Monday, 23 June 2008

Beautiful Losers

I can't wait for this film to drop. Buy the book it's an amazing read....

Beautiful Losers celebrates the spirit behind one of the most influential cultural movements of a generation. In the early 1990's a loose-knit group of likeminded outsiders found common ground at a little NYC storefront gallery. Rooted in the DIY (do-it-yourself) subcultures of skateboarding, surf, punk, hip hop & graffiti, they made art that reflected the lifestyles they led. Developing their craft with almost no influence from the "establishment" art world, this group, and the subcultures they sprang from, have now become a movement that has been transforming pop culture. Starring a selection of artists who are considered leaders within this culture, Beautiful Losers focuses on the telling of personal stories...speaking to themes of what happens when the outside becomes "in" as it explores the creative ethos connecting these artists and today's youth.

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Theo Jansen - Son of a Beach

The first time the RWC crew came across Theo Jansen was way back in the summer of 2006 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in The Big Smoke (that’s London to rock dwellers like us).

Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist and kinetic sculptor whose works are crossing the boundaries into science, more specifically robotics. Unlike his NASA/sci-fi inspired counterparts Jansen’s creations are made from plastic electrical conduit (tubing), string, cable ties and plastic bottles, which are used to harness wind power.

The creations resemble skeletons of animals and are able to walk using the wind on the beaches of the Netherlands. OK, here comes the complicated nerdy science bit…Jansen is dedicated to creating artificial life through the use of genetic algorithms, which simulate evolution inside their code. Genetic algorithms can be modified to solve a variety of problems including circuit design, and in the case of Jansen's creations, complex systems. Some measure of "fitness" is introduced into the algorithm; in Jansen's case it is to survive on the beach while moving around within two enclosing lines on the wet sand near the ocean and the dry sand at the edge of the beach.

Those designs best at the assigned task within the modelled beach environment are bred together and graded again. Jansen lets his creations roam free on the beach, measures their success, and updates his models. Over the years, successive generations of his creatures have evolved into increasingly complex animals that walk by flapping wings in response to the wind, discerning obstacles in their path through feelers and even hammering themselves into the sand on sensing an approaching storm.

A couple of years ago, Jansen created the Animaris Rhinoceros Transport, a two-ton walking monster also powered by wind energy, which could be set into motion by just one person dragging it along. Having a cockpit and enough room for several people to comfortably sit inside, the rhinoceros represented Jansen's effort to create a machine version of the beach animal used solely for transport akin to the way cars stand for mechanical versions of horses. He says a future version a 12-ton behemoth, big enough to have several rooms inside.

Check out for more info and pictures.

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Heeeeeey Rat Fans

All I knew about motorcycling this time last week was acquired directly from a stereotype of scary-looking leathers and extremely large beards. Perhaps it also had to do with a hazy memory of Steve McQueen’s iconic leap for freedom in The Great Escape (1963); I wasn’t much interested in the film when I was 14, and faced with the task of writing a little something about rat bikes for this exhibition, I began to wish I had paid more attention to it. Being a young female somewhat more interested in indie music and Chanel handbags than big, honking Harleys, I had little to recommend myself for this job but enough free time to do it, and so there was nothing for it but to indulge in a spot of internet research.

Some time later, I discover that googling the phrase ‘rat bike’ produces an impressive 545,000 results and it seems the world wide web is teeming with honey-pots such as The Rat Bike Zone. This likely-sounding candidate features numerous portraits of bikes which look to me like they may once have had glory days, but have since been coughed on by a slag heap. The remarkable thing though, as I click and click through the vast filing cabinet of Google, is that rat biking is of a primarily visual and present-tense nature; there is something haunting about these sites, seeming to bear no flag of the history or the culture of their art. Rather like graffiti, which is written solely for the eyes of other graffiti-artists, these pages are very obviously and exclusively intended for fully-fledged members of the motorcycle brigade. I want to know what rat biking is and where it comes from, and the rat bikers have no interest in telling me.

