an American public, and the process of forgetting necessarily imbued in the media attempts to create consumeable sound-bytes. Lub posts the work on her website, as well as having shown it in her studio, at the 2012 Burning Man festival, and more recently at the junior college near her home, as well as at a Peace Awards Dinner in Walnut Creek, California, this Saturday, which will be attended Congresswoman Barbara Lee, among other denizens. Importantly, Lub makes her images open source explaining that they "belong to US [U.S.?]. They are our history." An interesting attempt to navigate the morass of media, memory, and politics, what follows is an interview I conducted with Lub via email about her recent work. Photographs of the Burning Man display were kindly provided to me by the artist to supplement the interview text.
Interview Transcript Begins:
1. Beginnings: On your website you explain that you began doing work in stained class. How did you become involved in art, when, and why?
9. Have you received criticism for this work? What did critics say?
Sunday, September 16, 2012
Impossible to fully describe given its wide topical range, aesthetic complexity, and that, importantly, it works as a spatial practice with the tonalities of the singers, physicality of the dancers, and the weird juxtaposition of bodied and disembodied voices and images that is performative and not merely textual, "Imperial Silence" illuminates the productive possibilities in encountering death as an aesthetic and cultural resources that should be collectively negotiated, not managed and held at bay, and again asks the question, what does it mean for us to negotiate memory, history, and violence aesthetically? It provides a provisional answer in the performance itself: director Jota Leaños stated at the opening of the matinee, that the production engages death in ways that are often written out in the U.S., and he explained to the audience"Some things might not taste as good as they look...so take what you like...experimental theater is about...serious play."
The notion of "serious play" in conjunction with death, both as theme and empirical inevitability importantly has its roots in what might be seen as an understanding of mortality and community that is actively worked out rather than repressed in Mexican culture. In León, Guanajuato, when seeing the celebrated aerosol mural piece "Las Katrinas" outside the Nicholas graveyard, Wes told me, We see death here, in Mexico, and we can talk about it, a sentiment later underscored by Nikkis.
The Day of the Dead is an occasion for death to become a public art: worked out, practiced, communicated with, where mortality is understood not the end of but a crucial element of humanity. It is apropos, then, that Jota Leaños uses death, in a sense all of the players in the opera are "Las Katrinas," as a quilting point through which multiple kinds of violence can be negotiated, republicized, and introduced into public memory.
The opera is chaotic, but so its violence, publicity, and morality. The final rave scene is an exhuberant, carnivalesque, opaque performance of hyperstimulation, embodiment, and excessive enjoyment in the face of and potentially because of death.
Octavio Paz notes: "Everything in the modern world functions as if death did not exit...But death enters into everything we undertake, and it is no longer a transition but a great gaping mouth that nothing can satisfy. the century of health, hygeine and contraceptives, miracle drugs and synthetic foods, is also the century of the concentration camp and the police state, Hiroshima and the murder story...The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it; it is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love....The cult of life, if it is truly profound and total, is also the cult of death, because the two are inseparable. A civilization that denies death ends by denying life...It is useless to exclude death form our images, our words, our ideas, because death will obliterate all of us, beginning with those who ignore it or pretend to ignore it." (Labyrinth of Solitude p. 57-60).
"Imperial Silence," then is a form of "serious play" for the audience; an occasion to meditate on and work intensely with the supposition: what would it mean for death to be integrated into life, and for us to personify, dance with, and account for death. And what does it mean for the above to take place in a collective register?
This serious play, to play on words, does not intend for the above exercise to be fully comfortable: at every juncture the United States, and Whites, are implicated in ongoing schemes of erasure, domination, and violence of many kinds. The female dancer, after allowing the audience to watch her and her partner elegantly move, and strike the floor with their feet, challenges such viewing privilege by giving the finger. However, even the representation of violence is beautiful. It is unfair, perhaps, to fault the venue for diluting some of the political heft of the piece because of its location, in the lovely theater at the Museum of Contemporary Art. But it seems to me that the location is central: announcing prior to the beginning of the Ópera Jota Leaños stated that the performance was not "for a tourist gaze" but for those of us who are cultural outsiders, who get to enjoy it, might it be?
