The destruction happened a few nights ago in Bologna, when the internationally renowned street artist, Blu - who despite fame has retained anonimity - covered their murals in Bologna (the home of Italian street art) from the past few years with grey paint. Why?
They did it to protest against the exhibition due to be inaugurated this March 18th in Palazzo Popoli entitled "Street Art. Banksy&Co. - Art in the Urban State", promoted by Genus Bononiae in collaboration with Fondazione Carisbo.
Amongst the works being shown at the exhibition there are also some that have been removed from the walls of the city. The objective to "preserve the works from the ravages of time" was declared by Fabio Roversi Monaco, the director of Genus Bononiae. However, it is a well-known fact that Street Art was born to "die" with time. In the very idea of its creation there is no expectation for its lasting into eternity.
"In Bologna there is no more Blu, and there will be none until the barons remain. For thanks or complaints, you know who to speak to", said Blu. The artist was supported not only by street artists that took his defence, but also by civil society. An event on Facebook entitled "I DO NOT PARTICIPATE", organised to boycott the inauguration on the 18th March, has already received hundreds of RSVPs, and the hashtag #mementomuri is trending on Twitter.
Vita.int interviewed Sabina de Gregori, an Art History graduate and expert in Street Art and contemporary expressions. She has published a number of books for the Castelvecchi publishing house, including "Banksy, the art terrorist. Secret life and the most famous writer of all time" (2010), which came amongst the finalists for the Francesco Alziator Prize in 2011 for Non Fiction.
Blu has destroyed his murals as a sign of respect for the works of Street Art being taken down from the walls on which they were created. But by doing this, isn't he too going against the essence of Street Art, which presupposes that the works should degrade naturally, and carve their own path?
I don't think that the so-called "ethical" argument of Street Art in the strictly technical understanding of its degradability fits here. The gesture of destroying their own artwork is a choice the artist is free to make, as is anyone else who passes on the street: exactly because in the moment the work is finished, it is on public property, and so is owned by everyone. For Blu, the significance of his pieces - tied inextricably to the place in which he chose to create them - ceased to exist, and therefore lost they lost their most intimate and provocatory strength. It was a coherent choice for him to destroy them, because they no longer corresponded to the original intention with which he created them. Instead, they took on a significance that was diametrically opposed to that, and they risked becoming instrumentalised.
What do you think of the exhibition supported by Fondazione Cassa di Rispiarmo "Street Art Banksy&Co. Art in the Urban State"? Created by Professor Fabio Roversi Monaco, they say it was born with the intention of starting a reflection on modes of protection, conservation, and curatorship of these urban experiences. The stated intent does not seem to be completely against the idea of Street Art?
Absolutely. Street Art, if you can still call it that, was born not to leave traces in time, but only in the immediate. It is the art of the Here and Now. The only instruments that render it historical are catalogues and photography, and the only instrument capable of diffusing it in the present day is the internet. To take down a wall in order to start reflections on conservation and curatorship seems to me to be a senseless choice, that is both violent and offends its dignity. Street Art taken into a museum stops being Street Art, and instead becomes single pieces that yes, possess an artistic quality, but are completely decontextualised, stop entering into a dialogue with the environment in which they were created, and so become less incisive and stripped of their significance. Both the content and the container of the content are two very important concepts in urban art, and if one of the two is taken away, the work can no longer be considered complete. It is correct to reflect on conservation, and to open a healthy and constructive debate on the topic, and the reasons for which we want to preserve these works, yes. However, it is not necessarily true that the logical next step should be to put them in a museum. In fact, quite the opposite.
By destroying his work, hasn't Blu created a "dangerous" precedent?
I don't believe that Blu has created a "precedent", but rather that he has carried out an act that has great political strength, and is coherent with his language. What has happened should make us reflect: for the first time, the destruction of a piece by an artist has been more important than its creation. And, for the first time, the language of urban art has started an important social debate, that has involved a much wider audience than usual. Every artist has their own language and their own sensibilities. In this case, Blu has wanted to show his own integrity by destroying his works. Urban art is a current that encapsulates many different languages and individualities in opposition to one another: other artists are very happy to have their works in a museum, and have nothing against producing works destined for commercial uses, as opposed to those of the street.
On a grey wall there has appeared a text saying "regrets yes, but in any case no remorse." So to who do the walls of the city belong? The institutions, the citizens, or the artists?
From a legal perspective, every wall is different. There is the private wall, the institutional wall, and the public wall, and each one fits under a different legislation. On a deeper level, which involves "feeling" a city, the walls belong to everyone: who lives in them, who sees them every day going to work, and to who would prefer to see them white and clean. They are such a fundamental and foundational part of a city, and they reflect habits and communal living. It would be complex - not only from a legal standpoint as I just explained - to attribute a wall to each owner. Walls retain the passing of time, they tell stories, they witness the present in the good and the mad, and they enclose and symbolise many within the community.