writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Monday, April 2, 2007

Taking It From the Streets

"Taking It From the Streets" made it as cover story of Preview's January-February 2007 issue! :) A follow-up to this article: Pilipinas Street Plan recently held their second exhibit at Cubicle Art Gallery, Stella Maris St., Maybunga, Pasig. It opened last February 2007.

Taking it from the Streets

By Clarissa Chikiamco

Early man’s innate urge to write on surfaces is evidenced by the cave drawings he’s left behind. It seems though that, despite the passage of thousands of years, the giant leaps of progress, the advent of technology and the movement to the modern and the postmodern age, some things never change. This primeval itch to decorate, to enhance, to brand and to recreate space is still flamingly present in 21st-century man.

While we can credit all forms of visual art to this pining, its closest descendant today is probably none other than graffiti or street art. Modern graffiti, which began in the late 60s in Philadelphia and New York and erupted full scale in the 70s and early 80s, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Street artists are tagging (writing their handles or pseudonyms) and bombing (marking as many surfaces as possible) in all corners across the globe and, thanks to technology, reaching more audiences and forming collaborations across borders.

The launch of Street Plan: Street Art Manila Expo at the Store for All Seasons last September marked the first time Filipino street artists gathered together to show in one venue. Finally united under an art collective called Pilipinas Street Plan, the artists will continue to present their ideas in public venues while aiming to educate people about their form of expression. Often regarded as vandalism, works of gangsters and signals of pathos in the city, street art struggles still for acceptance and due recognition despite already being exhibited in galleries and museums abroad. Boyagimat, who thought of the exhibit, notes on their group’s intentions, “We just want to bring back the streets to the people, [that] it’s a public space and not a corporate space… We are fedup with advertising and political images on the streets – monstrous billboards of cellphone companies, mayors and congressmen: we are being manipulated with these images.” This anti-commercialist bent is an outright refusal to capitulate to the powers that be, even if it seems as miniscule as slapping on a small sticker on the MRT while whizzing past a million and one signages thousands of times bigger.

Noble? Yes. Illegal? Yes. Filipino street artists have cops, tanods, MMDA and dogs at their heels, compelling them to select a designated lookout in group works to prevent any run-ins. Individually, they must work quickly or risk getting caught (and some of them have) and, equipped with their spray cans, markers, posters and stickers, should be ready to strike at ripe opportunity. Pictures are taken of the finished work as a permanent record due to its ephemeral nature (might be taken down, painted over or be subjected to eventual deterioration due to the elements). The artists however are not averse to doing traditional paintings on canvas – indeed, most started out this way – but it’s the street that beckons to them, asking them for something – not just anything like some random, meaningless scribble – that can change her and make passersby sit up and take notice.

This sentiment is obviously shared by street artists around the world, creating a communal bond strengthened by the ability to instantly share works and ideas through the internet. In fact, 45-60 international artists from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia answered the Street Art Manila’s open call for an international wall of stickers and posters with Oneday from Malaysia and CAML from Australia going the extra mile to be at the exhibit in person. The enthusiastic response has led Pilipinas Street Plan to arrange for more projects next year involving the international street art community.

Boyagimat muses on the local context of street art, “Most Filipinos never have a chance to go to museums or galleries and are intimidated to enter such venues. So by doing street art we show a different perspective of art viewing and appreciating.” So expect to see some art coming at a street near you.

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