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Attempting to Define Intermural Art

February 11, 2017
Eli Anapur is a pseudonym of Biljana Puric. A staff writer and editor at Widewalls, Biljana holds Master’s Degrees in Film Aesthetics from the University of Oxford, and Gender Studies from the Central European University. She has published academic articles as well as art and film reviews and criticism in New Eastern Europe, ARTMargins, the Journal of Curatorial Studies, and Short Film Studies; she has also contributed illustrations for Argus Magazine.

Intermural Art, as another term that aims to define a particular artistic style, emerged out of a necessity to distinguish between what is considered street art in its historical sense, and new practices that are emerging out of this field. But can we say that this is justifiable or even necessary? Perhaps it is, but today, when we are bombarded with different readings and explanations of art, including a novel term inside an already complex discursive field may seem redundant, especially if we have in mind that it applies to a variant emerging out of street art.

History of art abounds with terminology that tries to make a sense of multiplicity of styles and practices, and attempts to make a coherent and linear history of their appearance and development. Street art and its distinct cultural and social positioning from inception provoked divergent opinions on its significance and broader artistic and cultural validity, but it was always considered as a coherent whole within which different styles and techniques exist.

The historical linearity to which street art is now subjected if the new terminology is to be accepted, raises additional questions about the dominance of a type of historical thinking in art theory that is nowadays considered a relic among the more progressive thinkers, but also about the dominance of certain criteria when art is defined and included in art historical discourse.

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Antwan Horfée and Ken Sortais – Lasco Project #3. Image via Widewalls archive. 

What is Intermural Art?

The theory surrounding Intermural Art is sparse. Turning to dictionary to search for a definition of intermural gives results where words refer to practices that take place between institutions or ‘between’ institutional walls.[1]

Applied to art this term literary means art produced between the walls. This does not mean that art is created between some tangible walls, but that it is situated between the conceptual walls that were previously markers of street art and graffiti scene. As suggested by Rafael Schacter, Intermural Art succeeds street art in a historical trajectory of development, but it still preserves and utilizes its visual styles as conceptual foundation, methodological tool, or ethical imperative.[2]

Conceptual foundation of street art and graffiti is preserved in Intermural Art through artistic analysis and dissection of their aesthetics; this art also uses techniques of the two mentioned groups but subverts their traditional codes and regulations thus limiting them to a methodological tool, and finally, ethical imperative of street and graffiti art is also present in Intermural Art that uses their independent ethic.

Developing and emerging from street and graffiti art, Intermural Art differs from them due to its material qualities, time frame, and location, explains Schacter. It emerged after 2008, its material qualities differ from the previous groups, and being located on both street and in a gallery also puts it aside from other street forms to a certain extent.

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Antwan Horfée’s mural. Image via Widewalls archive. 

From Neobaroque to Intermural Historical References

Neo- and post- are prefixes used when specific styles and aesthetic programs are considered, which can stylistically fit into the historical form of the neo or post style they denominate, but are temporally removed from them. Neobaroque is a good example to consider in this case. Referencing historical Baroque, neobaroque appears as a contemporary form that aesthetically corresponds with its historical counterpart, but is nonetheless created in a different time period and within different historical and social framework.

Patricia Lynn Bornhofen in her thesis defines neobaroque as recycling of Baroque, as she refers to baroque elements present also today in visual arts such as simulacrality, cosmography and chaography.[3] Angela Ndalianis observes the neobaroque as a poetics rather than a historical or cultural boundary, making it a more fluid set of aesthetic postulates that transverse temporal limitations.[4]

Moving on to the present definition of Intermural Art, Schacter defines it through a double move he makes in theory regarding the street and graffiti art. First, he historicizes street art and situates it in a particular time-space framework, and second, he gives it a specific ‘moral’ world in which this art was created, and framework to which it belonged to. Than he asserts that its inapposite ethic relative only to his proposed framework needs to be surpassed in thinking about new forms of art he defines as Intermural.

He delimits street art to a certain set of characteristics and historical circumstances before defining it as a period that does not belong to the present moment. But as we see from the neobaroque example, such historical linearity and contextual frame cannot be simply advocated as the reasons for a definition of novel art form or movement. The past is never completely erased, and its aesthetics seeps into novel forms that enliven it with new meanings. Defining street art only through aspects that belong to a certain time period is to erase its multiplicity and negate its development over time, regardless of the change of the “moral world”.

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Brad Downey – Urban Intervention. Image via Widewalls archive.

Should Intermural Art Exist in Theory?

Can we redefine street art today, in a way that will acknowledge its versatile manifestations and historical trajectories? The proposition may seem daunting but as we see from recent conferences on the topic such issue is never shunned aside either. There is no need for historical trajectories that would position street art in the compartment of historical memory and instead create novel definitions of art that comes after it. However, Intermural Art in theoretical terms may prove to be a useful term in defining a set of artistic practices that came and grew out of street art styles and aesthetics, bringing new modes of dealing with both public and gallery spaces. Schacter defines this in the following way:

“…the artists at the vanguard are pushing at the very limits of the category, engaging and inhabiting the outside limits of the Street Art terrain while still, for want of a better term, being housed within it…These are artists occupying the spaces in between in disruptive, innovative, boundary shifting ways… As such, the need for a terminological transformation, for a movement away from Street Art and towards something new, has become imperative. It has become imperative so as to be able to successfully explicate what this work now is. It has become imperative to enable people to materially and morally decipher these new aesthetic forms.”[5]

Although such assertions possess certain validity, it should not be forgotten that street art in its formal definition, but also in its ideological basis, is still alive and kicking today. Intermural Art can prove to be a useful definition for novel forms of street art that are emerging, which perhaps creates a more democratic theoretical framework for street art, not steeped in historical thinking about progress, periods, and circumscribed ethic. Not based on exclusive but inclusive narratives, Intermural Art can help renegotiate street art through new forms, ideologies and contexts.

References:

  1. Anonimous, Intermural, www.yourdictionary.com [February 1, 2017]
  2. Schacter R., (2016), Street Art Is a Period. Period. Or the Emergence of Intermural Art, hyperallergic.com [February 1, 2017]
  3. Bornhofen P.L., Cosmography and Chaography: Baroque to Neobaroque: a Study in Poetics and Cultural Logic, p.236.
  4. Ndalianis, A.,(2004), Neo-Baroque Aesthetics and Contemporary Entertainment
  5. Schacter R., (2016), Street Art Is a Period.

Featured image: Seth in Canggu, Bali. Image via streetartnew.com. All images used for illustrative purposes only.