BR1, paper intervention on political advertising.
Torino, january 2013
BR1’s new body of works is centered on sans papier immigrants in Italy and in Europe: those people that run away from africa to escape civil wars & extreme poverty. Sadly, once here their daily round is violence, exploitation and strong human rights restrictions.
This installation is 24m long, each billboard is 3 x 12m.
SP38 moved in Berlin in the middle of the 90s & settled at the level of the 142 Linienstrasse in Mitte. Back in the day it was an artistic house project connected to the Tacheles looking onto a small courtyard with trees that grew up after the WWII. At that time, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, nobody wanted to live in the center east except punks, freaks, local people and alternative artists who used to live in squats.
20 years later things have significantly changed, Linienstr. is now one of the most expensive street where hipsters, bourgeois and agencies are fighting for each single square meter. All alternative artists have been kicked out of the area long ago. Even the trees in the yard of Linienstr. 142 have now been removed to make way for businessmen & compromised artists that sold their soul to real estate companies, even though most of them still claim the underground and their belonging to the alternative urban art scene.
The reality here is artists and creatives are used and later abused to create a buzz, to bring a cool factor to another high end real estate project. Let’s be intellectually honest, it’s not about Art there, it’s about Business. How much does it cost to buy a soul, that we don’t know. What we do know is that where artists and creatives used to live and work for free, space is now available at 8000€ per square meter.
That doesn’t leave us indifferent & we fully support SP38 who’s intervention is meant to question the passers by. The fall of Berlin Mitte as a leading area for alternative art started 10 years ago when the Tacheles was sold. Since then things have only gotten worst. Berlin, what happened to your soul?
“Who Kills Mitte?” is not meant to be “against”, the point is to make a spontaneous artistic action to respond.
Our duty is to denounce the enemy.
BR1 is an Italian artist based in Turin, his works are based and influenced by the city life. For him, art must transmit a social message and bring collective awareness. BR1 is fighting the hegemonic policing of sense imposed by late capitalism by ripping out advertising on billboards or giving a new face to Muslim women. The point is to fight hegemonic ideas and to give back the public space to the public. With his colourful images and comics-to-pop-inspired portrait, BR1 makes the city more liveable and harmonious. Yet, when pasting up a draw on billboard, ripping out bills from the billboards or playing with the message of the bill and modifying the meaning of the adds; BR1 is criticising consumerism. His aim is to give social and cultural functions to billboards which, while lacking of those, are imposed to society.
BR1 started working on the theme of veiled Muslim women, as he became more and more attracted and intrigued by the veil; « why a dress has so strong connotation of religion? This thing attracts me.” His first aim is to show that the veiled woman has the same needs and the same nature as any other occidental woman. By portraying veiled woman in the everyday life, BR1 challenges the ideological isolation of the veil. BR1 believes « in a consciousness-raising » and this idea can be seen everyday on the streets that he has been walking by.
Vermibus lives and works in Berlin where he regularly collects advertising posters from the streets, using them in his studio as the base material for his work.
Using a unique style of painting counteraction, Vermibus transforms the faces and flesh of models by removing layers of colour and gloss from photographic images with white spirits. Thus, flawless and sanitized icons are reformed into harrowing and contorted figures reminiscent of Francis Bacon’s seminal works. When reintroduced back into their original urban setting, these images then wield a presence and singularity that fully surpasses their advertising predecessors.
Görlitzer Bahnhof, Berlin 2012 - Photo: Laura Colomé
You were born in Majorca but are currently based in Berlin. Why did you choose to settle in Berlin?
I came to Berlin to discover the city on a three month vacation. Chance had me losing my job in Madrid during those three months, plus I discover my technique (with solvent) during that time. I thought it was my opportunity to stay and to experiment.
Although you display your work publicly, you define yourself as a contemporary artist and not as a street artist. Could you explain the difference between street art and art in the street?
I think the difference is not about what one is doing but about what one is feeling, about what you want to express with your art. When I was doing graffiti or street art, I wanted my name to be in as many places as possible; I wanted to repeat my name or my artwork again and again. Of course I was expressing a feeling at that time but now it’s different, now it’s more personal, it’s a purge and a self-discovery. My artwork may be in the street but its nature is different.
Bright Trade Show - Street Intervention, Berlin 2012 - Photo: Thomas Von Wittich
You follow in the « culture jamming » tradition of targeting adverts and brands with your interventions. What is your message?
I am not only attacking the brand. Of course I despise the lack of ethics of many of them but targeting brands is not my concept; I am challenging the imposed image. I work with solvent and with it I take off the mask of the model, the make-up, the retouch…and the brand. I take off the brand, as it is for me the ultimate mask. The brands goal is to remove the model identity. The model is not a person anymore but an image whose only value is for selling.
Do you think art has a duty to deliver messages to society or would you say that art exposes societal issues?