Very smart scholars such as Phaedra Pezzulo have written extensively about the relationship between tourism and death, and how it can still be a politically redeeming endeavor. Here, though, I want to put the accent, and perhaps the question mark alongside the question of enjoyment, and whether, in Jota Leaños' framing, we can distinguish among different kinds of enjoyment in ways that might yield more productively attuned forms of citizenship. Specifically, how might place be implicated more critically in the performance itself? Michigan Avenue is the consumptive-tourism hotspot in Chicago, and importantly, it is a place where visitors can have an anxiety free experience of urbanity- something that presents itself as metropolitan, but precisely without many discomforting scenes of poverty, violence, mental illness, infrastructural decay, emptiness, and racial tension. It allows high-end retail stores to stand in synecdochically for Chicago as a whole, a Chicago that is home to thousands of Mexican immigrants, the site of immigration protests, local businesses, vibrant art scenes, gang activity, church activity, stoop dwelling, informal economies, and so forth. Chicago is a place where death is zoned geographically, and shootings in "safe" areas are highlighted as a surprise and ongoing street violence in "shady" areas is relegated to the normal. So it is with profound gratitude, and interest that I got to see this performance of joy, death, and re-memorialization in a strange theater, within an urban non-place, to use Marc Augé's terminology.
The Ópera concludes: "!Silencia! !Silencio! ?Se puede? !Sí se puede! Has llegado a la frontera de la muerte, La tragedia é nacita! Lloren, no rian, La Vida nos une..." The inverse to the opening which solicits the listener to laugh, not cry, because death unites us.
Monday, June 18, 2012
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
In Puebla this week there is a conference, hosted at Benemerito Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP) on women, literature and art. By sheer coincidence a colleague, unlike myself, actually familiar with the city, is attending a different conference at BUAP this week. We, along with his Puebla family, arrived late after making our way through the different terminals of Benito Juarez Airport in Mexico City, and driving through the seemingly unending edges of Ciudad de México. It is an eerie feeling, leaving D.F., the intense crash, clank, honks and whistles of activity die out suddenly and you are left with hills and varying air pressure (and altitude) the ghostly smattering of light a reminder of the megapolis being left behind. Puebla, on the other hand, at least the Centro Historico, has a more manicured and relaxed feel: kids, teens, adults and the elderly loiter around the Zócalo square, backpacks are left against columns of the surrounding plaza as workers repair some tiling on a balcony, and plants are held in pretty painted pots around the square as a fountain gurgles in the middle. People walk at a less frenetic pace, and there are several concentrations of pedestrian only zones, with two-lane only streets. In short the Centro Historico fosters intense sociality, has regions for encounter and rest, and is part of an urban ecology of architectural distinction, a high level of upkeep, and relative security.
Thursday, March 22, 2012
Interview with NERD at 36th and Albany Sept 18th, 2011
I met NERD in April at the Chicago Loves Hip Hop Conference sponsored by Words Beats Life and Columbia College. He, RAVEN and MONK/TOASTER were teaching a beginners graffiti class and I went both to meet more artists, since I was doing this project on global public art, and also to learn more first hand about the techniques that go into graffiti writing. The guys brought a bunch of ink markers, paper, urban calligraphy work sheets and graffiti magazines to help us look at different styles, and NERD led us step by step through the process of making a tag. RAVEN rhymed while we worked (transcript of our interview coming soon). I will use this as an opportunity to say that going to Meeting of Styles or taking a graffiti class or just learning about the process of doing graffiti from tag to production really helps a person understand the level of skill, effort and creative energy that has to go into graffiti—it is not mindless and it is not easy. You have to have a good sense of scale, color balance, geometry and motor control. NERD is a world-class writer, who has been writing since 1988 and is an expert about the Chicago scene, clearly a very good teacher, and along with RAVEN and MONK was really encouraging of all of us. After the lesson NERD agreed to give an interview about Meeting of Styles, and I caught up with him at the festival, asking questions while he worked on his production. The transcript is below.
CB: when did you start painting?
N: I started painting NERD in 1988. And I’ve been painting since maybe the 2nd grade since maybe 82, 83 as a little kid.
CB: What got you into it?
N: Growing up in my neighborhood, Uptown, is like a huge graffiti neighborhood. And my older brothers did it, all my neighbors did it, it was all the things to do.
CB: when you started writing in uptown, did you go to other places too?
N: actually being a northsider I was one of the first northsiders to travel out south and hang around with southsiders. You know I like to make friends with people was I am outgoing so. But I mainly stayed on the Red Line.
