Hipsters and Spraypaint
photo credit: server pics
A while back an article from AdBusters on Hipsterdom was linked to from this blog. The writer railed against the appropriation of rebel aesthetics by ironic and vacuous posers but, understandably, was unable to offer any real solutions to the cul-de-sac of Western culture signposted by this trend.
A couple of weeks after that, a bunch of Sao Paolo graffiti kids trashed a street art exhibition in protest against the commercialisation of an art form they wanted to remain true to its origins among the most disenfranchised groups in the Brazilian city. These ‘pixadores’, named for the local pixacao (trace or stain in English) graffiti scene (or movement, as they call it), celebrate the criminality of their work and rage against all efforts to make it safe and depoliticised for mainstream consumption, against the ‘marketing, domestication etc.’ of the style.
A few months before all this, some of the top names in street art, including Os Gemeos (whose rise to worldwide fame was aided through exhibitions at the Choque Gallery) had exhibited at the Tate Modern, probably the most high-profile such event in street art history.
In this context, the pixador vandalism , seems like a burst of local outrage at the propulsion of an antagonistic art-form from the poverty-stricken streets of Latin America to the walls of major galleries, and onwards, a la Banksy, into the coffee-table books of Western consumer culture. It seems, in short, like an effort to stop the commodification of a medium of expression that was born as, and often remains, a political protest.
The criminality of the art is important for this scene; they tagged paintings and gallery alike with slogans like ‘Art as Crime, Crime as Art’ and big Circled-As, while their numerous YouTube videos emphasise achieving daring tag locations as much as style and content of the work. The article from Adbusters laments the growth of a hipster subculture entirely devoid of originality or drive, whose taste in fashion and music alike is only the endless recycling of the faded remnants of bygone rebellions.
This may be the fate of jaded Western youth in the twilight of consumer society, but the kids of Sao Paolo don’t want to share it. In balance though, it’s difficult to identify a viable strategy for anyone wanting to retain the authentic political content of their aesthetic forms in the face of a vast system of cultural appropriation and commodification. It’ll require a bit more than trashing an art gallery at any rate.
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