Featured Image: Landscape by HUA TUNAN
Last month I made my way down to the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay to check out Art from the Streets. I was skeptical but also intrigued at this institutionalizing of an art form that has generally been traditionally anti-institutional.
I’m glad I took a chance because I was actually quite charmed by the collection, which features an eclectic mix of street artists from all over the world in a wide range of art styles and forms.
My favourite pieces by far were the on-site pieces created by artists specifically for this exhibit. After all, my biggest attraction to street art is its vulnerable ephemerality. The flippant posture of street art toward its own destructibility has always seemed to me, the best resistance it can offer to the institution’s insistence on permanence. The power in refusing longevity for freedom is a magnetic kind of power, which funnily enough, drives more desire to prevent its eventual disappearance. Since these pieces were created right on the gallery walls though, the eventual teardown of the exhibition for the next one requires their destruction, albeit after lots of digital documentation. Or who knows? Maybe the gallery will cut out that section of the wall and archive it for the future. Either way, I dig the weird shuffle dance of ideology happening.
I was also quite enamoured with the exhibited documentations of art carved from city space. Street art can wield a sharp edge of socio-political commentary, and when used effectively, creates a jarring and beautiful moment of space-making. These pieces are reclamations of the physical fabric of walls, not just by putting something over it, but also by taking something away or repurposing discarded materials. The celebration of this brand of street art in galleries and museums is particularly ironic when considering the legal implications of doing such work, especially in a place like Singapore. Imagine someone chipping away at an old HDB wall claiming a piece inspired by VHILS. The combination of these kinds of work plus the digital documentation around them make for an interesting thought exercise in art and its purpose, and could probably spiral downward into a Walter Benjamin-esque argument about art and its aura.
I wonder if Benjamin would have thought street art, art.
Another street art form I’m increasingly becoming familiar with is stencilling and wheat pasting, and there were pieces in abundance at the exhibition. These are beautiful, detailed intricate pieces that take much from fine art forms, but have been adapted for the speed and circumstances in which they are installed, as despite the increasing amount of sanctioned, legal street art, there is probably still double or triple the amount of unsanctioned illegal pieces out there. Stencilling and wheat pasting forms are often adapted for quick application but also require tedious and detailed prep work, and can also be mass replicated exactly, after the way of hyper-digital age aesthetics. I find these forms of street art have a particular resonance in our current zeitgeist, as they draw on the tensions of impermanence, reproducibility, and socio-political traversal simultaneously. I discovered LUDO for the first time and loved his pieces, which seem to be self-aware in exactly this sense, hybridizing technological and biological images in a garish green, steampunk-esque strain.
Overall, it was quite a satisfying walk through the gallery’s six sections, looking at pieces grouped together in different thematic strains and artistic interests. Street art has always maintained a teetering equilibrium between being countercultural and cultural. With presentations like these, how will street artists with various positionalities within the street art genre adjust themselves, and how will the next wave of artists negotiate with the institutions trying to draw them in? If we’re lucky, we might not have to walk into a gallery to find out 😛