switch to Russian

— «Russian street-art», part 2.
Author: Andrey Tseluiko.
Published: 2009, in «Objects-3» book.


Zuk club, Moscow, 2007. Photo by Ksenia Kolesnikova.

The languages of street art are constantly changing. Merging with the urban environment, street art has become an indivisible part of the metropolitan visual language. Artists don't lag behind — staying active on the streets, they are mastering new media of contemporary art and industrial design origin…

The verbal language of American writing of the 80s was replaced by the European image language of the 90s. And now with the first decade of the 21th century coming to an end, we are once again facing street art language changes. These changes occur not only in the content itself but also in the artists' spatial thinking paradigm. Horizontal, two dimensional view of the surface evolves into three dimensional one. Authors, using modern industrial materials and technological advances of the information age, strive to get new results and offer viewers their own ways of perceiving "natural" everyday environment. They partially reemploy the techniques of "land-art" and "environmental" art and other methods known under the umbrella term "site-specific art". It is true that street art continues art object redefinition, dispersion and exteriorization processes, started by the artists of the second half of 20th century (Andy Goldsworthy, Christo, Claes Oldenbourg and others). Back then, just like now, artists invaded the urban space, creating large scale installations and objects. And just like now, these objects are situation-specific and nondurable. But land-art supporters preferred "natural" materials, meanwhile street art sticks to industrial materials.

It is evidently clear that street art community has reached a new level of spatial thinking. The notions of style and competition, which form the basis of the graffiti culture, foster new ways to overcome the visual crisis of flat two dimensional street art. Continuing interaction of subculture and contemporary art leads to language games multiplication and gives birth to new forms of post-graffiti. For example, street artists gradually learn performance techniques (Robin Rhode), and the works contents are getting more and more conceptualized (Influenza).


Mark Jenkins, USA.

80s writing has fully expressed itself in the "wild style" esthetics. Street art of the 90's replaced name with brand and chose image over verbalism. 2000's saw images transformed into objects, conquering the third dimension. This process wasn't only a reaction to general innovation crisis in street art. Neither was it another way to construct author's identity. This process was a new form of backslash on authorized arts and total commercialization of everyday life both virtual and real. Artists turn streets into a battle field where they fight against advertising for public attention. They mock ads, redefine them and, like pop-art artists, use their contents to create original art (Jason Eppink).


Jason Eppink, USA.

Two dimensional art tried to challenge commerce as well. But it's active proliferation on the streets gradually led to merging art and advertisement — numerous corporations, recognizing street art messaging potential, promptly adopted its methods and employed them in marketing campaigns (spay, stickers, stencils, creative placement). As a result advertising tried to mimic art, which originally used some of the advertising techniques (distribution, branding and such). Urban dwellers have become unable to distinguish original art from commercial. Now at the beginning of a new century artists endeavor to redefine the line between art and ad.

"New wave" street artists confront ads using the third dimension. Mobilizing new media, they create volume installations and sculptures (Mark Jenkins, Eltono), optical illusions (Cayetano Ferrer, Julian Beever), spatial compositions (Lines rouge, Truth). As we can see, they invent new ways to commercial-freely modify urban environment.


Cayetano Ferrer, USA.

Traditionally Russia imports innovations from the West — no wonder that there is not a single Russian name among abovementioned artists. The process described above (if it even takes place) develops itself slowly and reluctantly. Observing the present-day community of Russian street artists, one may get a feeling that the majority of artistes are living snugly in an ivory tower. Only few of them wish to evolve and experiment with new media. The development has practically come to a stop, more than a half of the artists never cross the guidelines of classical writing and trainwriting (let alone strictly typographical street-art, which has flooded the streets). Taking the purist stance and displaying "ideological dedication" to the cultural roots (opposition movement against authority started by New-York writers in the 80s), they refuse to accept something else, let alone using new ways. Large part of new practices is left behind due to sole reason of its "non-graffitiness". Of course, we need to distinguish between "graffiti" and "post-graffiti", but we shouldn't exclude one from another — one can simultaneously experiment with the new and guard the traditional (if artists don't become zealots of the latter), as it's done by many European artists (Banksy, Spy, Jonone, Daim, Daddy Cool and others). Also, unlike the groups that are uncompromisingly true to the resistance movement (for example, WUFC), many Russian groups view the tradition as a form of a password to enter the community. Pack leaders (many of them are explicitly orthodox) set the fashion trends within the community, and this takes it's toll on artist creativity and affects not only amateurs but also more established artists, who seek recognition from the so-called "masters". Copycat attitude, which extends to ideals, stylistic and behavior patterns set by pack leaders, restricts the newcomers' potential and impairs their free development. Most effective development (apart from a few exceptions) takes place where there is no fear to be unrecognized by the peers. Often "black sheep" produce the most interesting and pioneering works, and current situation in Russia only proves this point.
As a result, ones who dare to abandon mainstream and venue new fields, coherent with the modern street art trends, become the driving force of Russian street art.

Some most orthodox members of the street art community fear that if their art created by unconventional means transcends the mainstream boundaries, it may lose its freedom and become commercial. But this fear is completely irrational as employment of new media (even of commercial origin) is not commerce – hundreds of artists try themselves in new fields without a slightest inclination to sell-off. Art becomes commercial if it is done with intend to profit and created on paid contracted basis, which force artist to forfeit his/her ideals in favor of ever changing fashion whims. But evolution cannot exist without experiment. Culture that blindly replicates tradition is a dead culture. One of the main intentions of this title — is a call to discover new areas of experimentation, to employ new media, to invent new forms of street expression, because, unfortunately, only few of the Russian street artists dare to tread new paths…