Every artists’ goal is different and personal to them; it changes vastly from one to another. Moreover the relation to art changes through time for an artist. Today for me, I think it is a mix between those two ideas; my artworks clearly show these two sides.
You work with solvent to erase the models faces. Could you tell us more about your technique?
In my last video « Vermibus Process » I tried to demonstrate my work process. There is no secret, it’s quite simple: brush with dissolvent onto paper, an advertising poster or a fashion magazine.
Which artists’ work do you draw inspiration from?
Established artists like Francis Bacon or Lucian Freud. They are my top two references, but I have a lot of favorite artists.
What do you think about street art’s place in the art market?
I think it’s natural that street art has its place in the art market. The artworks present in the streets are gifts for the passer-by; if one want those artworks at home then he has the opportunity to buy it instead of stealing it from the other by tearing it down from the street. I think the problem is when an artist starts selling and forgets to intervene in the streets.
How smooth was the transition from showing your work in the street to being an artist exhibited in galleries?
I look at my work with a more critical eye, I don’t accept anything; but I always respect my work and the people I work with. I could be invited to exhibit at the best gallery in the world but if I don’t have a good feeling with the person I’m working then I’m not interested. As for the transition from street to gallery, I don’t really see it as a transition as I didn’t exchange one for another: I have both and I am very happy with both.
SP38 whose artworks with slogan as “Vive la Bourgeoisie” or “Vive la Crise” can be seen all over Berlin walls is now ending his cycle “Escape” for a new secret-kept artwork. Open Walls has met up with the artist while he was pasting his last “Escape” posters on his favourite wall. Discover a bit more about SP38, his work and his opinion about Berlin and street art.
How are you selecting your walls in Berlin?
This wall is a wall I use all the time, it is very symbolic for me. Augustr. was the place where all the galleries started appearing after reunification. It’s kind of my wall, I want to protect it.
You are pasting the last « Escape » poster. This is the end of a cycle, what are you new creations?
I have a new poster with a new typography, a new drawing –it won’t be the rabbit anymore- and a new slogan. I want it to stay secret for now as I am going to paste it for the first time in Seoul while it will be discover at Stroke Urban Art Fair at the same time. All I can say is that the slogan is inspired by consumption.
Why did you choose to end the cycle « Escape »?
I had been working on it for two years, so yeah; things got to end at some point. Plus, I used this poster for a festival named « Escape » so I thought, when the festival will end, I will go for something else.
For how long have you been in Berlin? How do you think the city has evolved?
It’s been sixteen years that I am in Berlin; I came as I was bored in Paris. I wanted to know Berlin, to see the Tacheles. I’ve always really liked the Tacheles, it was inspiring, looking like liberty… But Berlin has changed a lot, I think, if I was to arrive now maybe I would not stay. Before there was this great alternative life, alternative places, now it had became kind of bourgeois. Yet, Berlin is a place that is still renewing.
You said you were bored in Paris; can you speak a little a bit more about Paris and Berlin? Give us your opinion…
Regarding street art, Paris is business place. Of course a lot of people are doing things, as there is this fad for street art. I think it is too commercial though –apart from Belleville. I’ve got this feeling that people are doing street art to be seen, to become riche and famous… In Berlin, it’s still more free, even if things have slow down, it’s still a production of freedom.
Do you live in a street art environment?
Yes and no, I love to work with other urban artists but my friends don’t really come from this background. It’s more in Paris that I am only with urban fellows.
How did you start street art?
Well, I wanted to paint; I did a training indeed. I started painting in the 80’s in some artist squats. I was quite different from what I’m doing now; paintings, big format. The poster came naturally, I wanted something different. 1991 to 1995 was a fun time, I was with this group named « Zen copyright » and we were pirating events; we all had our slogan or image and we were pasting it together.
Did you start working with galleries quickly?
In Paris yeah, in Berlin the galleries were not so developed when I arrived…
Your artworks are very committed? Have you ever been feeling like changing style?
Yes it is committed, I don’t like decoration, I am fed up with decoration. I think in the street you got to say something. Still my artworks are balancing between political and poetry; the typography is very important too.
What are your projects for the future?
I am going to Seoul for the time for an exhibition and a festival. It’s going to be really nice being there as I have a lot of opportunity; I am going to paint a whole ruff with a crew. This is going to be a lot of fun. The festival is a performance festival as I am also active in the performance field.
Why Seoul? What do you think of the city regarding street art ?
Seoul was by chance, I met some guys, we became friends, you know the story.
Regarding street art, it’s totally illegal over there, therefore there is not so much street art. Yet, there are some quite good things. I remember I saw a « fuck japs » which I liked a lot. It is a really good place in fact as if you do street art in Seoul it will be notice right ahead . And the audience is so huge… Plus there is a real curiosity toward street art even if it what you would call « hype » over there.