Kill the ads! "Companies use visuals to make profit," says French street artist, ZEVS. Still from the "Inside Outside" documentary about street art.

Inside Outside: Evolving Graffiti

“Your visual has been kidnapped. Pay now!” wrote French street artist, ZEVS boldly to a huge advertiser. He also sent them a paper finger from the hand of a model ‘heisted’ from one of their billboards. Adams&Itso built a house under the central station in Copenhagen — illegally, of course. Lastly, female street artist SWOON, feeling guilty from commercialising and selling her art, continues to put up her work on the street, hoping to make someone’s day. All these are part of “Inside Outside,” a documentary focusing on evolving graffiti. Today PingMag had a chat with one of the two directors, Danish Andreas Johnsen, who dropped by Tokyo for its DVD release.

Written by Chiemi


The “Inside Outside” DVD, Japanese edition from UPLINK. This nice deluxe edition comes with a booklet of the artists’ work.

Andreas, how come you made a documentary about evolving graffiti in the first place?

I was kind of involved with hip hop culture from the mid 80′s, and I used to be a graffiti writer myself. So I was always interested in the movement and its development. When I began making films, I realised that I had to make something about this subject. And as you can see in the film, it was an interesting time to do it because graffiti has developed many different sub channels and people were creating different things from just putting the names up as traditional graffiti.

Why and how have graffiti styles evolved?

Graffiti has been changing many years, even from the very beginning. But I think that has increased, more than before. A lot of young folks have started to express themselves by writing deeper messages instead of simply tagging. Also I think it’s a reaction to how the world is changing. There are more kids who want to speak up and maybe they feel that they can’t really do it through regular media. They might be feeling that our leaders keep people down by not telling us the truth. The increase of ads we see on the streets could be another reason too…

Peek inside the trailer of “Inside Outside” featuring eight international street artists.

You don’t think that one of the reasons could be that graffiti is considered a more serious crime these days?

Street art is also crime, not just graffiti. So I don’t think it’s anything to do with being legal or illegal.

But we wonder if kids really realise that changing a fluorescent light in a tunnel like ZEVS did in the film is illegal?!

Hmmm… I think people who do it know that it’s illegal. But I don’t think it scares anyone away. It’s illegal anyway. If you have that urge to be creative and to express what you have inside, you will do it no matter what. Even if they are put in jail or fined huge amounts of money, they will still continue to do it.

Like old style graffiti, New York-based street artist, KR, makes his tag with dripping ink, a style called “Krink.”

There are lots of interesting street artists in your documentary. How did you make a selection?

Either I knew many of them personally from before or I knew at least their works. I wanted to make the selection as broad as possible to show the diversity of what is going on, that is why I took out some whose work was repetitive. Also, I didn’t want to give the audience something boring and academic, but entertaining. So it was important for me to choose some humorous artists who show some self-irony to a certain degree.

Who has the most impressive style for you?

Everything ZEVS is doing is very different and impressive, and also humorous. I have the deepest respect for all of them, but I really like Adams&Itso, who built an apartment underneath the central station in Copenhagen. I see it as new graffiti and regard it very beautiful. I mean, for me that is just an extension of the traditional graffiti, they put the whole personality in that tiny little house.


Parisian ZEVS swaps out a fluorescent light in a tunnel with one of his own, only to face a most unpleasant accident…

Adams&Itso, who built an apartment underneath Copenhagen central station.

There was a scene in the documentary where the apartment that Adams&Itso built became a homeless man’s new home. And another, where an onlooker told SWOON he felt lucky to have missed his bus since he was able to check out her work. Compared to tagging, these artistic expressions not only have new style, but also permeate a deeper meaning. It seems to have made a quite a change on graffiti — what do you think?

It’s quite a big difference but there are some people who are happy to see just tags. It might not be as sophisticated as Adams&Itso or Swoon’s work, but if you think about it, tagging is the basis of all other things, such as expressing yourself and leaving a message that you were there.


A lady stopped in front of SWOON while she was putting up her work and just said It’s beautiful!

