Living Walls: Natives and newcomers share their thoughts

Eyedrum is merely one of many sites where visiting artists left their mark. Photo by Jenna Duffy.

Update: BURNAWAY revisited the Living Walls murals in October of 2010. Click here to read what Santiago Junca and Karen Tauches had to say!

One remarkable detail of the symposium portion of Living Walls occurred to me as I stood outside the auditorium. As I skulked about the courtyard of Georgia Tech’s College of Architecture building last Friday, I eavesdropped on several conversations that were delightfully bilingual. Too bad my ears aren’t at all attuned to the rolling nuances of Spanish, or Portuguese or French for that matter.

Conference attendees not only included familiar faces, but also an inspiring number of artists and professionals visiting from outside Atlanta. BURNAWAY surveyed five individuals to hear their reactions to either Friday’s symposium or Saturday’s art opening at Eyedrum Art and Music Gallery.

Read below for contributions by Daniel Clay, Joe Tsambiras, Mike Germon, Cheree Franco, and Beth Malone.

The exhibition continues in an adjacent warehouse where conditions match the raw terrain where many street artists work on a regular basis. Photo by Jenna Duffy.

Proud to live and work in Atlanta

For me, the energy surrounding Living Walls has been palpably electric. Support the event received from local publications, organizations, and artists has been a testament to Atlanta’s want for more public art. I appreciated the lecture series at [Georgia] Tech as juxtaposed with Eyedrum’s spray-paint fumes and the city’s mural-ed walls. The dichotomy was a clever approach by conference organizers to combat negativity that has surrounded graffiti and street art in many ATL communities.

We’ve all been whispering about energetic change taking place in the city’s arts community. The international attention received by Living Walls, as well as the sweaty HORDES of people who showed up at Eyedrum to cheer on erratic Pecha Kucha presentations and gape at wall murals, has helped solidify these suppositions. Congrats and thanks to Blacki and Monica, and everyone else who made Living Walls happen. I’m damn proud to live and work among this collective fire.
Beth Malone is a writer and cofounder of Dashboard Co-op.

Inspiring because it’s not Brooklyn

It was like working a low-budget movie—the kind where someone’s aunt provides craft services from her own kitchen, sleep schedules are ridiculously shrunken, and, by the end of the first week, you have a dozen new best friends. Cross that with anarchist transgression (squatting, vandalism, rail-hopping, and pin-and-ink tattooing) and the whiff of officiality—goodie bags, conference coffee—and you’ll get something akin to the experience of Living Walls.

This event could have happened in Brooklyn—actually it does happen in Brooklyn, every weekend. But that’s because New York has effective mass transport, because engaging participants requires a mere note in a listserver, and because there’s always someone who’s done it before. Monica Campana and Blacki Migliozzi pulled off Living Walls in a scattered Bible Belt city with artists from three continents, a slew of first-time volunteers and sponsors, and a heap of blind faith. The resulting exhibit is authentic, inspiring, educational, well executed and, because it’s not Brooklyn, extremely important.

I loved the gallery but for me … I couldn’t stay out of the garage, with its reflective puddles, unpredictable lighting, dramatic shadows, and the chemical assault of spray paint. Didn’t I see something like that at Deitch? Or shouldn’t I have?
Cheree Franco is a journalist and perpetual explorer.

The mural by Doodles above (in progress) is among at least 12 new works created as a result of Living Walls. Photo by Mike Germon; click the image to view more on Flickr.

Thought provoking

I attended the Living Walls lecture series at Georgia Tech and was lucky to hear a talk by Daniel Lobo from Washington D.C. who considers himself a project manager, researcher, and artist. His presentation was thought provoking and intelligent. Of particular interest to me was his approach to creating urban interventions within a specific environment, exploring the theoretical framework for them, and furthering that exploration by re-categorizing or incorporating them elsewhere.

