Thursday, 23 July 2009

Modernism, Post-Modernism, Technology and Public Interaction

After seeing the Modernism Exhibition at the V&A ( last year and then Delta's new paintings at Elms Lester Painting Rooms ( in the same month the RWC crew made a few internal connections and realised that Modernism, Post Modernism, Technology and Public Interaction deserved a good blogging. We have been meaning to write about this subject for sometime now, so here it is…

Modernism was considered positive, rational, and objective, architects like Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe championed its capacity to facilitate a new social order. They prophesized that technological progress and a reconsidered urban plan would result in "better living through architecture."

The dream that modernism could somehow improve living conditions never really came true. Instead, just the opposite occurred. In the UK at least Modernism pretty much failed and most Modernist residential schemes became run down housing estates. Anonymous, cheap, high-density housing isolated its inhabitants from the greater city and socio-economic problems escalated. Ironic then is the fact that years later these residential areas became the catalyst for the growth of a vast amount of anti-social behaviour including graffiti.

Contemporary graffiti's connection to post-modernism certainly began as a response to the flaws of Modernism but it was able to establish itself as an independent discipline that understood how to manage and employ meaning within a cultural context. However in the last ten years we have seen contemporary graffiti move out of its little bubble and into the mainstream, mainly through the likes of Banksy. The graffiti purists cringe at the term 'Street Art' and quite rightly so as to them 'Street Art' is associated with a misinformed public who like to name drop Banksy to act cool at dinner parties. In today's world 'Street Art' is a term that is used loosely and thrown around to describe any kind of public artwork. Luckily 'Street Art' has more to offer than just Banksy.

In the Post-Modernist global society we live in today increased communication, trade, technology and overseas manufacturing mean that all previous barriers between segmented disciplines have been ripped down and re-thought. In arts and architecture the post-modern is evident in the way familiar styles and spaces are recreated and reviewed; different styles collide with the eclecticism of a car crash. As the boundaries between the different styles of art, technology and science become increasingly blurred we discover that 'Street Art' is at the forefront of this experimental cross fertilisation. Due to increased fines and zero tolerance the graffiti legends of the 70's and 80's have retired and are trying to make an honest career out of their skills; many have turned to graphic design, product design and legitimate art careers whilst the new generation of young guns are utilising their knowledge of technology and new materials to evade the law and to leave their mark on society.

Again, many of the graffiti purists will argue that this form of 'Street Art' is bullshit but RWC will happily argue the case that everything should naturally grow as new technology and methods are developed to perform a given task (in this case 'Getting Up' without getting busted) and that we should accept them and move on. If the pioneers of Graffiti hadn't taken the Fat Caps off spray starch, we'd never have 3D letters.

Delta (Boris Telegen) is a Dutch artist whose current portfolio includes works on canvas, murals, collage, print, sculpture, motion graphics and product design. During the 80's Delta was a pioneer in the European graffiti scene. His unique three-dimensional style which is not too dissimilar to his Dutch predecessors in the De Stijl group has a very distinct and recognisable aesthetic.

Delta's distinct style has now become his tag, his compositions rarely contain full letters or words but more suggest the use of letterforms. His convoluted forms which hint at isometric architectural drawings twist and turn like traditional graffiti art but are more akin to 3D constructivist pieces reminiscent of the Bauhaus or even of Russian Constructivism.

Delta Interview Part 1

Delta Interview Part 2

It was inevitable that new tools and a dose of cross-fertilization would force the subversion of letters and language but Delta has transcended traditional elements like spray paint, using sculptural devices to create complex tags more suited to robotics and architecture.

YKK, the zippers, Music by Sangatsu

In one of the more interesting hybrid explorations Delta has teamed up with fellow Dutch writer Zedz and the architectural studio of Maurer United Architects. It was only a matter of time before the right architect came along, to see this 3D- aspect crystallize in architectural design. It was no surprise that the partner in this master-scheme was Maurer United Architects. This prize-winning bureau is run by two architects: Nicole and Marc Maurer. The duo has a strong preference for so-called "media-related-projects" in the field of architecture.

In 1998 the team transformed 'graffiti related images' into 'graffiti related architecture' with two designs: the first was a design for a villa named 'Masterplan', by Delta and Maurer. In the other 'Zedzbeton' a graffiti-piece by Zedz was blown up by Maurer to make a 50 meter long piece of 'city-furniture'. Although the typical forms used by Delta and Zedz still strongly relate to graffiti (the artists name remains the starting point of each design), the natural hostile attitude of the graffiti-artists towards the architectural design has disappeared. This confrontation has now transformed into a fruitful synthesis. The results are amazing as well in content as in form.

Check out more from Delta and Zeds here….

And here…

The clash of disciplines that is evident in the collaborations of Delta, Zeds and Maurer is just the tip of the Post-Modern graffiti/street art iceberg. In New York City the Eyebeam gallery in Chelsea has founded a centre for the study of graffiti technology. The Graffiti Research Lab is masterminded by two tech-minded artists, Evan Roth and James Powderly.

The purpose of the project is to rethink how people make and look at graffiti and street art, not by making the stuff but by developing tools that graffiti writers could potentially use. Using their odd combination of training — Powderly's background is in aerospace robotics and NASA-financed Mars missions; Roth's is in coding, architecture and Web design — they develop new methods of self-expression. These include, so far, digital projection techniques, L.E.D.-driven light art and specially written computer programs.

Commonly known as Geek Graffiti this tiny but thriving genre is moving at an astounding rate. Utilising the internet to disseminate ideas and technology like the shareware of the 90's, the Graffiti Research Lab is making their technological know how free and easy to access. As more and more people learn to program at a younger age, and computers get cheaper, technological elements are going to start to sneak into traditional graffiti.