Nevertheless, I persevere, and finally break through the barrage of hairy bikers - many relating bafflingly cryptic journals of their parts replacements to date - to a silver lining of truth. The kernel clause of rat biking, I finally conclude, is this: rat bikes are altered and adapted with parts, as all motorcycles must be maintained, but with one crucial difference. The aim of the rat biker is not to flounce about, polishing his newly purchased exhaust manifold, nor is it to adorn his rear fender with pretty flame patterns; nor even to indulge in adding shiny but superfluous components to his ‘hog,’ thus marking himself as the big daddy of the biker pack. Rat-biking is, as The Rat Bike Zone proclaims, ‘no-nonsense’. A rat bike is kept on the roads at as low a cost and with as little manual effort as possible. In this sense, the rat biker is a rebel of rebels, one who subverts even the subversive. Adding parts which aren’t meant for the type of bike they’re attached to, and generally letting the bike sink below its presentable best is not the rat bike’s shame, but rather its badge of honour. A rat biker embraces the ‘essence of riding’; he rides for glory.

The survival bike, three of which appear in this exhibition, is much like the rat bike; however, it is billed on many sites as an ideological and aesthetically more stylised alternative. Functionality is still the order of the day, and many survival bike riders use matte black to paint their vehicles: this kind of paint requires no polishing, and is thus more practical than your average cruiser. It's undeniable that survival bikes are maintained with less fiscal savagery than rat bikes, but they still broadly uphold the older fraternity's tenets of ingenuity over expense and frugality over showiness. The overall ethos seems a little like preferring a really raw and honest guitar tune over an epic Van Halen example of musical wankery.

Eddie Van Halen - Eruption

These principles, at least, are as much as I can glean from a vigorous ransacking of Wikipedia and a tentative probe into the plethora of rat biking websites floating in the ether. However, Wikipedia does give me just one more tantalising hint: survival bikes are apparently ‘influenced by the Mad Max films’. The anonymous author of this article offers little by way of explanation, and at this point I feel I’ve reached an impasse in my search for enlightenment. But I’m a resourceful sort of girl, and what seems more important to me than facts, figures and the anatomy of the motorcycle, is the ethos of rat biking. With just Mad Max (1979) and this ideal in mind, I head straight for Zavvi, and there, I purchase a copy of the film that, as its DVD sleeve announces, ‘started it all.’

My heart sinks as I sit through the first half hour of this low budget classic. I’m confused. It is a bewildering blend of car chases, corny one-liners (‘I’m a night rider, baby!’) and apparently no storyline; but as the film cautiously launches into the classic realm of cinematic horror imagery - a brief close-up of a black crow, a zoom-in on a pair of uncannily widened eyes, a pair of baby shoes pattering on the asphalt - I am drawn into the myth of bikerdom. This myth clearly recalls the literary Gothic motifs of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and other similar works, in which the moon and the mountains are recurring indicators of an impending monstrosity; the longer I watch, the more the film’s appeal becomes evident. Its backdrop is a post-apocalyptic wasteland, in the dystopian style of T.S. Eliot and Samuel Beckett; George Miller (the writer and director) wisely chooses not to explain the wasted state of the world, but instead to allow the setting to work its own haunting and disorientating magic. This ethereal, chaotic landscape is fascinating to me. I can see how it relates to the rat bike phenomenon; both the landscape and rat bikes are overwhelmingly visual, and yet completely non-linear. They are self-contained histories, scrapbooks for adults; what you see is what you get, with no contextual explanation available.

Max, the film’s protagonist, belongs to the MFP, the increasingly impotent police force which is struggling to bring to justice the marauding bands of bikers who enjoy a reign of terror over their impoverished countrymen. During a car chase, he makes the churlish mistake of killing Nightrider, a member of the biker gang, for whose death the bikers predictably seek revenge. In attacks which cut closer and closer to the bone, the bikers pick off Max’s friend, dog, child, and lastly, his wife; they run in both literal and metaphorical circles about him in a circus of thrills and destruction.