I also attended the exhibition at Eyedrum. It seemed the artists made good use of the space, and obviously enjoyed working within it. I liked the way the artwork spilled out into the exterior of the building into the adjacent unused (at least to me) warehouse. There was an immense amount of work, some drew my attention [but] others I passed by without much care …. I particularly was drawn to the work of Gaia and Miso.
Joe Tsambiras is an artist, teacher, and friend-to-cats living and working in Decatur, Georgia.

They were all there to make art

What most people saw of the Living Walls conference was the opening this past weekend at Eyedrum, an exhibition of local and visiting street artists. Large in both scale and attendance, the show was impressive as artwork covered nearly every surface of the enormous space and adjacent warehouse, inside and out. I was fortunate enough to have the time and permission to visit artists throughout the week at Eyedrum and legal walls around the city. While the artists ranged wildly in talent, background and discipline, they were all there to make art and did so with great passion leading up to the conference. The thing that excited me most was the ever-present energy and opportunity surrounding the event. At any given time there was an artist working or another wall being painted. After one day of traveling from wall to wall, meeting artists and snapping photos, I was hooked. The rest of my week was eaten alive by spray paint, projectors, wheat paste, and anticipation.
Mike Germon is an artist and gallery manager of MINT Gallery.

A prev
A previous work by OX demonstrates one possibility within public-intervention practice. Photo courtesy

Public space is elevated to objet d’art

The work of French artist OX illuminates, by way of contrast, a salient element of the great majority of street art from Atlanta and elsewhere exhibited in Living Walls: The potential to speak deeply to the public is stunted for many street artists because they are conceptually shackled to the realm of murals and tagging and to the egotism that is that realm’s currency. OX moves beyond the common practice of simply appropriating public space for the proliferation of personally meaningful marks or imagery by incorporating aesthetic elements of a piece’s environment into the language of the piece itself. The result is work in a place that is also about that place and therefore about anyone who is in that place to see it. The status of the commandeered public space is elevated from that of mere canvas to objet d’art—the viewer graduates from witness to participant, completing the work by observing it. The work thus encourages an eminently personal experience of itself and oneself in a way that no mural or tag can.
Daniel Clay writes and performs music, creates sound installations, and carves wooden spoons.

Crowds at Eyedrum's exhibition opening filled the main building, parking lot, studios, and warehouse next door. Cars lined the street all the way to Oakland Cemetery. Photo by Jenna Duffy.

Jenna Duffy is a commercial portrait and street fashion photographer.

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  • cheree
    August 26, 2010 at

    MTM, please save the criticism for the conference you actually attend, which may lend your opinion a shred of credibility. “The project lacked grounding and rigor”—how would you know? And since you didn’t attend, don’t you think any assumed “lack of discourse” falls on you? At the Georgia Tech talks, Jeff Ferrell, Jordan Seiler and Jason Eppink all addressed issues such as advertising parading as street art, what denotes “public” space, how uses for public space—including but not limited to federally funded art and privately funded advertising—reinforce “normative” ways of being in society, even down to “normalizing” our aesthetic preferences, how altering your community via art can be instructive or helpful (google Eppink’s Astoria Scum River), and may even affect legislative or infrastructure change in a community. Not to mention Seiler’s work using art to call attention to illegal public ads (like the legal ones aren’t mind assault enough!) As for “what did it transform” or “address that hasn’t been done,” I wonder, did you even make it to the gallery show? Because there were hundreds of people at Eyedrum that night, plenty of representatives from “mainstream America,” plenty of people who weren’t “in the know.” And those people were engaged. They were discussing the art and the phenomena of a smelly, sludgy garage as part of an art show. Know how I know this? Because I overheard those conversations. I WAS there. My guess is that Living Walls has inspired some people—adults and especially kids—to start making art and maybe even street art. Because at Living Walls, art was “cool,” it was a party and it was inclusive. It wasn’t museum stuffy. “Low-brow” or “pop-art” gallery shows may occasionally occur in Atlanta, but to my knowledge nothing like this conference has ever happened in, I daresay, the greater South.

