Thursday, July 31, 2014

Ionesco's Rhinocerous: The Aggression of the Conventional

Moose Hall Theater Company, based out of Inwood Park in upper Manhattan, is in their final week of performances of Eugène Ionesco's "The Rhinoceros." The absurdist play, written in 1959 (nine years between the famous student protests of 1968), offers an allegory about social transformation, immanent violence, homogeneity, and failed or flattened aspirations. The play is long, didactic, and in a typical Ionesco style, plays upon the fallacies and fecundity of ordinary language.

Opening in a café, we find two friends meeting: the proper, well-polished, energetic, and morally superior Monsieur Jean, and the crumpled, hung over, mumbling, and lethargic M. Berenger. M. Jean lays into Berenger immediately, berating his crumpled suit, lack of tie, uncombed hair and unpolished shoes. "Drink allows me to feel myself," Berenger ultimately replies, situating his "debauches" as necessary reactions to a world in which he does not fit. Jean convinces Berenger to eschew his decrepit ways, cultivating a life of the mind, with "everything in moderation," and compels him to swear to himself to develop propriety and energy.
"Rhinoceros." Act 1. 

Around the friends are pleasantries veiling simmering hatred ("Bonjour, Madame!" a shop keeper salutes to a woman carrying a cat, and then in an aside, "She really annoys me!") or sexual desire (an older gentleman assists the woman carrying the cat in collecting spilled goods, later revealed as a means to request her company on a walk), and the scene is suddenly disrupted by the trumpeting and heavy hooves of...a rhinoceros. A second rhinoceros arrives on the scene, trampling the woman's cat, and causing her to keen and wail in grief.

Jean treats the occurance as a violation of decorum, "This is not allowable. We should go to the Council!" reparable by appeals to law, whereas Berenger sees it as a kind of chaos that may be the result of human fallacy (a zoo escape). A conflict ensures between Jean and Berenger over whether the two rhinoceroses were African or Indian, a logician is called in who clarifies the premise of the query but provides no answer, and the two friends part enemies.
"Rhinoceros." Act 1. Photo credit: Ted Minos
In this first scene convention and appearance emerge as social forces of normalization that mask, or are sustained by a kind of violence. Faulty appearance, in Jean's analysis, is symptomatic of a faulty moral character. The rest of the play, which maps the gradual transformation of all village dwellers into rhinoceros', we see the Rhinoceros, as a force for convention, emerge metonymically. One has to accept or desire to become-Rhinoceros.

The relationship between becoming-Rhinoceros and social acceptance becomes evident in the second act. Here, Berenger returns to the office, where an intense argument develops about the reality of the two Rhinoceroses who stormed the town on sunday. Daisy, an office worker and Berenger's love interest, witnessed the event, but repeatedly her testimony is discounted as non existent. Instead, attention is paid to her in demands (to type letters) and in romantic (and unwanted) attentions of the chief, Papillon, who eerily looms over her as she types, running his fingers around the nape of her neck, or putting his cheek alongside hers. Work, and argument, is disrupted when Mme. Boeuf enters to alert the office staff that her husband was out sick and then the M. Boeuf-turned-rhino destroys the office steps. Mme. Boeuf leaps from the office platform onto her husband's back in a display of fidelity.

Later that day Berenger pays a visit to Jean to apologize for their argument. Sitting in a bathrobe with head cover, Jean snorts and grumbles animalistically, slowly turning into a rhinoceros. In his transformation, he equates the rhinoceros with the virile, the powerful, and the normal.

