Saturday, August 22, 2009

Né dans la rue + Pixo!

So, the good art exhibit I saw was a graffiti show “Né dans la rue” (Born in the Street) at the Fondation Cartier in Montparnasse. There was no photography allowed inside (and the fact that I was using my sweet new Canon HD video camera for my stills made me kind of conspicuous) but they did hae some nice pieces on the exterior which I photographed and posted via Facebook.

I thought the show was excellent. The entry room included large new pieces commissioned for the show from artists from Europe, the US, and South America. Then, downstairs, in the first room, they had historical pieces, mostly from the 1970s, which included piece books, video footage, oral histories, and photographs. They even brought in P.H.A.S.E. 2 and SEEN to recreate some of their classic pieces. Next, as the show moved into the 1980s, they were showing Wild Style (they had Lady Pink’s airbrushed jacket too) and videos by Blondie and The Clash. Plus they had record artwork (Ramelzee!) and paintings by Basquiat and Haring. The website for the show is nice and has a lot of material available for those of you not able to make it to Paris.

For me the biggest revelation was Pixo, a film about pixação (aka “pixo”) a form of tagging that has taken off in Sao Paulo, Brazil. These are writers who work in very dangerous spots on the sides of public buildings, climbing up spiderman-style. (You can check it out some more in the video below.) Its roots are hard to determine—a lot of writers cite the influence of heavy metal album covers---but it goes back at least to the 1980s. It is illegal and has been the foundation for an entire outlaw culture. In the way that graffiti has become increasingly astheticized, and therefore commercialized, pixo is deliberately avoiding that route. (An Audi parked in front of the Cartier Foundation exhibition seems seems suggestive of graffiti's entrance to the galleries.)
I think we have reached a point, for example, where it is not too hard to recognize the artistic value of many graffiti artists (like those photos posted on my fb page). (Example: Part of KET’s sentence in NYC for tagging trains was to paint a mural at a school.) The case becomes a lot harder with pixo, which is all about creating a font to make a tag and a message. This has two effects, as I see it. First, their work becomes much harder to co-opt for commercial purposes. There is little to no premium placed on what we might call the artistic quality of the tag; the premium is placed on its placement and visibility. Second, the focus stays on the words and the message, thereby lending itself to particular form of political protest for young people (mostly, but not entirely, men) in Sao Paulo who have no other way of being heard. The video I am posting below includes a pixo action at the fine arts school in Sao Paulo, where a student, also a pixo writer, got a group of other writers together and bombed the school.

I am not sure when and where you will have a chance to see the full film by João Wainer and Alexandre Orion, but here is a shorter versions online. It is in Portuguese with French subtitles, but the images of the writers climbing the buildings is amazing whether or not you understand either of the languages. It is definitely worth 11 minutes.

Pixo, un film de João Weiner et Roberto Oliveira (Extraits)

If you have trouble with the embedded video, try the link above or let me know.

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