    As for Greg, you’re right, some of the artists involved in Living Walls rarely get up on the streets. But most of the artists get up constantly and were putting up illegal pieces at night (a few even got mugged at gunpoint for their troubles) the entire week they were in town. So, um, do your homework.

  • My name is Greg.
    August 26, 2010 at

    Funny, didn’t know street rules included getting permission to paint on walls, in the daytime, along side a bunch of artists that wouldn’t risk not returning their census ontime, let alone getting taken in for vandalism and trespassing. I enjoy the thought of local artists getting together to paint murals and try to beautify the city, but lets not confuse this gathering for something its not. I’m assuming the reason more seasoned street/graffiti artists didn’t join the “MOB” is because to them it would be the equivalent, and as rewarding as developing the new urban street campaign for Maxwell house. However, I’m excited about Michi’s new promise to hit the streets! First time right? If nothing else came of this event than Michi finally getting the confidence to hit the streets and possibly legitimise his clams to be a street artist, well than The Living Wall conference must have been all it was hyped up to be!

  • Baxter
    August 20, 2010 at

    In addition to the show at Eyedrum and Atlanta’s new eyecandy, I really enjoyed the lectures at Tech. The speaker from Barcelona was awesome. I have always heard about the thriving art scene there and he really opened my eyes to, not only wonderful images of art in the city, but also the progression of how the public there came to be so involved. Blacki and Monica, you did an epic job. Thank you for bringing in such interesting artists. Hopefully, locals in Atlanta will be inspired to do things bigger and better, sanctioned or not…

  • MTM
    August 20, 2010 at

    If it’s in the street my expectations are higher.

  • Kombo
    August 20, 2010 at

    So you’re saying if art is apolitical it’s cheap? Does this this only apply to street art or art in general?

  • MTM
    August 20, 2010 at

    I would have aimed for more ambitious street art, with some meaning or some new innovation. What we learned is quantity and large scale does not always mean monumental. Being apolitical is just the first thing I noticed with most of this work, and for what it’s worth, it is a cheap shot.

    Living Walls could have spent half as much money on ONE piece of digital ‘street art’, for example, that would have been more contemporary and more effective both aesthetically and politically.

  • Kombo
    August 20, 2010 at

    Touché MTM

    The notion of street art as inherently having or needing a political or social motivation is outdated. Though many people assume that it must in order to be valid, I don’t. (hip hop followed a similar arc from politically salient expression to… Ke$ha, for example). It needn’t be any more politically motivated than a sculpture in a gallery. Even though there’s no escaping the fact that, as a medium, street art is ripe for political expression, not every tall man plays basketball, not every piece of street art needs to be political.

    I don’t jive with the notion of street art as an aesthetic, I think it’s a trap, and we’d be more free if we considered street art merely as a mode of display and not a particular ‘look.’. Some visual tropes like drips, black and white prints of vectorized photography are commonly considered as marks of street art, but these are also popular in commercial print and gallery art, and only gained traction in street art circles because of speed and utility (another parallel with hip hop is the saggy pants and no laces look that only came about because prisoners weren’t allowed belts and laces).

    You raise valid questions about the legislative, funding and other issues affecting public art.

  • MTM
    August 20, 2010 at

    My disappointment with the City is not in the lack of public work or ‘street art’ but in the lack of discourse about it especially after this very egocentric grand stand of self professed street art is largely over.

    I’m not sure if the conference or Pecha Kucha presentations approached any of the important questions about the act of graffiti and it’s place in art history because I didn’t attend. But from a outsiders critical and curatorial perspective, I think the project lacked some grounding and rigor. There were questions that occurred to me over the course of the thing and I wish there was more discourse about it here. Instead all I hear is “what a great party that was!” So if nothing else, yeah, it was a great gathering.