Throughout the play Berenger cultivates the affections of Daisy, and by the third act they are the only remaining humans. Berenger becomes abusive, obsessive, and draining, asking her if his love is enough to resist the call of the rhinoceros, hitting her when she admits to being afraid, and not finding sufficient solace in his arms, and then demands that she take on the role of his Eve to repopulate the human race. in the relationship between Daisy and Berenger she is evoked as a reparative force, something (and someone) he can own, in a manner, to stem his loneliness and fear of...everything. When she notes that there is beauty and power in the rhinocerous he lashes out, demonstrating the danger of a model of romantic love where such love must be All, standing in for a variety of non romantic but nevertheless crucial relationships. Indeed, "Love is egotistical," he announces after they first come together. Romantic love does not make claims on social arrangements, instead, it is a kind of escapism. Frustrated and lonely, Daisy leaves Berenger to join the herd.
"Rhinoceros." Act 3.

The final act shows Berenger surrounded by a herd of human-Rhinos. We see him engage in a logic of convention when he sees that his pale hairy body, forehead without a horn, is abnormal and ugly, and he expresses a longing to transform. At the end, however, he resists, and the play abruptly ends.
"Rhinoceros." Act 3. 

What are we to make of this protagonist who has flat and mumbled affect, an obsessional and occasionally violent relationship to his love object, and who oscillates in his beliefs and proclamations? Berenger is not a hero, and his travails do not offer a neat story about the individual versus convention, nor about the power of love to destroy all obstacles. Instead, what we receive is much murkier. In the long, pedantic arguments throughout the play, there is only a faint frame of civility which underlies a basic aggression, which is articulated in the charging bodies of the rhinoceroses. Convention is underscored by a persistent violence. Yet, we are left with no alternative, seeing a man continue to claim independence against all reason, and in fact, with not reasons given.

The play marks the ultimate failure of reason giving, romantic love, and sociality, and their tenuousness. In a historical moment marked by intense and spectacular violence at a global level, "Rhinoceros" allows us to see the kinds of violence that structure a bourgeois ordinary.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Vhils’ Dissection: Destructive Creation

Vhils’ solo show at the Electricity Museum in Lisboa, “Dissection/Disseção,” was a fascinating exploration of creative destruction and the humanization and dehumanization of public space. The show, which explores a variety of mediums and scales, moving from the three-by-five centimeter snapshot to the half-city-block square construction, offers an exegesis on the urban as a space of texture, destruction, and creativity in a transnational frame.

Alexandre Farto, aka,Vhils is a 26 year old Portuguese street artist who is well known for his unique style of chiseling faces out of walls, instead of adding paint, paste, or paper onto them, in a fashion that is more typical of most street artists. His subjects are often residents of the neighborhoods which he visits, and often, are those who would be ignored in hegemonic history books. They are favela dwellers, community workers, grand parents, women, children. Their faces are produced out of the materials that make up urban spaces: concrete, paper, wood, metal, and are generated through violent approaches to surface: burning, scraping, scoring, drilling, exploding.

The exhibit at the Electricity Museum, in Belem, is a large scale installation work with several rooms. It is also heralded by a series of portraits created through carving up palimpsests of advertisements, which are then installed on a large water tower, as well as a piece on a building a little closer to Lisboa on an abandoned building.

Entering the space after waiting in the hot sun on a flight of stairs the visitor is plunged into darkness, interrupted by sounds and pulsating color from a set of screens that are in fact screened or filtered by stencils of human faces. It is difficult to see the “content” behind the screen, but it is easy to see constant movement and life. Stumbling into light again the viewer encounters a set of scaffolding stairs two stories tall, facing what appears to be a styro-foam forest with columns of varying heights and widths. Yet, after clambering up the scaffolding, two (or more) faces are visible, the effects of distance of variations in size creating shadows, volume, and depth.

