“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…
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.
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.
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.
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.