CB: How do you think the Red Line has changed, graff wise, over the last couple of decades?
N: Great question. I just rode the train about a month ago and I almost was about to cry it was the worst I’ve ever seen the line it was bombed up but like places where they would do pieces and burners were all like one color, two color type shits and throw ups and shit and I’m like why the fuck would they climb all the way up here just to do this one color shit? But they did so it was kind of depressing and sad at the same time.
CB: Where do you think now would be the best places to go to see really good graff, in Chicago?
N: Just mainly the underground, like kind of what we call chill walls or something like they are illegal but they are kind of so down low that people don’t care you are painting them. But you could get arrested. Or I like the freight scene, its going pretty good still, and I like the fact that on the freight scene your piece will last for years and they travel around and they come back and they are all like faded looking and shit. Permissions walls, battles like this you are getting a lot of good graff. But don’t get me wrong I love the bombing aspect but there are things that need to be bombed but not the walls where you could be doing big assed burners on you know?
CB: have you painted in Little Village when its not Meeting of Styles?
N: Little Village? Yeah I’ve been painting Little Village my whole life too, different spots up and down, different walls over that way. Another crew that I’m down with called CT they are out over there.
CB: do you have to prepare for Meeting of Styles in any special way, different from when you do other productions?
N: Nah, this year was the first year I got someone to come from out of town to come and paint with me. He prepared a little bit and usually last year we prepared a lot but I never know the letter styles I’m going to do or the piece I’m going to do but we kind of prepared the background and kind of get the theme going. And this year we did the theme of Akira. We just met but we are both Anime fans, so we just felt like man lets do some cool anime. I’m excited to do one of my favorite animes that got me into animation.
CB: what’s your favorite part of MOS?
N: Meeting new people. I just like the competition of it because everybody is trying to do better than the next guy too. Its like a battle in a sense, but there ain’t no prize, and it comes as the ending of the summer in Chicago and it always seems like a great way to end the summer, to me. I always like that aspect of it.
CB: Is there any part of it that’s kind of difficult or frustrating?
N: For me its hard because there are so many people that want to paint and the object of Meeting of Styles originally was to bring people from out the country here and host it here, but every time Chicago people want to take all the spots. And me, I don’t want to really paint I’d rather give my spot to somebody, but then I see everybody else still paints and I’m like fuck that I want to paint too.
CB: How would you feel if there weren’t any more MOS, like if it just ended?
N: I would be sad. It’d break my heart. I’ve been bringing my son: he’s been to eight MOS, it’s the eighth year, its like a family tradition in a way, almost. My daughter been here plenty of times.
CB: How has it changed over the last eight years?
N: I would say from a Chicago perspective I would think that people are trying to take it more seriously the last couple years than they did in the past, and people are just kind got of a lot better...I think it brought a lot of people here and we met so many people that it got a lot of people here to travel to other countries and paint out there so it brought the world together a lot, I think.
CB: What is the importance of meeting international writers, writers not from Chicago?
N: I think its like meeting a family member, you know, meeting somebody that’s to into the same likes as you and just the mutual respect and you never wonder how they look and what they always was and you seen them in magazines, or shit like that, but you always wonder “man I wonder how they are in real person, are they cool and humble or are they assholes, are they just like you.”
CB: How do you document your work? Do you use photographs, do you use facebook, do you use Flikr?
N: I throw a little bit on Facebook but mainly Flikr is where I like to keep it more underground, I think Flikr is more undergound.
CB: Do you keep a black book anymore?
N: I get a black book and a throw a couple sketches in it and for years everytime I get one somebody steals it, its to the point that I’m not even mad no more.
CB: how do you meet other writers? In person, on facebook or online?
N: I mainly just meet em in person. If they respond to some shit and build a relationship on facebook I’ll meet them and be cool with them. But I’m not big into trying to meet everybody like that.
CB: Do you have any worries about Meeting of Styles getting kind of commercialized? Like corporate sponsorship or something?
N: I’m not worried about it and I wouldn’t be mad if they would sponsor some paint especially right now because this shit’s expensive. I like the art, I like the fact that they make the paint for artists nowadays. And graffiti came a long way because the paint came a long way. Its fucking good now. If we were still using the old paint we probably wouldn’t be as good as we are.
CB: Do you think MOS is just for graffiti writers or is it trying to communicate with other audiences?