How about SWOON’s agony? She has such passion as a street artist, but at the same time she feels guilty to get a big amount of money by profiting from galleries. This could happen to any street artist, and it opens up a very interesting topic too…

Yes, it is. One of the things I wanted to show in this film was that the commercial world picks up the underground scene. They make the artists to produce works and sell them to create stars. It is very dangerous and very difficult to keep the balance for those.

When SWOON was working for a big installation in Berlin, she explained that she taps her creative energy from the streets, otherwise she feels trapped. She is a strong woman and artist, and has become pretty big now that her shows are all over the world. And yes, her work is very expensive, but she somehow stays true to the underground by still keeping her work alive on the street.

How about the other artists in the film?

For example, ZEVS just had a big exhibition in Copenhagen which ran for three months. He visited the city while his exhibition was on and left lots of works on the streets as well. You can say that he is another artist who still needs energy and inspiration from the same walks of life.

“Visible is ephemeral” by ZEVS: To prove it, this graffiti was deleted straight away…

You used to be a graffiti writer yourself and now you made a film about it. What do you feel about graffiti today?

I still love graffiti because it’s alive. Wherever I go and see street art, it gives me pleasure because it shows the city is alive and people are expressing themselves. To me, the public space is for everyone.

The “I love NY” sign has been changed to “IRAK! NY” by New York-based graffiti writer Earsnot, who belongs to a group called “IRAK.”

Will graffiti continue to change its styles?

Sure! I think traditional graffiti will keep being alive but also people including former graffiti writers will try to be more open and experimental and do lots of crazy stuff!

Finally, any message for folks who are going to see your documentary?


Andreas Johnsen: He made a TV series Stocktown with his two friends and set up his own company Rosforth&Rosforth afterwards. Now he makes a couple of documentaries every year. © Jim O’Connell

Basically I made a film because I wanted people to open up. If you see graffiti on the street, I want you to stop and look at it, and try to figure out what it is. I hope this film will help to bring your curiosity alive and give new experience to people in the city they live in. We all rush around everyday and don’t really see what is going on but there are lot of things happening. We should see the city as a place we own and take a part in it.

Andreas Johnsen, thank you so much for your great doc! And thank you Jim O’Connell, who took pictures for us!

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  • http://kymle.com/ Kym

    I may not like graffiti, but I must say there are some very talented artists out there.

  • jax

    wow, I didn’t now graffiti could have such background to it. It kind of makes you appretiate it more.

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  • http://_ armando

    The big wall that is showed in this documentary painted by os gemeos in são paulo was covered by the mayor with a grey tint.. sorry the bad english

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    the wall today
    http://g1.globo.com/Noticias/SaoPaulo/0,,MUL701064-5605,00-PREFEITURA+DE+SP+QUER+RELACAO+DE+GRAFITES+QUE+DEVEM+SER+PRESERVADOS.html

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  • http://www.fatbombers.com ale [fatbombers]

    this is one of the best videos I’ve seen, definitely recommended… especially the zevs and earsnot part.
    it’s a perfect mix of graffiti and streetart and the interviews are really interesting.
    thumbs up!

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  • Strike Hard

    graffiti is the ultimate expression in selfishness. why do I have to tolerate these people damaging my property in the name of freedom of expression, giving voice to the oppressed, and other liberal excuses? How would these graffiti “writers” feel if someone tagged their home or defaced something they owned? these people are nothing more than miscreants wanting attention. they need to be caned.

  • Konsum

    @Strike Hard: advertising is the ultimate expression in selfishness. why do I have to tolerate these people damaging our property in the name of commerce and globalization, giving voice to the exploiters, and other commercial excuses? How would these “advertisers” feel if someone sold their home or defaced something they owned? these people are nothing more than miscreants wanting attention. they need to be caned.

  • Strike Hard

    @Konsum
    Advertisers pay property owners for the right to use the space. Graffitists do not pay owners and do not own the property on which their messages are inscribed.
    I think it’s hypocritical for you to criticize capitalism, commerce, and exploitation. You and everyone in the developed world benefited from our countries’ past and present exploitation of resources and people. You wouldn’t have the luxury to be sitting at the computer typing out leftist messages.

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    So if you have money to pay one person, its okay to destroy the suroundings for thousands of people with commercial and media puke?
    Nobody pay me when i get my surrounding destroyed by all these fucking commercial adspace!

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