12 January 2015
Before I set out to design and install my interactive art piece, I considered the importance of hearing about Philadelphia’s street art scene from an active participant. I managed to get in touch with a local street artist, who agreed to an interview if they could maintain anonymity. This artist uses found materials to create text pieces, that they then screw onto signposts. I had seen these pieces as well as text-based stickers by the same artist around Philadelphia on many occasions. The artist also has a bit of an internet presence. Since some of his pieces directly address the audience (the audience being pedestrians who happen to walk past it), I thought this person would be a good example of creating work that inspires interaction.
Here are some of the artist’s thoughts on street art, interactive art, and documentation:
Why do you share your art on the streets?
I get a thrill from the whole process of producing and installing the work, so that’s the selfish reason. But I also do it because I want people to actually be looking around them as they walk around the city. I want to produce something that catches your eye so that after you leave it behind, you’re starting to look for more things to catch your eye and snap you out of the everyday.
Well there’s the law, for one, and just the general sense that some people might judge me harshly for putting up street art. It’s easier to not deal with that. I know anonymous street artists who work for the government, or as teachers, or in finance, or in other fields where a morals clause in their contracts might mean that they could be fired for doing street art. So anonymity provides some protection and separation from a private life. But I think more importantly it’s more fun for the viewer if the artist is anonymous. It creates mystery. Fans are curious. Why does that artist do what they do? A nice side benefit is honest feedback. I’ve had conversations with people who don’t know who they are talking to, and we’ll start discussing my artwork, but they’ll think they are just talking to some random person on the street, or a new drinking buddy at an art opening, but instead they’ll be telling the artist exactly what they really think. Most importantly though is the mystery that comes with anonymity. It provides artistic freedom and excites fans.
What’s an ideal reaction you’d hope to illicit from your work?
What the hell? This is terrible/evil/hilarious/eyeopening! I could do this. Hell, I could do better. I will do better. Is street art really this easy?
Is there anyone in particular you’re trying to reach?
When I started, I was trying to reach people already in the street art community. I felt that Philly street art could be so much better, and so I was trying to inspire local artists to try different and better things. My work was a challenge to mediocre street art to improve. Now, it’s 80% that, and 20% geared towards anyone willing to notice it and think differently about their day or their surroundings.
How important is documentation to you?
When I started, I documented 95% of what I did. It was essential to my practice. I was trying to create a street art persona online without producing amazing work or doing very much of it. My theory was that good documentation and social media marketing would make up for sub-par art. I was right. Now, I don’t document as much of my work myself, but I make sure to do as much of it as I can in places where I believe it will be documented by others. I recognize that internet visibility matters, and documentation is very important to day.
Is having a web presence important for street artists? Why or why not?
A web presence isn’t essential to street art, but it is essential to street artists. What I mean is, to do street art in its purest form doesn’t require a web presence, but to use street art as a means for promoting your own art career requires a web presence, and these days, most street artists use their outdoor work as a way to get into galleries and museums rather than as a rejection of those systems.
Are you inspired by other texts artists? Other street artists?
I steal my words from other text artists, and I find other street artists equally inspiring and revolting. In the few years I’ve been active, I’ve seen the Philadelphia scene mature slightly, and that’s inspiring.
What made you decide to start putting up your work?
A frustration with the trappings of the mainstream artworld and general scenesterism have crept into street art, an artform intended to be anonymous and free.