    Not depreciating the camaraderie and good times of the ‘happening’ but what did it transform exactly? Or address creatively that hasn’t already been done? Isn’t that the goal of “street art?” Who has noticed that was not in the know already?

    Will this effect legislative decisions in the future with respect to public art funding? As Cinque pointed out in last weeks CL (in a POV that should have been the cover), maybe the time is now to be lobbying, getting in the gold dome and leveraging some power? Instead the energy built by this project will fizzle out as volunteers and organizers for weeks to come will still be wrapping up what was the biggest house party Eyedrum has ever seen. And returning a lot of real estate back to it’s previous condition in some cases.

    Was it energy well spent? Time well spent? Only time will tell I suppose.

    Speaking of which, was this show well timed? (It’s 2010 and in my art school days I imagined more, I don’t know, something space aged – c’mon graffiti on the moon!) And sure Atlanta is facing growing pains but in a city with police furlows and only over zealous neighborhood associations policing graffiti, how cunning do you have to be to throw up something in the public right of way?

    Right now ‘public art’ and ‘street art’ are buzz words (perhaps corporate?) now used in the same way, sometimes in the same sentences, as ‘green’ and ‘urbanism’ and other neat sounding stuff. But all meaning is lost because of the commercialism of these things. 40, 30 even 20 years ago, it would have taken a lot more nerve and political swagger to commit an act of public art or vandalism that we’ve come to know as effective graffiti. And stickering and wheatpastes only feed endless dollars into a corporate system that is intent on smothering the free expression we intend celebrate in the first place. (Unofficial gratis due for Kinkos, or FedEx office, for non-sponsoring the Living Walls project.)

    40, 30 or 20 years ago the Living Walls project would have been really refreshing and edgy. But when a largely priveleged group of artists gather to decorate walls reserved in their name, or gallery space that was donated for their cause with mostly apolitical satyr in 2010, there is nothing street or particularly artful about it.

    August 19, 2010 at

    Atlanta rapper Jeezy said it best “I put on for my city, on on for my city” It’s sad that more artist from Atlanta didn’t step up their game,own it and participate. If this is about street work, with street rules, Well the MOB just came and took the town. They took over the trap, pulled a kick door at the Georgia dome, shot the Dirty Birds, while robbing the capital for its Gold Dome and some weren’t Brave enough to tomahawk chop for the scene. All I see is weakness,fear… You weren’t there to greet them at the door with the shotgun,pie or Urange drank and now you mad cause you don’t control the walls.See ya’ll in the streets,the galleries,the museums and now overseas…I put on for my city on on for my city!!!! My wall will be changing as the seasons change.MEKO

  • Anne
    August 18, 2010 at

    An amazing thing to happen in this city. I agree with Tindel – let’s keep the energy going! We have AMAZING artists in this city.

  • cheree
    August 18, 2010 at

    “the egotism that is that realm’s currency”–Daniel, you called it! The Living Walls conversation/confrontation continues at the Living Walls facebook page and on the living walls themselves, as already, the murals are razed by throw-ups.

  • Terry
    August 18, 2010 at

    What a party Saturday night. It was overwhelming: nearly smothered by huge art, heat, and people. In to see the art, out for a bit of cool air, back in again, repeat. Oops, there’s a puddle, cool reflections. Eyedrum radiated color, light, energy wherever you looked. I felt a bit sad as we left. We’d been to a one-of-a-kind event, a hard act to follow. But I think the energy will stay with me for while.

    August 18, 2010 at

    The main thing I have noticed about this Happening (Living Walls) is that…

    …The Artists and writers-of-the-arts are pumped up. Lets keep it going. Keep it up. Burn Burn Burn. It takes more than all these bad-ass artists here to bring this city to a new level in art. Get on that wonder-power shit. Be proud. Be arrogant like New York. Momentum. (Go see 165 Walker Street – Michi’s Mural).

    – TINDEL (Googlable)

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