Saturday, June 14, 2014

MOS Germany Day 1

Day one at MOS Germany was sunny, bright, and full of beautiful productions. The site is interesting: it is a series of underpasses and walls underneath the bridge between Mainz and Kastel. Taking the S-Bahn from Wiesbaden or Frankfurt the train traveler sees the majority of the MOS walls while passing the Mainz-Kastel station, a salutation of color and visual noise that stands in sharp contrast to the careful gardens and quaint houses between stops.

This waterfront location is also near a museum, a cultural center, and several small shoppes, and its waterfront location means that a variety of visitors will happen upon the site, even if they are not aware of the Meeting. Joggers, kids walking home from school, families on walks, and people on their way to sit by the water stumbled upon the festival, viewing the work with a mix of curiousity, delight, and surprise.

The festival, which was responsible for now hundreds of global counterparts, started in Wiesbaden, and so every year offers a chance to recollect and maintain a tradition that goes back to 1997. Each year reflects a different theme, and each theme, organizer Manual explained, is a way to reflect positive values. This year’s theme is “Cause and Effect.”

A series of tables including a bar, BBQ, raclette, DJ booth,  hookah bar, and merchandise tent, situated on the water side of the event, immediately underneath the bridge and in the open air, leads into a tall underpasss. The underpass, which may seem dark and not capable of offering aesthetic relief, on a first inspection, was in fact the main site for the festival, and each side of the story-tall-wall was covered with scaffolding, constructed on site, on which dozens of artists perched, stood, or reached from, working on two massive thematically united productions. One side of the wall offered an underwater scene with a ship wreck, different maritime creatures, divers, and above, a reflection of the skyline for the festival including the bridge. 

A walk through the tunnel is accompanied by the sounds of several languages; German, Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, French, English, Dutch, and likely others. The other wall featured the work of Pixel Juice, accompanied by Mainz based writers, and others who I did not yet ascertain. On this southern wall in the underpass a scene of a shark opposed to a b-boy in a freeze accompanied what looked like a whirling tornado or vortex of color. The left side of the wall had more three-dimensional and wildstyle burners.
Pixel Juice collab piece. FPLO at work. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
A smaller tunnel, largely occupied by children, led to the other side of the festival, which included a large outdoor wall with different sections layered into the bridge, offering four to six panels for different crews, as well as the retaining wall for the train tracks, a prime spot to be viewed by rail travelers. These sites, on either side of the Frankfurt bound track, could only be reached by scrambling down a hill or hopping over a smaller fence. 

I did not have the strength of heart to make the leap yesterday, though I plan to today.

Kids working on the smaller underpass. FPLO at work. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Happily, three Chicago based artists were representing the U.S.A,  Zore 64, Zore and Statik, along with Los Angeles based writer Stigma One, and formerly Chicago located now Netherlands situated writer Lucky Lucy.  Statik was working on a production with The Aerosol Kings, FPLO, Stigma One, and other Belgian artists. The theme of the wall was Apocalypse.
Antwerp based artist, and The Aerosol Kings at work. FPLO at work. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Zore had already completed the majority of a piece one one of the main walls in the large underpass. 

Statik was working on a series of female figures for the apaclypse wall.
Statik at work. FPLO at work. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Zore was accompanied by Zor, also from Chicago, who is working on a beautiful light and dark blue female figure, her style complementing that of FPLO of Brazil, around the corner. 
Zor. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Lucky Lucy worked on a wall a little farther from the main jam, executing her signature fly away lettering style against a gradiated background. Statik and Zore 64 enabled me to meet their collaborators and interview FPLO and Stigma One.
FPLO at work. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
FPLO, from Porto Alegre, Brazil, started writing at a young age, influenced by seeing favela graffiti when going to his mother’s house.  He had been interested in drawing, and saw graffiti as another form of self-expression. He is sponsored by one of the festival sponsors, ESKIS, a clothing label that sponsors an artist a year and brings them to several MOS events in exchange for them designing a label or logo. Energetic and full of joy from past and future travels, FPLO described how the festival, for him, offered an opportunity to learn of new places, and in exchange, to teach others about one’s home town. “When I went to my first MOS people saw I was from Brazil and asked, oh, Sao Paolo? Rio? They did not know that Porto Alegre existed…now they do.”  An architect, FPLO sees graffiti as a new way to think about cities and space, one that allows the practitioner and wider range for travels, and also a way to leave their personal mark. Asking him about the anti FIFA graffiti spreading across Brazil he responded: “Graffiti is a way to…manifest our opinion…resistance, saying ‘Things are not OK,’” a visual rebuff to state claims that the status quo is one of equality. “There is corruption…and so we write ‘Fuck FIFA’ to criticize…” These manifestations also provoke and index an increasingly antagonistic relationship between police and citizens. Whereas FPLO experienced increasing acceptance and understanding by authorities of his graffiti practice over time--“They used to say ‘go fuck yourself’ and say it was ‘favela’…I’d have to run…they become more ok with it, they know me,”—FIFA created a resurgence in graffiti crackdowns ranging from surveillance to shooting. He suggested that he may do an anti-FIFA piece on his shared wall.