“Look, you can see more and more faces!” a visitor next to me exclaimed as we peered over the precarious edge. This exercise in spatial trickery was powerful, because it also inverts the prevailing logic that distance allows human affairs to become smaller, less visible. In the inverse, distance, in this formation, makes human pathos more apparent. After climbing down the steps guards pointed out two single-channel televisions perched on a shelf against the blank wall behind the scaffolding. The screens recorded the faces from above, and quite possibly, the reactions of visitors. Following white walls around I reached a more open space with a set of text explicating Vhils’ intense concern with urban gentrification and the humans erased from urban landscapes, and across from it, a map of the world with a thin glass display case running horizontally under the map with lines running vertically marking different cities into the case. Like a kind of sacred grail, the viewer has to come close, very close, and peer inside to see what is contained. From the lines cutting across continents; Shanghai, Malaysia, London, Sao Paolo, are small snapshots of Vhils’ work, some of which, we learn from a series of short videos, have been destroyed along with the neighborhoods from which its subjects come. One of the films explored his work in a favela in Rio, a favela slated for demolition to build a tram that, per interviews with neighborhood residents, serve future, wealthier, denizens. In response, Vhils installed the faces of long term dwellers, standing as haunting chastisements to the city planners and future visitors, images that (barely) outlast the residents who are displaced.

Indeed, urban transformation involves what Joseph Schumpeter called, creative destruction, razing structures to the ground to allow new capitalist growth. Vhils’ process mirrors and inverts this logic, using creative destruction to create a catch in urban fabric, drawing viewers to dwell on spaces that are framed by marketers as obsolete. Using hammers, drills bits, dynamite, and plaster, Vhils and his collaborators scratch, explode, scrape, and chisel at walls in order to reveal from within the characters they support. It is an almost mystical process, an literal exegesis of urban fabric. 

This method is explored with other mediums in the show, including doors, and thick, messy swatches of advertising posters, carved up to create faces among imperatives to consume, display, and want. A series of short videos demonstrates the drama of Vhils’ creations, showing neat phrases: “non place,” “life,” etc. emerge from seemingly blank or bland walls. 

Such an active use of time and wear and tear as medium as well as theme makes Vhils’ work (much like street artist Swoon’s work) take on a lifelike quality: it changes with the wind, the rain, with urban planning. All of these different explorations in medium and videos of process are contained in a set of seven or so pods that the viewer enters, creating a sense of being contained, but also protected. Little barriers against the wearing down of time.

The exhibit concludes with a deconstructed tram car, dissected in the way in which a cadaver might be, painted white, and suspended from the ceiling in a kind of arrested free fall for the visitor to tentatively walk under, look up at, and imagine what would be revealed were the pieces to be re-fused together. Trams, like other kinds of public transit, can connect, but also dissect neighborhoods. Indeed, the show is about dissection; of urban politics, spaces, materials, but also dissection implies a will to imagination, a thoughtful reconstruction and consideration of a future possible. In this sense, Vhils’ work might be understood as destructive creation.

The show will run into Fall, October 5. More information at: and some coverage here, and here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

MOS France: Showcasing New Graffiti Futures

Crowd waiting to start off the festival. 7.19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
MOS France is held annually in Perpignan, the south of France. Organized by a duo of Paris based graffiti artists, Astro and Kanos, and a team of around fifteen artists and friends located in Perpignan, along with several local and national partners, MOS France offers a tightly orchestrated and spectacular demonstration of the range and diversity of graffiti art across the globe.
Kanos. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
The festival was three days long, starting on Saturday, July 19, and concluding with a vernissage (exhibition opening) on Monday evening, July 21st. The works produced at the festival will stay up for a week long period during which they will serve as a dynamic backdrop for arts programming at the event site Casa Musicale.

Casa Musicale doors, with Demon. 7/18. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce

I had the opportunity to interview Astro (FR), Kanos (FR), Toncé (FR), Torek (FR), Missy (FR), Sax (SP), EUKR (FR), Burger (FR), Rekor (FR), and Demon (USA). These artists hailing from both sides of the Atlantic present a diverse array of styles. Even so, most shared the sentiment that the festival was a critical space for aesthetic and technical development, but more importantly, a way to meet and appreciate co-practitioners of an art form, that even in its differences, offers a nearly universal appreciation for public expression and aesthetic experimentation.
French artist. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

The festival had the sensibility of some of the music festivals I have attended back in the United States: time slows down, people are relatively relaxed in their movements, and full of wonder in their expression. It was not only a place for the invited graffiti artists to show off their skills, but for spectators and visitors to see and be seen, evident in the range of dresses, from more traditional hip hop aesthetics with large shirts, loose pants, and caps of carious sorts, to more bohemian get ups, including leather waist pouches that hula hoopers don for the Electric Forest festival and flowing harem pants.