N: I definitely see a lot of different [artists] – the person I just met next to me she only does framed work she uses a paint brush so you know its bringing out other artists too. Definitely street artists get into it, and definitely performers, like, DJs and rappers and shit.
CB: Do you think its gonna change how people think about graffiti, like non artists? Like change the stigma?
N: I think you know, we had a conversation earlier that its pretty much been around so long that much aint changing no more. We’re at a point that everyone knows about it and either loves it or hates it now. You know its no big deal to them now because they are like, whatever, its graffiti. Seen it a million times.
CB: What do you think the best aspect of graffiti is in terms of what it does socially?
N: [Its] definitely social... I’ve met a lot of friends through it and they are friends for life, and I’m always constantly meeting new friends.
CB: Well that’s all the questions I’ve got. Thanks so much.
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Today marked the (hopefully temporary) end in my four day crash-course in the graffiti scene in León. I had the opportunity to speak with Wes, Kif, Nikkis, Nose, Truko, Asme, Dermy, Kiddo, Dano, Jhard, Sic, Zanko, Nukleo, Waxny, Back, Juan, and hear Arnick, Jafer, and many others express their opinions about legal and illegal graffiti in León.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Wednesday, February 1, 2012
When I met with Patricia Quijano Ferrer in October, sitting in the café by a monument to (male) muralism, I described to her the chapters in my thesis. “I will start with the conflict at Rockefeller Center, and its formation of ‘Man Controller of the Universe’ in Mexico City today.” “Why ‘Man’”? She asked point blank. I stammered, “Well yes it is a vision of Man but perhaps it means community?” She laughed, and told me, of course she knows I am not trying to be exclusive, but this is indeed the question, no? That we assume public art, monumental art, is made by and representative of, men.
Patricia’s comment, which gave way to an extended talk about her work with other women artists, and their political concerns, gave me pause. At that point, 2011, it seemed to me pretty much a given that public art, especially communal mural art, was a fairly inclusive, communitarian and liberal genre. Having studied muralism in Chicago’s Pilsen, Logan Square, and Humboldt Park neighborhoods and in Philadelphia’s city center, what I had seen was largely an art which sought to “take back the streets” from corporate control. As a woman raised Feminist (if there is such a thing) I was of course aware that most, if not all of the muralists I had encountered were men, and that the practice of mural production is in some sense a very macho task: physical, intensely demanding, and involving great scale. However my belief was that the social effects of many murals still reached many parts of communities, whether or not they participated in the mural’s production.
The public face of Mexican art is dominated by the visage of Diego Rivera, Tamayo, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orozco, and more recently, Frida Kahlo. With the release of the film Frida increased interest has been attracted to Mexican art on the part of American art lovers, but this fascination is framed by a problematic understanding of the place of women in public art: that they have no place.
The Frida/Diego dialectic is a simplistic one. She painted intimate, personal, emotional scenes, and he painted grand, historical, public ones. She was emblematic of the exotic, the native, the home, and he the cosmopolitan, the political, the global. What is lost in this binary is the fact that there are a large amount of female contemporary artists in Mexico today working on public art, and that the impact that Frida had on the art is not confined to “feminist” circles: it impacts broader counterculture practices, particularly artmaking inspired by the “Neomexicanismo” movement of the 1980s.
Art that is often called “peoples’ art” easily obscures the fissures and exclusions at work when talking about works meant to represent an entire “people.” In the opening of a fantastic documentary called “¡Women Art Revolution: A Secret History” by Lynne Hershmann Leeson people are interviewed in museums, parks, and other public places and asked “What women artists do you know?” and the answer inevitably is not much more than “Frida.”
While laudable that Frida’s work has such cache it also marks a serious deficit in public knowledge about the mere existence of women in art today. Patricia argued that this lacunae is even more pronounced in Mexico. She argued that to many art is understood to be a hobby for women, not a career. However, there are many talented women artists, of all ages and from all backgrounds, they just lack a public space to exhibit their work. She described muralism as communication in “voz alta,” in a strong voice, but that without space, there is no voice at all.
Mujeres en el Arte is an organization that has exhibited in a small sala in the Palacio de Bellas Artes for the last ten years, across from the monumental works of Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco on the second floor. These exhibitions, once a year, are themed, and display the skills of women in visual arts across genres. However, the ability to exhibit in Bellas Artes is not a given. It is a fight, Patricia explained, and in this fight you learn that feminism is not a given if you are a woman. Confronting bureaucracy, gendered standards of artistic excellence and professionalism, and costs, she elaborated that the exhibition has grown, poco a poco, over the years, but is not guaranteed. However, when they do occur, it is amazing to see the broad range of people that are brought into the famous Palacio that would not normally be there. By opening up the doors of the “public” a little bit to a new kind of gendered female public, it becomes more dynamic.
