Art Vandalism or Conversation?

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Photo by Jean-Pierre Caissie

“It’s a phenomenon unique to public art: the possibility of response,” wrote Jean-Pierre Caissie, the artistic director of Dare-Dare, on his blog last month. “Artistic expression is usually a one-way street. The artist expresses himself and the museum presents his work. A few attempts at responding to the artist have ended up in a court date. But street art, or ephemeral public art, offers the opportunity for passers-by to comment.”

Roaming from site to site around Montreal—first Viger Square, then the Park With No Name, and now Cabot Square—Dare-Dare specializes in ephemeral public art. I’ve been lucky enough to chat with Caissie about the various projects that Dare-Dare has helped curate and a common theme that keeps emerging is the opportunity for public interaction and response, something that isn’t normally possible in a gallery or a museum. Dare-Dare takes art from the gallery to the street and opens it up to the public.

What happens then is entirely unpredictable. In 2007, Chih-Chien Wang built a “nest” of cardboard boxes, illuminated from within, underneath the Van Horne Viaduct. People would come at night and drink nearby, but every so often, somebody would knock down all of the boxes, either deliberately or by accident. Each time, he rebuilt the nest in a slightly different way. Not long after, Caroline Dubois and Julie Favreau turned a long-vacant storefront into a space of perpetual construction and reconstruction. Many neighbours, surprised to see the shop doors open, stopped by to chat.

It’s not uncommon to pass by street art—stencils, graffiti, paste-ups and so on—that has been commented on. Caissie has a few examples, including one—a “raton voleur” that spills out from one of Franck Bragigand’s painted manhole covers on St. Viateur St.—that adds so much to the original work that I had always assumed it was painted by Bragigand himself. Two years ago, somebody pasted a long-form poem onto a laneway wall; “Too bad it’s not that good,” somebody scrawled underneath. Last spring, Fauxreel’s controversial Antlerheads were literally defaced by Zato, another street artist, who transformed their Vespa scooter heads into morbidly grinning moster faces.

Compare that to galleries, where any attempt to comment on art is considered vandalism rather than dialogue. Caissie points the way to a handful of news stories about people attacking, defacing and otherwise leaving a mark on various pieces of art.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Sunday January 11 2009at 01:01 am , filed under Art and Design, Canada, Public Space and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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