Graffiti Research Lab - LED Throwies

So far the Graffiti Research Lab's activities include the Electro-Graf, a simple method of using magnetic and conductive paint to embed L.E.D. electronics inside a graffiti piece, surrounding the graffiti with a halo of brilliant light; L.E.D. "throwies," tiny and colourful battery-powered lights attached to magnets, designed to be thrown onto urban surfaces; the Night Writer, an inexpensive device of the kind MacGyver might have used that posts foot-tall messages in glowing L.E.D. lights on metallic surfaces in a single fluid motion; and Jesus 2.0, a recent light sculpture collaboration with the street artist Mark Jenkins of Washington. The lab is also working to refine various digital projection ideas that Roth explored in his Graffiti Analysis project.

Graffiti Research Lab - Laser Tag

How to laser tag.

In today's anti-war/bush/surveillance/capitalist climate it seems more and more people want to reclaim the public space of the streets. Due to the open source nature of the Graffiti Research Lab's work Roth realizes that eager companies may try and co-opt the technology for advertising and turn the 'power to the people' ethos around. Roth is strongly anti-commercial and this forms the basis of the open source ethos. The projects are intentionally designed to be cheap, user-friendly and not illegal.

Check out stacks more videos from the Graffiti Research Lab here….

and Eyebeam here…

A flurry of New York-based graduate thesis projects in recent years have explored new forms of technology-oriented graffiti, including John Geraci's Grafedia, a method of creating hyperlinked graffiti on city streets, and Joshua Kinberg's Bikes Against Bush, which uses text messaging and a custom-built dot-matrix printer connected to a bicycle to print giant chalk letters on the sidewalk.

Another public project to utilise projector technology with the addition of public interaction is TXTual Healing. TXTual Healing is an SMS Enabled Interactive Street Performance established in 2005. The simple explanation is that it's a mobile phone paired to a laptop using proprietary software, custom scripting and graphics, and then the results are displayed through a projector connected to the computer. The whole system is mobile and with the right projector/beamer, quite bright. The public audience receives a paper tab with a phone number. A participant sends a text message to the provided phone number and it is then displayed inside the speech bubble. Speech bubbles are projected on walls near windows and doors to encourage an audience to create the conversations happening inside. The whole system is automatic and uncensored.

TXTual Healing in Toronto

The project explores the use of mobile technology to trigger dialogue, action and create content for a staged public performance whilst trying to build community through public story telling. By using the facade of a building the intention is to engage an audience to think about the physical spaces they move through, live in and share. Like traditional Graffiti TXTual Healing tries to address the public vs. private space debate and what kind of dialogue might transpire if we shared our private thoughts and stories in public. The piece was designed to encourage play, idea sharing, thought, discourse, and entertainment.

Check out TXTual Healing here…

The Bubble Project is based on a similar idea to TXTual Healing but is executed using a much less technology savvy process. The Bubble Project aims to counterattack the one-sided corporate onslaught of marketing and advertisement messages which propagate public space.

The Bubble Project

The project was conceived by an artist and art director Ji Lee who originally printed 15,000 stickers that look like speech bubbles used in comic strips. He posts these blank speech bubbles on top of advertisements throughout New York City allowing anyone who sees them to write in their comments and thoughts. By filling in the bubbles people engage in the project and transform the corporate monologue into an open dialogue. After time passes, the comments are photographed and posted on the project's website.

Yellow Arrow is a long-running international media project that explores urban narrative through physical tagging of locations, text messaging and the Internet. Like TXTual Healing, Yellow Arrow utilises new technologies to explore urban space and how we interact in it. Established in 2005 as a street art project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan the Yellow Arrow has grown to over 35 countries and 380 cities globally and become a way to experience and publish ideas and stories via text messaging on your mobile phone and interactive maps online. The project offers curated tours of specific cities and the ability to browse thousands of single points of interest submitted by people.

People publish to Yellow Arrow by placing uniquely-coded stickers at locations of their choice (or tagging) and then sending a text message from their phone with the story they would like associated with that place. When someone else sees the sticker, they send the unique code and then receive the author's original message back. The project has many parallels to the traditional graffiti tag; this is my story, I was here.

The project is built around the general philosophy that every place is distinct and engaging if seen from a unique perspective. With this foundation, Yellow Arrow enables every place to become an attraction. Stories are always tied to unique details such as back-alley murals or unique street markers, as well as classic locations like the Empire State Building in New York or the Reichstag in Berlin. Overall, the aim is for Yellow Arrow to provide a frame and platform to see the world in a new way.

In more general terms, Yellow Arrow is an evolving 21st century publishing platform that merges conventional editorial publishing and user-generated content. The structure leverages the power of community publishing set forth by new media, while maintaining elements of a traditional publishing model to support cohesive curation and foster high-quality content.

Check out Yellow Arrow here…

This kind of Street Art has obviously pushed the boundaries of how language (visual or written) can be visualized and communicated in the public sphere. Yet there is something unreal about it. There comes a point in which upsetting narrative content and violating a utilitarian need causes these technically perfected and abstracted tags to become at once meaningful and meaningless. Unlike Graffiti this technology based Street Art is increasingly difficult to connect to personal experiences. Lacking the raw energy and power or the history and shared experience that comes with rolling in crews, racking paint and cutting chain link fence, these pieces float in a world of fiction. They are unreal and it's easy to doubt their authenticity.

The truth is that Le Corbusier's hope for an age of technology and progress that could improve the lives of so many has finally arrived. A new global level is doing today what the architect wanted his craft to do almost a century ago. Information, access to it and the ability to manipulate it, is fulfilling the promise of a new social order.

And in the end it is the sheer volume of data being sent and received through rational computer-based systems that is rendering graffiti writing impractical. Bombing is losing out to blogging and modernism has kinda made a triumphant return.

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