Indie t-shirts also reigned supreme, many containing references to graffiti, skate, or BMX culture, such as “End to End” (a reference to the practice of painting train cars end-to-end in New York City in the 1970s), and Keith Haring designs. Visitors seemed to range in class status, some wearing the simple but clearly expensive linen and cotton fabrics that many tourists to the south of France must wear to be elegant but also keep cool, others wearing less long-lasting textiles, polyester constricting in the hot sun. Multigenerational family groups, couples, and groupings of friends in the same age cohorts flowed throughout the space, clustering to watch live painting, a skate competition, or bike tricks.

Scooter and BMX Competition audience. Saturday 7.19. Photo Credit: Caitlin
There were three food trucks, one offering bagel sandwiches, another offering “bio” (organic) vegetarian burgers, and a third offering “gourmand” (gourmet) burgers. With little tables strewn about in front of the trucks, there was a true café arrangement.
Organic veggie burger and artisinal biere blanche. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
In the center of the site, on top of a flight of steps, was the entrance to Casa Musicale, in which MOS merchandise was sold, and caps were painted by an Eskis supported artist (more on Eskis later).

Casa Musicale Sunday Night. 7/20. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
To the left of this structure was a large open area with five walls (5 meters tall) installed over scaffolding about two meters away from buildings, and within this area a bar and plywood benches and tables. In typical French style, white, red, and rose wine were available along with soft drinks, snacks, and four artisanal beers.

MOS Bar. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bru
Central wall. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
A DJ booth presided over the top of the main wall, a kind of voice from above. On the right side was a BMX area and a small skate park, with a smaller set of three walls (2.5 meters high) tucked away in an enclave.

Skate park. Saturday, 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Skate competition spectators. Saturday, 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Open walls. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
These walls were a constantly changing set of images, covered with complex productions, and simple tags.

More than any MOS festival I have yet attended, MOS France seemed to be a genuinely public event, drawing from a variety of populations and well established in its host city. At any given moment around 1,000 spectators circulate around the space. It is well known and anticipated by residents. A Perpignais resident, a musician, explained to me that as a city that is known for art events and spectacles, MOS holds a special place as an event that is “tres relache” a chill space. Burger, Eskis owner, noted, Perpignan has been the site for the festival for the past few years because of its balm weather, but also because of the enthusiasm and support of the city and partner Casa Musicale. MOS is advertised on official city posts, encased in glass, and scattered throughout the city center and key locations from the train station.

MOS Advert, Quai Barcelone, Perpignan. 7/17. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Moreover, the festival itself was iconographically unified. This year’s image, a flower, covered the festival truck, posters, pamphlets, tags for artists and staff, and even the meal tickets. This visual unification also was transnationally linked to the MOS festival as a whole, using the Meeting of Styles stencil all over the walls, the ground, and literature. I was a little apprehensive about such transnational iconicity, but in conversation with US writer Demon, I am now more intrigued by this deliberate branding attempt. Such branding, he suggested, is distinct from corporate sponsorship. It is instead attempting to spotlight and celebrate a growing economy of artist run and artist produced products and communication practices. A sort of counter branding, MOS rebuts corporate logos with its own iconographic regime, one which trades on the currency of sociality and creativity.
MOS France truck. 7/18. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
MOS Icon. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Indeed, the festival is an occasion for collective creativity. It is a spectacle that is created collaboratively. From the organizational infrastructure, which involves partnerships between Paris and Perpignan, Marseille and Toulouse, to the walls, graffiti, break dancing, and skate battles themselves, artists and spectators alike come together to create an event, one which leaves various residues but all the same is based on a kind of ritual ephemerality.
Eskis table. Saturday 7/19. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Such collaboration is extended in the work of artist-run companies, like Eskis. Founded by Burger, a writer from Marseilles, Eskis produces limited edition t-shirts from one writer from every country. “Eskis,” which is slang for “esquisse,” “to sketch,” is fundamentally about communication and collaboration, Burger emphasized. It is the product of the whole graffiti community.
Crowd gathering for graffiti battle. 7/19. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Over the three days the festival was comprised of periodic skate and BMX competitions, ongoing painting, and evening battles. Saturday night, the opening day for the festival, had an elaborate graffiti battle. A set of 8 writers competed in a series of challenges, wherein a child would pull a word out of a hat, three letters long, and each writer was given the same set of colors and had seven minutes to complete a throw up writing that name.

