I’ve been travelling for a little while now (4 months and counting), and lately I’ve had days where I get utterly worn out wandering about in yet another unfamiliar city. It’s all noise, anonymous people, dirt, tourist souvenirs, too hot, too cold, blah argh get me out of here and to quote the great Paul Kelly “every fucking city looks the same.”
But on other days I can happily break new ground; and wandering from the library to the park to a gallery and a coffee shop feels just right. I soak up the stories, the grand old buildings, the art and the history of the city and I remember why cities are interesting places to inhabit; because every place has its own story and no city is the same.
On the streets, first impressions:
Venice- an abundance of brilliant surface detail, buildings, waterways, bridges; you could wander happily amongst churches and cafes for days on end and never glimpse a true Venetian, never see beyond the mask the city puts up for the tourists.
Edinburgh -wears its history proudly for all the tourists to see, the Golden Mile is bursting with ghost tours and kilted bagpipers, and everywhere you look there is another historic and stunning castle, kirk yard or blackened monument to photograph.
Dublin- Around Merrion Square the houses are laden with plaques marking past happenings, Schroedinger worked here, Oscar Wilde lived here ect. every other building tells of the cities proud history of literary, scientific and artistic achievement.
Belfast- The plaques and murals on the walls memorialise killings and killers. The history of violence and division can be seen in the walls still standing and the gates that still close every night dividing up the residents of Shankill Road and Fall Street. These are two sides with two distinct stories sharing one city.
As I’ve wandered about seeing the sights I’ve come across artists who are also in conversation with the city streets, using them as material, as a stage and a place to find an audience.
Art – taken from the streets:
This could be a place of historical importance.
Braco Dimitrijevic’s wall plaque at Dublin Contemporary 2011 was a great reminder of the blinkers we put on when we only look at a city the way the tourist board wants us to.
Another artist asking us to look at city streets differently is Ingrid Calame, an American artist whose work I saw at the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh. In this body of work she has taken tracings directly from the street, and using those nothing marks we walk over every day as the starting point for her work she draws our focus to detail which usually goes unnoticed underfoot.
Also in Edinburgh I came across h57collective a group of artists and non-artists creating an alternative art space on the trees along Jawbone Walk . This thoroughfare, which is more likely to be used by local students than tourist hordes, places art alongside weekend soccer skirmishes and ultimate Frisbee collisions in the Meadows. The work, exposed to the elements is there to be seen, changed by the weather, added to by a passer by and perhaps even taken home in somebody’s pocket.
Inside and Out:
Dublin graffiti artist Maser’s piece Emancipate Yourself is at Dublin Contemporary, but the work exists outside on the streets as well. The artist uses the streets as both platform and inspiration for his message of positivity in a downtrodden city, his bold and colourful text and image based works merging street, pop and fine art.
Outside In and Inside Out:
Entering the Central Pavillion at the 54th Venice Biennale there is a lot to see, and peering down from the rafters high above the Tinteretto’s are dozens of taxidermied pigeons, reminding us of the noisy squalor of Venice that sits alongside the splendid.
In Venice the pigeons are inside and the naked men are outside. On the very tip of the Sestiere Dorsodoro is a larger than life statue of a naked young boy holding a rat. The Biennale alumnus, who passed away in July this year, Lucian Freud painted a frail and raw portrait titled Naked man with a rat. In stark opposition to this,the boy standing tall in Venice is super human and gleaming, he makes everything around him small and squalid by comparison. Perhaps together, the pigeons, Tinteretto and the two rat artworks are an apt portrait of the city? That mix of Venice’s brilliant exterior and masked humanity allowing for a glimpse of the city as it really is. At least that’s the story I made up for myself.
To many, street art translates as graffiti, tags, and destruction of property. In my travels of late street art has translated itself to a broad conglomeration of stories about and on the streets I have been visiting. And I have to give my thanks to all the street artists who have enlivened my visits to so many of the worlds great cities.