In my trip back to Mexico this march I hope to speak with graffiteras, academicas, artistas and curatoristas about the fights, successes and goals they have for mujeres en el arte in Mexico today.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
5Pointz on Long Island City, New York, is a globally recognized center for graffiti art. The several story warehouse boasts works by talented graffiti artists from all over the world, and visible from the 7 train, and across from PS1 it also is a testament to the complicated negotiations and movements that graffiti makes between street, sketch pads, museums, and galleries.
I've had the luck to be able to interview a couple dozen artists, in Mexico and in Chicago, from all over, and some of the questions I often ask are how they feel when their work gets gone over, if they are worried about graffiti's future in the wake of increasing commercialization and generalized style via the internet, and how they conceive of their style. The word "evolution" comes up numerous times: that the artist has to evolve their style, that graffiti is ephemeral and so it is merely evidence of a continually transforming city scape, that graffiti as a movement, and part of hip-hop culture has been evolving in terms of range, technique, and audience. Evolution then is a crucial element of an art which on some level is based on repetition of the basic tag name (in simple throw up form or in more complicated productions), a kind of repetition with a difference.
Given this keen awareness of graffiti's temporariness, in terms of style, mere existence, and total immersion in the tides of change, why is it important to have fixed places and spaces for graffiti to exist? How are we to understand graffiti's affiliation with evolution alongside calls for some kind of protection. Specifically, over the course of 2011 5Pointz has been at risk for demolition and replacement by condominium developments. In an interview with Meres One, curator of 5pointz (transcript below) I asked about why this building was under fire, and what the importance of it was. He explained that it is an "unofficial landmark", that it fosters international connections between artists, and that it is a free museum that allows people who might not otherwise have access to art education, or awareness about graffiti, to "witness it." Responding to my query about why the threat of demolition he responded that because 5pointz is "geographically close to Manhattan" it is valuable, and vulnerable to become changed from an industrial to a residential corridor. This comment is an important reminder that even though graffiti is an art that moves, changes, and adapts it depends on physical city spaces for its existence. The increasing closure of public space, the replacement of large brick canvases for artists with private dwellings for consumers is an ongoing issue in many cities across the world. Graffiti's ephemerality is testament to its ability to survive, but also evidence of the increasing fragility of the public written word in a world where currency is valued over communication, consumption over expression. What 5Pointz reminds us is that among evolution, radical change, we must hold some things relatively still, if only so that others can have the chance to gain the skills to get with the flow.
Many thanks to Meres One for meeting with me, as well as Dane-2 and Zimad for talking with me about NYC graffiti, and Sloke for talking to me about how important 5Pointz is. Go to 5ptz.com for more information and links to documentaries and media about this important cultural space. Transcript of Meres interview follows.
Transcript Interview with Meres One 12/19/2011.
CB: So I was first hoping you could talk a little bit about how you got into graffiti?
M: I’ve been doing art all my life so there was just a time that it got introduced through a fellow artist when I saw his book of graffiti art. From that moment I was kind of curious as to what that was, and he explained to me, and upon looking through his book and noticing the tags and stuff in the street it became something that intrigued me.
CB: About how old were you?
M: That first instant was probably in early 6th grade, junior high school.
CB: How long have you been writing then?
M: About twenty years. I didn’t really take it seriously until I was sixteen, seventeen, and then I started getting into it.
CB: What made you get more serious about it?
M: I just liked being a vandal, rebellious in a sense, the general rush. Its kind of like, the thing with graffiti is that it allows kind of anybody to become famous. You could be a quiet geeky kid, or you could be that popular kid in high school that played football, sports, or a goth kid, whatever it is the artwork speaks for itself. It doesn’t really matter the makeup of the individual.
CB: Any one in particular influential for you?