Stigma One, from Los Angeles, is strongly influenced by cholo-style graffiti and also New York style. He reflected that his favorite Meeting of Styles involved one where he got to paint with all of his crew at once, a rare occasion. He explained the importance of writers witnessing international styles as being a kind of “breath of fresh air, something new wherever you go.” Against styles becoming repetitive or stagnant, events like MOS offer aesthetic plurality, challenging and enriching one’s own practice. I asked about his reaction to work being gone over, and he responded, like many seasoned writers, that it is only easy to become stuck on one piece if a writer is not very productive. Continuing on, evolving, prevents a writer from being dependent on the longevity of any one piece.

I was able to chat with Manuel near the end of the day, as beer consumption, painting, eating, and socializing was in full force, we sat slightly away from the main event, the sounds of music and spraycans at our backs. I asked him about the emergence of the festival, and themes. Back in 1997 there was a set of former slaughterhouses adjacent to the Wiesbaden station that had been abandoned, and were taken over by graffiti artists who painted them “almost legally because no one cared about them.” The space, called the Schlachthof, became a cultural center, a venue for youth expression. Manual, along with municipal supporters and like-minded artists organized yearly paint and hip hop jams at the site. These festivals included up to 10,000 visitors, and hundreds of artists. Writers would stand in line, create a piece, and when they finished, it would immediately be gone over and replaced by another piece.  In 1998 the city was deliberating what to do with the site, considering turning it into a park and commercial space. To try to save the building the first Meeting of Styles took place. In Manuel’s account, a few “hooligans” painted illegally on trains, which quickly escalated into a standoff between writers, regional police, and local police, with the local police arguing for dialogue and the regional police wanting to bring in riot teams. Rocks were thrown at the trains, and police, with the shout: “The trains are ours!” Through discussion the situation was deescalated and the festival continued. However, media coverage was apocalyptic, and served, Manuel explained, to support city planner arguments to destroy the site. A single building remains painted in memory, now replaced by a parking lot, small parkway, and business offices. 

The Mainz-Kastel site had since the 1980s been a spot for writers, so it was the logical successor of the Wiesbaden Hbf location. With the support of well-placed politicians, Manuel was able to achieve yearly access to the spot, funding, and some publicity [Moredetail on this part of the history is available in the Meeting of Styles book,published 2013].

Why graffiti in Mainz in the 1980s, I asked, what social or cultural need did it fill? Youth need to express themselves, Manuel responded, and if they don’t feel like society is responding to them, they do not feel accountable to society. The need to create, to express, is a deep human need, one that is often lost sight of in a society dominated by values of ownership, consumption, and individuality. For him, MOS is a vehicle for social change by promoting creative expression and happiness, frustrating the powers that be because “if you are happy, you are not a good consumer.” Even if governments are enemies writers can paint together, he added, “We have a guy from Iran and a guy from Israel. There governments hate each other, but they paint together.” Moreover, he reflected, because of the Third Reich, there is an awareness in Germany of the need to be critical, not passive. This is perhaps why graffiti and hip hop culture was taken up so intensely in the 1980s.

This year’s theme, “Cause and Effect,” reflects the mandate that “if you put bad in the world you get bad [bad things happen to you], and if you do good, you get good. Everything is related in a system of cause and effect.”

As I left the festival around 9:45 the sun was setting on the river, and sounds of beats, cans, talk, and laughter followed me out of the underpass and up the stairs to the Mainz Kastel station.  As evidence of the impact the festival has had in the general population in Wiesbaden, I was startled by a man addressing me in German as I read the MOS Book. He switched to English.”You go to the Meeting?” “Yes,” I replied, “It is all weekend.” “It used to be at the Schlachthof,, it was an amazing space, destroyed.” “A cultural center, yes?” “Yes, but it has been destroyed, so now, not so much culture.”

** transcripts of interviews to be posted later this week

No comments: