“We declare the world as our canvas” - that is the motto of the Street Art Utopia project, but it can also be seen as the motto of every single artist around the world who ever tried to or made an artwork out in the public sphere. Street artists are making galleries out of streets, in that way attracting attention and communicating with their public directly. And not only that, their art being straightforward and provocative could be the way of reclaiming freedom of expression that has been regulated and restricted by governments. Also, street art has been a kind of social and political commentary made with affordable resources by those oppressed and disadvantaged. The lack of access to traditional media for big chunks of population, has given way to the grassroots approaches to the freedom of speech as a remedy to the artificial delimitation of public discourse. It’s not surprising that those practices have been incriminated and censored by states, and associated with violence and property damage. All in all, the ideas communicated via graffiti, murals, street installations, stickers - just to mention few tactics, have been directed, but not limited to, the local communities.
The entire world has been changed by the impact of web, so the street art as well. Is it all for the good? It is the fact that an artist still can produce locally, but with the availability of cameras and Internet they can do their works for their digital spectatorship. Somebody who uploaded a photo of the graffiti written by some local author in some place, say, in Europe can provoke a conceptual response virtually anywhere on the Globe. This can also make people engaged with social media to be more receptive to the art in their own offline settings. Downside might be that artists are becoming more interested in catching up with online trendings, in that way neglecting issues specific to their social base they are rooted in, therefore leaving values of street art behind. Yet, Internet has changed the ways we think about placing art in public spaces. The art can colonize spaces that previously wouldn't be considered without possibility of digitization. The public also evolved into a new specie of virality, and it seems the viral art displays the same behavioral patterns in the digital world as street and graffiti art in their original context.
One of the first street art campaigns that became viral, before the Internet was in place, happened at the end of 80’s when Shepard Fairey created stickers called “Andre the Giant Has a Posse”, presenting the image of Andre the Giant, French professional wrestler and actor. The author stated that this image was “just a spontaneous, happy accident”. Spontaneously or not, Andre the “Giant Has a Posse” artwork has been reused in a number of ways and has become worldwide. Twenty years later, the same creator made one of the most famous stencils “Obama Hope” poster (2008.) that became massively shared on social networks and contributed to the success of the presidential campaign.
Just like politicians can use street artworks and social networks for their campaigns, these “tools” were also recognized as weapons in the hands of the weak. A recent example that corroborates this is the Brazilian Anti-World Cup mural which became the first viral image of Brazil 2014. Before the World Cup 2014, the whole world had the opportunity to follow the news of thousands of citizens taking the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to protest against the World Cup. But, photos of thousands of people on the streets weren’t exhaustive and the mural created by Brazilian street artist, Paulo Ito, painted in the middle-class district of Pompeia in Sao Paulo pointed his finger to what was obviously left out of the picture.
At this time when most street art and graffiti are seen online, many artists are adapting their work to this new situation, artists can further evolve to create work that exists natively in digital public spaces without leaving street art or graffiti behind. One of the most interesting street artworks that is influenced by social media is the work of iHeart, an artist from the Vancouver streets. Each of his images represents an aspect of the social-media-obsessed culture and document how it affects everyone, even in their early childhood.
There are also a lot of examples of how artists are making art having in mind the power of social media.
DS, a stencil artist would never have the chance for his work to make the point it did, if there were no help of the social networks. This work would easily have been forgotten or not understandable if he/she didn’t post a photo on their Twitter account. And now, it became viral.
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Featured image from Hashtag street art.