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

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