Having expected a superficial car chase thriller, I am actually offered a thoughtful and interesting consideration of concepts of heroism, responsibility and revenge. In the closing scenes of the film, Max handcuffs a roguish but not entirely culpable young biker to a vehicle which he knows will imminently explode, offering the bawling youth a hacksaw and advising him that it may only take five minutes to saw through his own ankle. The innocent face and cool pout of the young Mel Gibson ironically underline the revelation that Max has, of course, become no better than the criminals of the ‘rat circle’ who killed his baby. Mad Max shows us the ease with which freedom can descend into chaos; it rather ambiguously avoids drawing a solid conclusion on the turbulent politics of biker gangs. True, the bikers depicted here are unforgivably cruel, and an unknown minority of biker gangs undeniably still revolve around this hard-man image which, I have to admit, makes the bile rise in my throat. But aren’t the police in this film, with their hypocritical vigilante justice and spam-rhetoric of heroes, arguably just as loathsome?

Enough of the ethics; the motorcycles of Mad Max (which are maintained using only the parts one might imagine to be available in the middle of a post-apocalyptic desert) are aesthetically fascinating. The stark, blistered design of the bikes has quite clearly influenced the development of the survival bike. Survival bikers have made a conscious decision to pursue the raw style of the Mad Max rat bikes, not only through the necessity of frugality, but also out of admiration for an aesthetic of bleakness and Gothic terror. The rat bike emerges from concept, and the survival bike from both concept and aestheticism. It’s a richly interesting cultural pool, and I’m strangely surprised now, after all this gruelling research, to find these bikes not only visually powerful, but beautifully bleak. So much for my indie festival tickets this summer; I conclude that I might just swing by a biker rally instead.

Eleanor Rose, 20, is an English graduate from UCL, London. She will work for food and is quite hot too.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

The Right Trousers

This has to be seen...straight up

Big up to Cois for this one.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Buff Monster

Well over one year after ‘Isolation’ started his vandalism spree and a stack of months after he got busted we have yet to see the states spend his £2000 fine on a £20 pot of paint and actually get rid of the eyesore that he called art around our island. Graffiti breed’s graffiti, if you want it to disappear for good you need to paint it out straight away. Fact.

Most would argue that graffiti removal is at best the elimination of vandalism or at worst the destruction of art, right? My attention was recently drawn towards an award-winning film that argues something quite different: that graffiti removal is the ultimate next step in the progression of modern art. The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal by Matt McCormick overtly follows the dull task of removing graffiti from public property (or, as it is known in the trade "buffing," or "getting buffed") and analyzes the resulting patchworks of paint. Despite its semi-satirical intent, complete with heady art-school voice-over ruminations about this potential art movement, the film raises many provocative questions and is an oddly compelling look at what might be the most overlooked art of our time.

Yes, you read that right. There is a sort of tongue-in-cheek humour that permeates throughout the film, as the female voice-over describes this activity as being "one of the more intriguing and important art movements of the early 21st century." And just as art movements have roots for their state-of-being, she even goes so far as to say that this art movement's roots stem from abstract expressionism, minimalism, and Russian constructivism. We hear the names of Rothko, Rauschenberg, and Malevich mentioned as their work exhibits stylizations that the "graffiti removal artists" are perhaps referencing. And I can definitely see why. A closer look at the film reveals some surprising and strange realities regarding the art of graffiti removal. The following painting is by Rothko, and you can see how the use of abstract but organized shapes evoke the same sense of this deliberate painting-over that the subconscious artists do in the second image:

This is not to say that these subconscious artists are on the same level as Rothko. It's all about the intent.

Continuing on this academic bent, McCormick takes it a step further and designates three separate methods utilized by graffiti removal artists:

1. Symmetrical: producing identifiable shapes in a series of squares and rectangles.

2. Ghosting: painting over the tag by basically following the lines, whereby the original artwork can still be seen.

3. Radical: where the "artist" uses neither geometry nor the original tag as guidelines.

At this point I think I did actually piss myself just a little bit. It really is kinda funny to suggest that there could be art scholars out there that take the time to analyze, deconstruct and critique work done by buffers, most of whom are completely unaware that what they're doing is being considered "art." It sounds a bit absurd, doesn't it?