M: I’d say starting out Subway Art was one of the first books I got my hands one, Spraycan Art, and Ghandi, Scheme, everyone in that book was an influence to me in Subway Art. At a young age, being sixteen/seventeen, when I got to a point which I thought was getting good and now looking back I was still a supertoy I got to a point where I looked at that book as obsolete and wound up tagging up the whole book and throwing it out, and it wasn’t until a few years later that I went and got another copy of it that I keep till this day. And I have a greater appreciation, even for [stuff] older than that, for [art] back in the seventies, upon reading and then studying it a little and then realizing that at that time there was no wild-style or 3-D pieces. It was basically a simple typography, with an outline around it. Kind of like the development of break dancing. I was watching last night the 2011 Redbull [PC1?] and its almost as if they defy gravity, compared to the first generation, you know.
CB: So why do you think its important to hold onto the old school stuff?
M: In order to go anywhere you have to know where you have been. I think its important to respect the history for its good and bad moments and incorporate your part of and your knowledge into the history of graffiti art itself too.
CB: I wanted to know if you could next talk a little about the history of 5Pointz and how you got involved.
M: It used to be Phun Phactory which –p-h-u-n- and then p-h-a-c-t-o-r-y- kind of similar run organization, didn’t have as much wall space because the landlord didn’t allow as much of the building [to be used] I also covered everything higher than a ladder up to the top using a cherry lift crane. The level of the art wasn’t as fine tuned as it is now and the gentleman who ran it wasn’t a graffiti artist. So to kind of be in the culture itself gives you a little know-how of it..
CB: So now its under threat to be destroyed—probably a shitty subject but can you talk about that?
M: I’ll say this. Long Island City, anything that is geographically close to Manhattan is subject for change its only a matter of time until Long Island City becomes changed from industrial to living quarters and his vision is to make it a condo and a …I really wont speak too much…I’ll say this: the importance of this building… it is an unofficial landmark, a world wide landmark for many people throughout the world. It has a rich history and it is also the only legal space for this kind of art where people can come at any given time and exercise their right to paint.
CB: So there are no other legal walls in the tristate area?
M: Not to the level …lets just say I go out and I go to different neighborhoods and I see different walls that I want to target and I say listen can I do your wall…I gotta get ahold of the landlord of the building and get permission from him and then its like, can you do whatever you want, but if you do it, it doesn’t mean that someone else can do it, and it becomes a kind of your wall, this is the only kind of community wall. So I mean, whats going on and with what he wants to do I am not concentrating on that, I am more so concentrating on…our ten year anniversary and we do have another year out of it. They just signed another year lease inside so we will be here at least till next winter, so my goal is just to continue to expand the program to educate people and make it more of a world wide impact so that at least if it was to go down for whatever reason more people could say that they have witnessed it.
CB: What kind of documentation do you do since the walls change?
M: I have photos of a lot, pretty much most of the stuff. We take some video, numerous documentaries done on it. I think that’s another thing I want to concentrate on this year a lot is getting a lot of videographers to do all different types of documentaries on 5Pointz, like the one that Aegis did but there is also another gentleman that did a narrative kind of storytelling documentary on 5pointz which is cool, not too long ago, and kind of encourage that more.
CB: What impact has 5pointz had on the community, not just artists but other folks that live around here?
M: Well it brings PS1 brings foreign tourists but so does 5pointz. A lot of people that come for PS1 will stay in the neighborhood to witness 5pointz. A lot of people that had no intention at all of even getting off anywhere over here that see it from the train out of curiousity end of getting off and wind up kind of wandering around to see what it is. Every person that comes to look at 5Pointz is a potential customer to the businesses around here: to the restaurants, and bars, and you know, galleries and stuff. So it helps the revenue of Long Island City. And if it were to grow even more that would improve even more.
CB: I saw in the documentary that you are doing work with kids that are into illegal stuff and trying to get them to do more legal stuff?
M: You know, my thing is this: I’m not, I’ve been on both sides of the spectrum. I’m not telling a kid what to or not to do, I’m just saying a) it is harder than when I was younger. The charges are harder, the penalties are harder, there is an alternative now, its not an alternative I had. So the time that someone spends here they are not going out and defacing something, so whether they do it illegally or not, and still come here and do it, it lessens the time they are out writing on the streets. So I like every element of graffiti.
CB: So in that respect is just giving artists more options in terms of where they can write?
CB: Have you noticed other effects writing at 5pointz has had on artists?
M: To have a place of this size and level it enables you to learn without taking classes. You just come, any given day you just watch an artist paint, you learn techniques, you make connections to artists from all over the world that you would most likely not meet. I mean, in all reality, how many chances are you going to get to meet a French graffiti artist or one from Spain, or Italy, it doesn’t happen, but over here its pretty much everyday that that could happen.
