The much trumpeted London Mural Festival is almost upon us, it happens in the first weeks of September and it throws up all kinds of uncomfortable questions about the further commercialisation of street art, about gentrification and community, about art as mere advertising, about the integrity of it all. And as much as anything else, it once again questions who controls the walls? It really does feel like there is a little street art mafia that might not be as much about the freedom of art as it is about the next limited edition print release, about the money and the things that come with the commercial advertising a festival like this opens the doors to, about the delight of the estate agents and well Doug here via that Fifth Wall TV video (that you can view just there) asks the questions and makes some of the points that have been on our minds rather well. Feels like we’re a million miles away from The C;ash painting underneath the Westway now or from a Fate Worse Than Death
Over the space of a year we’ve watched these Global Street Art people push their way up from Shoreditch and in to Hackney and indeed take over the wall on the front of the building that we actually live and work in here in E8, we’ve seen them bring in an artist with no connection to the place, one who deeply offended the people of Hackney with some pro Brexit flavoured Instagram clickbait that really annoyed rather than engaged – his piece lasted about a week before someone finally painted out his offensive words (during that week we must have been asked about it by the locals around here something like 50 times, no one was happy). We’ve seen artists with no connection to or with the community or Hackney in general fly in (and we do mean fly in), impose their art, and fly out again just as quickly, someone make a reference to “pop star” artists in the comments underneath the Fifth Wall TV video on YouTube, they have a point, that’s really not far off the mark. Word has it that by happy accident a Hackney’ based artist is actually painting one of the spaces outside our building this time and said artist is painting something that does have a connection to with the people and the area – his work often does connect, he appears to be the exception though, he doesn’t go in for print releases to tie in with his latest wall piece and it does seem that allocation of space is a happy accident.
And yes, as Doug said up there in his well argued video piece, this bit of writing here isn’t really a comment on the art or the artists involved, it is more about how they’re being used and how we all know what comes next – we know that what might be a wall sporting s half decent piece of slick if somewhat conservative street art this year, next year it will probably be painted over with a product placement, a peanut bar advert, if not that exact wall, the one next to it, the one around the corner, all “nicely” painted with a slick piece of graphic street art advertising the next Rolling Stones Tour or a Coldplay Logo as part of a teaser campaign for a new album (like we saw on a giant wall in Shoreditch last year) or maybe the latest hipster festival that no one who has lived here in this part of London for more than a couple of years can afford a ticket to even if they did want to go – or maybe a slick piece of street art for the latest must have trainers or an alcholic drink tie-in that Skepta is pushing – that’ll tie in with the kids of East London surely? Surely grime, rum and trainers is a bit more in touch with the community and the kids right? And yes I did ask our landlord about the walls outside and how it came about and he did say something about how his estate agent encouraged it and how “a nice painting improves the feel of the area and the prices”. And yes, we have tried communicating with the Global Street Art people a number of times over the past few years on various occasions about various things, they’re not interested in anything we do or say, te “not interested” option has been selected.
I wasn’t going to post this piece, I’ve been sitting on it for a few days, I had soeen others saying these things, I kind of though what’s the point of adding to it? Who needs it? Shut the flip up. And then yesterday we actually encountered some of it, walls being prepared by people in corporately branded jackets, clearing walls in a rather officious kind of way down by that Godawful Boxpark abomination in Shoreditch. Surely this isn’t how street art should be, surely it should be free-spirited, feral? Surely it should be about the freedom of art, artists, creativity, community, people? Surely not corporate branding and officialdom? Not imposed like this? There a horrible piece of what you might vaguely call “street art” on Brick Lane right now, we saw it yesterday, a hand painted piece of product placement masquerading as art, a great big slicker-than-slick Coke-Cola advert, and yes this does throw up talk of how it was with sign writers and the advertising murals of a hundred years ago, that Coke have being doing all this way before Martha Copper pointed a camera at anything – yes there is a whole history there – but this is now and this street art and the state of play in London in 2020, this is the taking of a whole street culture and boiling it all down to be repackaged in some kind of sanitised form before selling it all back to us (or to the people that can pay the rents demanded these daya). The beauty of street art was that it organically happened, that if there were rules they were the rules and the codes of the artists themselves, that there was respect – should it really be controlled by some slick corporate global street art advertising company? Should it really be part of an estate agent’s marketing plan? Should it really be like this? The London Mural Festival is upon us, feels like I’m not the only one a little uncomfortable about it all? The London Mural Festival do address some of these points of their own website.
According to a piece in The Guardian – a newspaper never really that noted in terms of being in touch when it comes to art here in London – in a piece written by Lanre Bakare (Arts and culture correspondent). “It has gone from a nuisance sub-culture to a mainstream art form. Now more than 100 street artists and muralists will descend on London for the inaugural London Mural Festival (LMF), which promises to offer accessible art at a time of social distancing. Artists will create murals at more than 50 locations across the capital during next month’s festival which, its organisers say, will allow people to admire art while restrictions are making gallery visiting difficult. The festival is the latest step in the transformation of street art, and follows Banksy’s move to join “blue chip” artists such as Keith Haring, after his work Devolved Parliament sold for almost £10m at Sotheby’s in November.
Lee Bofkin, CEO and co-founder of Global Street Art, the organisation behind the LMF, says that unlike major art fairs or exhibitions, which have been cancelled or were operating at reduced capacity because of social distancing, street art was “a non-contact sport” created and viewed outdoors. “You’ve got people up in lifts painting, so they’re not close to members of the public. It’s the kind of thing that you can do at social distance,” he says. The festival will take place across the capital at more than 50 sites, including Wembley Park, King’s Cross, Holborn, Crystal Palace, Canary Wharf, the City, Camden, Hackney Wick and Tottenham. It will also feature a restored mural painted in Whitfield Gardens in Fitzrovia by Mick Jones and Simon Barber in 1980. LMF has worked with councils, residents’ associations, private landlords and commercial partners, including Lend Lease and Quintain, to locate available spaces – not easy in a city where paintable locations are hard to find, Bofkin says.
I don’t know, I’m not sure about any of this, I’m not comfortable with what I see going in, I;m not the only one – who does police the walls? Who is making the rules? Why are we being gentrifued out? Is it all about product placement now? At least Frieze is honest about what they’re about (sw)