I sure did dig it, though. For me, it was the notion that this film dared to be taken very seriously, outlining strong points and showcasing excellent photography, all the while giving you that subtle wink that seems to say, "yeah, we know this sounds crazy, but we're having fun with it." I would even go so far as to say that Matt McCormick & Co. were poking fun at the Avant-garde art community as a whole. And I love that. The result? A surprisingly convincing argument for graffiti removal as art, though reminiscent of humorous art-world spoofs such as animal art or child art being passed off as masterpieces.


By the end of the film, they had me really thinking about all this. The idea that this "subconscious art" could be actually taken seriously raises some interesting questions:

Is it really art if the creator is not aware of it?

To these "removal artists," what they were doing was WORK. They were not thinking in creative terms. They just picked out the paint, the rollers, and did their thing. In fact, in the film, the filmmakers mention that there had to be some creative process going on, as the workers had to pick and choose which gallon of paint to use, and how to paint over the graffiti. But the big difference is that these workers were not making these choices with the knowledge of having an end result (aside from the fact of getting the job done). Is it necessary for the artist to knowingly benefit from the process?

Who really designates what "art" is, anyway? Artist or viewer?

This is all subjective, as all art is, of course, because most will not agree that this activity would even be considered art.

During the film I was reminded about Barry McGee AKA Twist who has been documenting buffed walls for years now and this has actually started to feature in his gallery paintings.

During the late 90’s ESPO (Exterior Surface Painting Outreach) AKA Stephen Powers established a new middle ground between vandalism and community, painting that could be classed as either graffiti or legit beautification. During daylight hours dressed in a fluro jacket he would roller paint the corrugated roll down gates on stores covering up the graffiti covered surfaces like a neighbourhood task force. Up close these walls looked clean and it wasn’t until you crossed the street and saw ESPO in giant letters that you knew something was not quite right. Amidst the relentless crackdown on minor crimes in NYC ESPO throw a spanner in the works and by doing so by passed the eagle eyes of the NYPD…

...For a little while at least. ESPO gained some serious fame for painting nearly 100 gates around NYC, many of which have not been tagged over to this day.

A couple years later ESPO moved to LA for a couple of months and joined a legit community graffiti buff squad. He proceeded to paint about 50 of these in some prime LA spots in broad daylight with the LAPD rolling past.


Just goes to show the ‘buff’ can be art after all.

Friday, 6 June 2008

Fix Up Look Sharp

Everyone knows Fixies are cool right?

No seriously they are cool...

Monday, 2 June 2008

Maurizio Cattelan Rocks Our World

As you may or may not have realised the RWC Crew don’t mind the odd sly joke for art’s sake so we thought it was about time we posted a blog on one of our favourite art jokers.

Maurizio Cattelan is fast approaching 50 years old, he has worked as a cook, gardener, nurse and mortuary attendant, before turning to making art with the hope that the art world might offer him a better life, he did not attend art school but taught himself. Today he is one of the most well-known Italian artists to have emerged internationally in the 1990s, and his reputation continues to grow.

In some ways an heir to the legendary Italian 'anti-artist' Piero Manzoni (canned shit fame), Cattelan produces witty, unorthodox performances, sculptures and photoworks that are as varied as they are unsettling. Since the early 1990s, his work has provoked and challenged the limits of contemporary value systems through its use of irony and humour. He teases and mocks the art world without ever falling into the naive trap of thinking he can subvert a system of which he is a part. This humorous, untraditional art often takes an off-centre standpoint at the margins of mainstream society to poke fun at art history, monumentality and nationalism.