Word picked from hat. 7/19. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Speakeur hosting the graffiti battle. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Battle in progress. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Rapt spectators. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Graffiti battle. 7/19. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
The organization was ingenious because, while it drew on the skills of speed that many writers have from illegal bombing, the mandate that each writer was writing a strange name with letters that they may not be used to, functioned to level the playing field. But it also did something else. It allowed the audience to see the skills of speed and creative process at play, simulating the adrenaline rush of cat and mouse games with the police (indeed, explicitly referenced by the MC Speakeur who would say “Allée, allée, le police viennent!” “hurry up, the police are coming!), and also show the evolution of style. For instance, Marte, an Italian, has a signature calligraphic style where the corners of his letters seem to be suspended, lifting up and floating away from the broader structure of the word like a helium balloon, or the way salt or sugar dissolves in water. Such a diffusing movement was visible in the letters “J A E” that he had to write.
Toncé. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Marte's rendition of JAE. 7/19. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
DUC. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Rensone's DUC. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Graffiti Battle. Photo Credit: Jérôme Bartré
Similarly, Shane, a Parisian writer and member of the ODV crew, has a very clean precise style, with saturated color with "D U C." Toncé, of Toulouse, has triangular letters with fades at the bottom, which came out in his assigned word, “J A B.” After the writers’ time ran out, the panels, which were two walls mounted on four wheels with curtains inside where an MOS staff member would wait, mask on, to rotate the structure 360 degrees to show both sides to the judges, Astro (MOS France co-organizer), Dizzy (old school French writer), and Manuel (MOS Founder). The judges had three seconds to decide. “It is very interesting, but it is sometimes hard to judge,” Manuel related to me while one of the challenges was under way, “whether I like the colors, or the flow.” Indeed, the different styles were often like apples and oranges, and it was hard to disarticulate the theatricality from the product. Fan, a French writer, mugged for the crowd, took breaks to dance, and displayed an excessive couldn’t-care-less approach, which the crowd adored. Alternately, Marte was extremely focused and quiet.
Fan's dancing. 7/19. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
The event, the first time ever held at MOS France, was a way to show audiences a bit of the history of graffiti and the different demands it holds. “It is between the legal and the illegal,” Kanos reflected, when I ran into him the next day.

Speakeur, an MC who grew up in the same area north of Paris as Astro and Kanos, narrated the entire weekend. He opened the festival at 6:30pm on Saturday. “C’est le Meeting of Styles 2014…on peut voir l’evolution du graffiti…il y a 50 graffeurs ici.” He calls the crowd to identify themselves, “Tous le monde—Perpignan!” and then lists the various partners and sponsors, including but not limited to a Radio station, the Mairie, Casa Musicale, Eskis, and others [this is on the lit should check out] “Le publique! Ça vous plait ou pas?! Ça vous plait ou pas?!” This call, “Are you pleased or not!” becomes a repeated trope for the MCs performance, along with the call “Il est chaud, il est chaud,” or “vous etes chaud,” he or they or you are hot, but I think also meaning popping, on fire, etc. He then did a sort of roll call of the invitees, the writers who are on the main walls. He starts from the wall nearest to the entrance Walking around with a microphone he did a sort of roll call of writers on the first day, asking some what they planned to paint. Some eagerly explained. Same, from Germany, noted “A Godzilla, with flames that will go up and down…” Others deferred speaking into the microphone, highlighting some of the difficulties for graffiti writers in partaking in such an intensely public event, as much graffiti work is intensely solitary and silent.

