By Carolina Beresford
Argentina has a raw essence which many people find inspiring. Is this one of the reasons you moved out here?
“Latin America is still the Wild West in some places; it’s still being developed. There’s not the institutional rigidity you find in London; there’s more of people being innovative and creative. I really like that idea. I worked in London for seven years; this was the adventure.”
What attracts you about Buenos Aires?
“The culture is amazing. There’s an energy to the city that inspires people. They go out and do, without waiting for permission or waiting to be commercially viable. They go out and paint, put on events, have band performances, galleries. there’s a sense of doing it for yourself and not waiting for your time or complaining that no one is paying attention to you.”
There’s a definite sense of people being artistically pro-active. Did that inspire you to start Graffitimundo?
“Graffitimundo was a side project that we started because we thought the art scene was amazing and we didn’t understand why nobody was talking about it. I have never been anywhere in the world where you walk past 30m murals and people painting in broad daylight. It begged lot of questions.”
Graffiti is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Buenos Aires. Why were you drawn to that aspect of the city’s culture?
“Imagine if you wandered into a new city and heard an amazing type of music that you’d never heard before. It would make you think, ‘what the hell is this?!’ There’s that feeling of something completely smacking you in the face. I thought, ‘how have I moved to a city where it hasn’t been mentioned anywhere that there’s a ridiculous art scene?’ There’s football, tango, beef. Graffiti had not been used to describe the city’s art culture at all. It was in its infancy to an extent, but we felt that we had the good fortune to stumble across something that was exploding and hadn’t really been documented. We met artists and couldn’t believe there was no accessible information about them.”
What attracts you about graffiti visually?
“The impact, the otherness about it. Buenos Aires is a pretty anarchic city, there’s a definite sense of everyone just doing what they want. Street Art here is a visual reflection of the city, there’s this anarchy of art and colour all over the walls.”
It is not uncommon for graffiti to be viewed as a political act. Do you think graffiti artists here have been politically motivated?
“Some people are political, others are anti-political; some people are graffiti writers, others are artists. people are moulded by their environment. This is a city with a very turbulent past, with a long history of expression, repression, activism and resistance, and a use of public space that is uncommon. Graffiti is an enormous subject that taps into the nature of culture, society, expression, art, individualism and collective action. Art in many ways is just a reflection of the character of the city, and the character of the city is complicated.”
Has there always been a strong graffiti culture in Buenos Aires?
“It was in its infancy in the 1990s. The crisis in 2000 and 2002 was the catalyst. That was the defining event for the generation who started painting in a different way. Prior to that there was a tradition of politicians using public walls to promote themselves, or people just writing something very direct, like the name of the person they love, or supporting a football club. Some people think graffiti is only aerosol and letters based, comes in one set format, and is illegal. When artists here started painting, there wasn’t aerosol. They used a roller brush and paint – and the whole legal-illegal thing was never a big deal here. It has always been easy enough to find a wall and paint it, rather than creep around at night trying to avoid the police. Artists here began to change the whole identity of what graffiti was considered to be.”
The lack of resources and the particular socio-political environment of Buenos Aires gave birth to a new kind of graffiti.
“If you started doing graffiti in the 1990s in Buenos Aires, you were able to do it in a way that people in other parts of the world couldn’t. Graffiti was viewed in the context of the city’s history rather than being an unwanted intrusion into ordered society. Here people started talking about it, they went out and painted, people watched and supported them, they shared mate while they worked. That was their reaction – instead of calling the police and demanding that it be stopped immediately. If you paint the front of your house in London, you are in violation of all these neighbourhood codes and would be ordered to repaint your building in one of three different shades of white. In Buenos Aires, it fit differently; it played a different role from the outset. People put importance on expression and self-expression instead of conformity and homogeneity.”
Do you think that’s graffiti’s role here? Self-expression?
“Some people are trying to affect change, others are trying to make the city a better-looking place, and some are doing it because they like doing it. That’s literally the subtitle to the question, ‘why do it?’,’because it gives me pleasure to do it. I’m not bothered about what I paint, I like the act of painting.’ For some artists there’s not that much differentiation between painting on a wall and painting on a piece of paper, it’s just a thing to paint on. Sometimes there’s a meaning to the work itself and sometimes there’s an overall philosophy about why you do what you do.”
In the past people have been quick to differentiate graffiti from art. Why do you think that is?
“The art world has been quite slow to acknowledge actions that have been previously seen as activism as artistic actions as well. In the same way that people say ‘it’s not art, it’s just graffiti’, there are people who say, ‘that’s not art, that’s just protest’. There’re a lot of works that now, with twenty years hindsight, can be seen as more than protest – it was art used for a purpose.”
Why did you think it was important to offer a Street Art tour in Buenos Aires?
“Graffiti is quite a closed scene, you’re either part of it or you’re not. Our tour gives people the opportunity to meet artists, talk to them, see their spaces and their work in the street. We stop in at a studio that three artists share and we chat to whoever’s in that day. There’s contact, there are chances to talk to people and ask questions. For us it has always been about the artist, and more to the point, ‘why?’ If you look at the context in which the piece of graffiti is sitting, the movement it’s part of, or the group of artists who are writing it, there’s usually an angle that’s more interesting than the piece in and of itself. There’s always a human story behind the artwork.”
Do you think graffiti is an integral part of a city?
“It is in Buenos Aires. The graffiti here reflects the city; it’s a manifestation of the city’s character and all the different voices clamouring to be heard.”
Find out more on Graffitimundo > www.graffitimundo.com
Tel: 0054 911 36833219
UNION Gallery: Carlos Calvo 736, San Telmo.