Cattelan has presented work at the Venice Biennale a total of five-times. On one occasion Cattelan had failed to produce any artwork and on the planned morning of installation went to the local police station to report his car broken into and the imaginary artwork stolen. Later in the day Cattelan displayed the framed police report documenting the theft of the imaginary artwork at the Biennale.

Over the years, Cattelan has worked with themes that vary from thievery to escapism to childhood. The Suicidal Squirrel is a great example of the often tragi-comical evocations of desperation and escapism that can be found throughout Cattelan’s work. Like a good black comedy, Cattelan’s work leaves you with a wry smile upon your face.

In the UK Cattelan is most famously known as the artist that killed the Pope with a meteorite at the controversial ‘Apocalypse’ exhibition at the Royal Academy in 2000. It is acts of insubordination like this that have made Cattelan a legend. He has consistently produced significant artworks that have captured the attention of viewers and the international art world alike and established him as one of the most exciting artists working today and this is why we love him.

Together with two editors turned curators, Massimiliano Gioni and Ali Subotnick, Cattelan founded the Wrong Gallery in the Chelsea district of New York. The Wrong Gallery was nothing more than a parasite sucking off the Kreps’ Gallery next door to it. It stole screws, drills, ladders and even electricity but kind of understandably when you discover the Wrong Gallery was basically a glass door with about a 50cm deep space behind it. The lack of actual psyhical gallery space was somewhat confusing to the uninitiated especially.

This entirely non-commercial gallery was literally only accessible to window shoppers and to those in the know it offered some of the greatest exhibitions in NYC. Cattelan jokingly referred to the sliver of a gallery as "the back door to contemporary art" - one that's "always locked". You certainly had to be aware of it to appreciate what was on show there. Most of the interventions it has staged have played in some way on the idea that there might be more - or less - to the gallery than met the eye. The Polish artist Pawel Althamer hired two Polish illegal immigrants to smash in the door with a baseball bat every Saturday whilst Jamie Isenstein displayed a "will return by" sign that was motorised so that its clock always pointed a quarter of an hour into the future and when the RWC Crew visited it simply displayed a sign that read “Fuck Off we’re Closed”.

The Wrong Gallery has now unfortunately been evicted. On our last visit to London we discovered that the Wrong Gallery has been granted temporary asylum at the Tate Modern with a full-scale mock-up construction. Unfortunately the point has now been lost as you are now no longer confused by the lack of actual gallery. In the Tate Modern you know what you are looking at is art and the confusion of not being able to walk into the gallery is redundant. In some ways the reason for calling it the Wrong Gallery is even more poingiant than before. The name came about because, as Cattelan now explains: "We loved the idea of people saying: 'It's a great show, but it's in the wrong gallery.' " The RWC crew like to view the Wrong Gallery as an artwork in it’s own right; a prank artwork that allows other prank artworks to take place. Whether the parasitical nature of the Wrong Gallery will continue in its host will be seen. If all else fails you can buy your own 18in-high scale model of the doorway for just under £700, which includes miniatures of all the artworks ever shown there (a homage to Marcel Duchamp's famous museum in a suitcase). "The idea is that anyone can play at being a dealer at home," Cattelan says. "It is a sign of the times. In the 1960s every man could have become an artist; now everyone wants to make money."

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Elms Lesters Painting Rooms Rocks

The RWC Crew have just had to email Elms Lesters Painting Rooms and in doing so were reminded on how great this gallery actually is.

The gallery has become Internationally known for its exhibitions featuring the work of counter-culture and urban artists and has staged contemporary art exhibitions by painters and sculptors from Britain, Europe, USA and Latin America. All you have to do is look through their list of artist they represent to realize the calibre of what they are doing.


Not only do they represent a huge varied selection of artists, but they've been doing it for years and not just jumping on the bandwagon like a lot of other galleries.

On top of that Paul and Fiona are two of the nicest people the RWC crew have ever met. The RWC crew have had some blinding times in that gallery and have met some of their favourite artists too. Highlights include hooking up with Phil Frost, Kaws, Stash, Adam Neate and Stet.

If you are in London drop in and pay them a visit.