CB: What is the importance of meeting international artists?
M: you know you share…every place has different values and different styles. Its good to see what is out there in the world and to kind of network and build and expand your horizons so that it is not just like the five boroughs is your whole world. You have an opportunity if you go to France – like when I went to Germany I didn’t pay for a hotel, I stayed at a graffiti artist’s house that I met here. And you know I was invited to another even in another part of Germany where another graffiti artist I had met here was and that’s…its good to kind of look outside of ….I know some people that don’t even leave the neighborhoods, their whole friggen lives. Its like, you go to a different city and they are like whoah that is like going to France. These cats stay in Brooklyn or they stay in Queens..i grew up in Flushing and there are kids that never leave the neighborhood.
CB: What do you think 5Pointz does for the global graffiti movement?
M: 5Pointz enables people to kind of come see it and witness it and get their own opinion without being kind of brainwashed by the media, and by the police, and by the politicians that automatically give it a negative kind of stigma. Its really a beautiful art form, whether you like it or not, whether its done illegally or not, on your property, its still art. And rather than wipe it away, and pretend it doesn’t exist, 5Pointz allows people to come and witness and then they can leave not like it still, and they can leave and say “hey you know what I kind of liked some of this this is really cool, it is a lot deeper than I thought it was.” And its giving people options, options that otherwise I don’t think they’d have. Its helping legitimize the art form.
CB: One reason I’m asking is that some writers I’ve talked to have fears about the future of graffiti, whether its commercialization, or because of the internet styles becoming more general…
M: Here’s the thing. Everything is evolving. Break dancing started out, cats were doing it on linoleum, not even linoleum- on a cardboard box in a park. Now they are doing it at Redbull arenas with you know hundreds of people watching and the prize money is god knows what. And they are getting sponsors, and they are travelling…everything evolves in life so basically you either can embrace the change or get left behind because graffiti is evolving and its becoming a gallery sensation, and its becoming commercial and it means that every individual graffiti artist has to take their route, kind of [decide] what is fitting for your self. For me as an artist I’d rather do graffiti art and do canvases and do commercial work, stuff that I enjoy, than be a friggen robot going 9 to 5 working in a cubicle for the man and not really being able to enjoy life the way I want to enjoy it. So maybe it doesn’t fit in what some person’s breakdown of what graffiti is, but you know what, graffiti doesn’t really have a solid definition. Its to the individual that is doing it. Some people have tons of money and can afford to go out and get arrested and pay for lawyers and some people did do a lot of trains back in the day, and they killed it, and now they have city jobs and they even drive the train, or they are a court officer, or they are a union worker and they don’t want to lose their pension. Does that mean that they are not as, that they shouldn’t be as respected because they did what they did at the time that they did it and now its because its not fitting for them in their life that they are no longer graffiti artists, that they are a sell out? Its like, I tell these little kids that try to approach me, you know, how old are you? Sixteen, seventeen maybe twenty one? I’m thirty-eight years old and if you even make it to thirty years old and you are still doing graffiti, then you can maybe complain to me because your complaint isn’t even valid to me [now].
CB: How do you personally define graffiti?
M: Its expression. Its using all different types of canvases. Its taking and leaving a statement. Its an adrenaline rush. Its doing it without permission, its doing it with permission. Its getting a message across and ultimately its art.
CB: One reason why people don’t like or react negatively to graffiti is because of it being illegible in terms of the text—do you think graffiti should be more legible?
M: Ah, you know its to each your own. I don’t do- when I do a Wildstyle I’m not doing it—people that could read the art form kind of decipher your style after x amount of tries of seeing your stuff, you kind of have a blueprint to your stuff, but ultimately when I do a Wildstyle it is more for my own pleasure than to say oh I want everyone to read my stuff, I mean, some people do big bold things to be read, some people just do their names, some people do political graffiti only, some people don’t do their name and they just do political messages, ultimately human kind in general—if they don’t understand something they tend to not like it. They are scared of the unknown. So rather than embrace it in some form, whether you like it for the colors or what it may be…my father is a pure example. When I was younger and doing graffiti I’d work on a black book piece for like a night and I’d say “hey look at what I did” to my mother and she’d be like “oh cool” and my dad would be like “this is shit this is crap look at this garbage”. And now because I am making a living out of it and he sees me on the TV he is like “that’s my son” so it has changed. I think it was a mix of him seeing it as a dead-end art form
As well as not understanding it, that he wasn’t even willing to give it a chance. Now that he sees how famous I’m getting of of it, and the jobs, and the amount of money that I am capable of making, that he is proud and accepting. And he still doesn’t understand what the hell it says, but at least he understands money.