The first day was intense. Writers had to lay down their light guidelines for figures or letters, and then create swatches of base colors.
Spanish wall in progress. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Vinie piece in progress. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
I found Toncé, from Toulouse, before he was busy painting, and interviewed him about his work. He described his style as “Futuristic wildstyle,” trying to use graffiti conventions but also supercede them, a practice that he noted is paradigmatically what graffiti is, about usurping rules. In asking about whether he would engage with the “Cause and Effect” global MOS theme he laughed, “Maybe, you do graffiti, and so you go to jail? Maybe I will paint bars in front of my letters.” He pointed out his mentor, an old school writer named Dizzy from Paris, “He is like my graffiti Dad,” he noted, with affection.
Toncé. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
 The Toulouse crew that Toncé belongs to was founded by Rensone, who has a character called “neither head nor crown,” bulbous figures with a heart for a head, and a deconstructive lettering style, with many fractures running through each letter.

Rensone. 7/20. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Caroline, the girlfriend of one of the writers, is also a Montana (the Spanish brand) distributor, and she told me that because of that job, they get to go to many festivals. MOS France was special in how well organized it was, and how relaxing. She pointed out an older gentleman. He was a photographer, a “passionate follower of the graffiti scene” since the 1970s.
Paint sponsors. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
French graffiti documentarian. 7/20. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Transnational connections were made more visible on a personal level a little later. I saw that Sax, a Spanish writer, was on one of the main walls. Sax is a well known writer, and she had visited León Guanajuato, Mexico a few weeks before I did in 2012. Friends with one of my long term interlocutors, Kif, I was able to meet her through this connection. Sax’s character was of a female figure with intense light exuding from her eyes, and floating characters coming from the figure’s paint can. Festivals like MOS were important opportunities, Sax noted, to travel, to make new friends, and to experience a kind of camaraderie that is difficult when one comes from a smaller city with few other graffiti writers. She emphasized graffiti’s positive potential for youth, offering alternatives to drugs, or violence.

Sax. 7/20. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

A little way away from Sax was a Strasbourg writer named Missy. She characterized her style more as “illustration” than graffiti, and reflected that characters are easier for the general public to identify. She found inspiration in children’s books, and has a special affection for birds, though she “doesn’t know why.” At the festival she did a bear with a little fez cap and a vest, with “Astro” and “Kanos” written on its arms, a shout out to the organizers.
Missy. 7/20. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
On Sunday I interviewed Torek, a French writer from the Paris area. He described his style as “aggressive” that signifies little beyond itself. This was his second MOS France festival, and his third MOS festival, and he reflected fondly on the excitement of his first festival. MOS, he argued, plays a key role in rehabilitating graffiti’s image. From seeing a range of audience members, he considered the festival as a non elitist event, for everyone. This element of education was manifest in the interactions that unfolded between spectators, the artists, and their works.
Artist spectator interactions. 7/20. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce

A middle aged couple walking around the walls with looks of skepticism: pursed lips, furrowed brows, were interrupted by wonder when they got to the wall with Same’s Godzilla. “Regard!” the woman directed her partner, “ceci, n’est pas mal!” “Look! That over there…its not bad!”
Torek in progress. 7/20. Photo credit: Caitlin Bruce
Torek. 7/20. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Burger clarified why such educational moments are important. “In France,” he noted, “graffiti is malperçu [perceived poorly]” always negatively as a kind of vandalism. As of 2014, however, he is noticing a shift in perception. In Perpignan, a relatively small city, one can more easily track both evolutions in style and shifts in public attitude. The festival enables writers to share such work with the people. Such an evolution has been enormous since the MOS started in Wiesbaden fifteen years ago.

