Converted Rebels With(out) A Cause.
All Fresco. K Road. 2nd – 5th May.
Street art has a natural allure to it – it’s bright, provocative, easily accessible, and usually illegal. Charismatic with a streak of danger, you could call it the bad boy of the art world. So it’s not hard to understand why First Thursdays decided to colour the streets of Auckland recently with a variety of street artists in the All Fresco exhibition.
As expected, the result was beautiful. A mishmash of colour and culture exploded over the walls of Saint Kevin’s Arcade and Cross Street, with identity and individual strength being celebrated alongside environmentalism and political activism. The poetics were there (the big bad wolf backing down against a sea of adversaries), as was the founding tool of this art form (criticality of mass culture), and yet there was still something missing from the experience. The closest I can describe it is the thrill. The bad boy had brought in his homework on time and though he hadn’t converted entirely, he was no longer the same.
Usually, I feel proud when I see a piece of street art. I see it as an act of defiance against ‘the man’ from a fellow struggler, and even though it’s not my own it’s reassuring to know that there are people out there who have that kind of integrity and bravery. There’s also a huge amount of honesty in street art that is to be respected. It’s a form of public message that doesn’t rely of profit for its existence, an advertisement instead for social responsibility and criticality.
Yet while the All Fresco art may have been thoughtfully beautiful, for me, it lacked conviction.
Granted, street art is only just starting to get the merit it deserves however the way it was celebrated seemed to make the event more about the spectacle than the message it was carrying. The statements seemed hollow, an afterthought to the creative commitment rather than the inspiration itself; the purpose sat in an awkward position somewhere between public enjoyment and personal advancement.
Even the very public nature of the works felt convoluted. The choice of location seemed more like an act of closing out audiences rather than opening up to them. Both K Road’s and First Thursdays’ reputation as creative and alternative commons creates alienation for those who don’t feel a part of that community. There’s a sense of irony in the fact that the level of exclusivity created was comparable to the elitist world that street art often looks to critique.
As I walked home from the show, I felt a little like I had been sold out. The very things that make street art so great were the things that the exhibition had so visibly twisted into a forced setup: a political agenda and an audience. The fact that the artists also failed to apply their usual criticality to the privileged situation they found themselves in similarly seemed like a victory to the elite.
Apparently respect and honesty are underrated.
Photo Credit: Grace O’Hara