CB: What does your tag name, Meres One, what does it mean?
M: It doesn’t mean anything. I started out first tagging public school I just first started doodling on paper I was Kid Ace, which was horrible, and then I switched over to Heck, H-E-C-K, and then after that I realized relatively quickly that those were a hard group of letters to kind of play with, H, Cs and Ks don’t really work too well. So I was kind of sifting through the alphabet and jumbling letters around, I picked M, E and R, and upon jumbling those around Mere had the nicest swing to it, and eventually I added S to the end. And that’s pretty much what I stick to.
CB: What do you think the social function of graffiti is? In terms of how does it impact society, how can it help communities?
M: Its helps. Look at 9/11. When 9/11 happened countless graffiti crews, everyone was impacted by 9/11 who lived in New York. Everyone in the world was impacted by 9/11. But if you lived in New York especially I guess the best way you could describe it is that somebody broke into your house and kind of violated your safety and your happiness and everything, and at a time when some people were mad and they ran off to join the services, and that was their thing, some people ran down to the Trade Center to help, some people like myself were like “yo I have to create something to voice my opinion.” And the first wall we did was kind of more aggressive, it was a proud American wall, we did a huge American flag with the twin towers coming out of it and it was more like an “F-You this is our country” type wall, like my process of healing when on, I had another opportunity to do a wall which was a more emotional kind of wall. That was a timeline of the chain of events that led to that, and it not only helped me vent but enabled a young lady who lost her boyfriend in 9/11 to kind of have some kind of closure and those things, that incident, allowed us to express ourselves. People that normally don’t like graffiti, don’t want it in their neighborhood were kind of open to 9/11 walls, and there were 9/11 walls that went up everywhere, in neighborhoods that I would not expect to see a 9/11 wall in . So tragedy brought about goodness in that sense, and it was cool. Lady Pink, she does a lot of political stuff, she is very strong and voices her opinion and art is like the best way to really get that across, more so than text, so is probably a big part of the reason why they don’t like graffiti, it’s the right to voice your opinion without having to pay for it. Without having to be silenced, you know?
CB: How do you decide who gets to write on a wall, and can they write whatever they want?
M: We let everybody paint and depending on the level of ability of the artist things will last longer. You could be a great graffiti artist, come and then not cover what you went over and you wont last long. You could be a great graffiti artist, come and not decide to do a full effort and just do a piece, and you could just last accordingly. You could be a great graffiti artist and do a production and it could last up to a year. You could be a not so great graffiti artist and put in the A-plus effort and put in like two weeks on a wall and that’ll stay for a year. It goes on depending on how much traffic we get, how good it is…
CB: So how do you make those decisions about how good something is, how do you make that quality assessment?
M: Of what lasts? I try to be as fair as possible. I’m not partial to ne styles or another. I get stuff here that is kind of fluffy and South Park-ish, and some stuff that is more like aggressive, some stuff that is political, and all in all I try to have a variety. There is stencil art, there is street art, there is wheat past…there is a little of everything.
CB: Do you think there is any relationship between graffiti and for example the Mexican mural movement in the 20s?
M: I mean there is a connection in terms of that you are telling a story, it’s the artist telling a story whether you are telling it with letters and images, or you are telling it with just images, we are story tellers, we are here to give and receive feedback.
CB: In an ideal world would be have multiple legal walls or is it important to have a central point?
M: There should be one in every borough, why not? But the thing that is hard is finding the people that can run it. With no salary, it really lessens that incredibly, because I know a lot of good people that could probably run 5Pointz but aren’t as stupid as me to be here ten years salary free, but you know, you have to be involved, I’d say it helps to be somewhat good, but you also have to be not so involved such that you get involved in personal politics, and not be too aggressive but not a pushover either.
CB: Is there anything else you want to say?
M: Just check out our website, 5ptz.com. We have the official 5pointz page, check that out, and that’s it.
CB: Thanks a lot.
M: Cool, cool.