Yet, the dangers of such visibility were outlined by EUKR, a French writer. I had met him at Wiesbaden, and he argued that festivals like MOS function to domesticate graffiti. Only illegal bombing can act as a “revindication,” revindication of the street.

At the shorter wall with less famous writers, was a dynamic site. As soon as one piece was completed it was either buffed, or, scrawled over by younger writers. Pedagogical scenes took place between more experienced writers and youngsters: a woman who later did a beautiful geometric piece of a female figure crying, allowed three ten to eleven year old use some of her paint to spray their names. “Make bigger movements,” she urged them, showing them whole arm gestures. “Make big letters,” she showed a portly little fellow with a gelled faux-hawk the difference between fat caps and skinny caps. The energy was slightly different there, more relaxed, perhaps because it was tucked away and less on display than the main walls. Maybe because the work does not have to take on the status of monument. There are no dividers between writers and spectators here (there are, at the main walls). People sit on the ground, drink, smoke, and chat.

Glok. 7/20. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Aspiring writers. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Sunday late afternoon was plagued by constant sun showers. Spectators huddled under trees and buildings, while many writers continued on. After leaving for a few hours to rest, I came back at 9pm to find the space quiet, damp, and relaxed. Writers wore plastic garbage bags over their clothes to protect them a bit from the damp, and the final shouts from the break dancing competition could be heard. Non writers left in little bursts, and the space got quieter, as writers finished their pieces they clustered together to drink or chat, or to take photos. Some still worked. Vinie, who does a signature figure with large head and eyes and flowing hair, continued layering, adding depth, and smoothing out her piece. Same’s Godzilla still needed color filled in on the body. The Toulouse wall was nearly done, and I realized had a Salvador Dali theme. A cartoonish dali grabbed some paint and was covered in melted clocks. “Les Chiens Andalouses,” “The Andalousian Dogs,” announced the label with ink-splot style letters. Dali said of the Perpignan train station, that it was the “center of the universe.”
Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

After Demon finished his piece, a scaffolding height production with a reduced “M” resembling some Chicago buildings, we did a short interview, sheltered from the wind by the entrance door. Demon has been in France for two weeks, doing an exchange with the U.S. embassy where they flew him out for youth workshops in Marseilles, Avignon, and Perpignan. By doing youth workshops at the HLM before the festival, Demon was able to raise publicity about the event in the projects, and as a result, many of the youth came who may not otherwise. I asked him about how his style has been changed by his many travels, and he expressed a sense of increasing expansiveness of what counts as “graffiti.” “In Chicago,” he explained, “a lot of the techniques used out here would be considered cheating.” I asked him to explain what that meant for an outsider. Using cardboard to make lines or characters, using boutique paint colors like “shadow black,” instead of mixing one’s own colors, were two examples. “But why keep using a shitty 1980s IBM instead of a Macbook, if you can?” he joked. By going abroad, one becomes increasingly aware of the wealth and evolution of style.

Demon. 7/20. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Demon and OneCheatz. 7/19. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
MOS France, perhaps, offers an exemplar of this attitude. Modern, efficiently organized, and un apologetic for the range and variety of styles it showcases, it demonstrates the evolution of graffiti and hip hop culture, preserving memories of its past, but also bolding painting into a new future.
Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce
Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Shane. 7/20. Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

*Many thanks to Astro, Kanos, Sax, Missy, Torek, Toncé, EUKR, Burger, Rekor, Demon, Caroline, and the MOS organizers and staff for such a wonderful festival. This even clearly required untold amounts of labor, and it is very appreciated. Big up!
Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce

Photo Credit: Caitlin Bruce