It's inevitable nowadays to bump into some kind of graffiti while walking around any city all over the world. But there is one place where the global power of graffiti always showed up in a rather subversive and rebellious way, without invading vast outdoor spaces - the school environment.
Though rest room stall doors and walls remain a target of many school kids, the most vandalised items (with very basic tools comprising ballpoints, felt-tip pencils and knife blades...) remain desks and classroom table tops.
Custodians and janitors may not agree, but some of the messages, sketches, drawings and carvings could be considered as art, at least they are considered so by Oscar Murillo.
The Colombian-born artist is currently showcasing at the International Art Exhibition in Venice an ongoing project entitled "Frequencies" (2013-) based on what may be defined as "school desk art".
This is a collaboration between members of his family, social and political scientist Clara Dublanc and students from countries all over the world and as far from each other as possible, including Colombia, Ethiopia and Israel.
For this project Murillo visits schools across the globe, affixing canvases to classroom desks. Students freely register their daily thoughts or activities and creative ideas on the canvases using pens and markers.
One of the main aim of "Frequencies" is to offer social insights into youth communities around the world, while creating cross-cultural dialogue. The project is maybe a way for Murillo to remember his childhood, when he felt displaced and lonely after his family moved to London, settling in the East End, and he spoke no English.
Once presented in an exhibition format, the desk-shaped canvases do not only evoke the environment of the classroom, but they encourage close study of the students' critical and creative learning processes, while prompting visitors to think about specific issues school kids and young people may be facing.
Among the coloured fractals, smiley faces and portraits of footballers that the students tattooed on the canvases on display at the Venice Biennale, there are indeed less joyful sketches and messages spelling “I'm blue”.
The graffiti on the canvases become therefore inky constellations reproducing on textiles states of minds and ideas, while vandalism turns from a crime of immaturity into a crime of creativity.
The canvases are displayed inside the Arsenale on copper tables engraved with maps of the world to make easier to identify the country where specific canvases came from.
One interesting point to make is that in this project the artist is more of a curator, co-ordinator or collector working on putting together an archive of pieces created by other accidental artists, anonymous school kids from all over the world (this issue actually opens up questions of authorship: if the artist co-ordinates or curates the project, maybe the real artists should be the kids and they should be somehow rewarded for their "work"...).
This is not the only installation Murillo has in Venice: the artist also suspended black canvases in front of the façade of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini.
This installation with a rather grand title - “Signalling Devices in Now Bastard Territory” - creates a contrast with the classical façade of the building. The artwork is accompanied and completed by a small object, Murillo's father Belisario Caicedo-Florez's employment certificate from 1982, framed in copper.
The certificate points to the origins of the artist: born in 1986 from a family of factory workers (and currently living and working in London where he also earned his MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art), Murillo doesn't seem to be interested in formal painting techniques, but investigates in his pieces notions of work across different cultural contexts.
While he also produces videos, participatory performances and performative art, his abstract paintings and coarse textiles covered in vibrant colours and words (often stitched together on the old sewing machines in his studio) seem to be his most successful pieces so far and the main reason why his fans in the States (first and foremost Donald and Mera Rubell, founders of the eponymous family collection and Contemporary Arts Foundation in Miami) have started considering him a Jean-Michel Basquiat figure.
Murillo's paintings are made from coarsely woven, stitched canvases incorporating fragments of text, candy wrappers, food labels and the dust and dirt from his own studio, and in the artist's practice they reflect the transformation of labour into products. Murillo conceives indeed his canvases as active surfaces on which he doesn't paint but on which he works.
Detractors claim Murillo's work echoes that of previous artists and that he can be considered as trendy and fashionable, yet not very profound. Time will tell if Murillo is an art market phenomenon or a fully-fledged artist.
For what regards the fashionably trendy connection, well, it's already there: roughly four years ago, Murillo hosted “The Cleaners’ Late Summer Party With COMME des GARÇONS” at the Serpentine Gallery in London, a night of dance competitions and karaoke in which his Colombian friends (many of them cleaners, hence the title) mixed with the art world.
Murillo offered for the occasion raffle prizes consisting in T-shirts made by Comme des Garçons and bought from the proceeds of an advertising campaign (featuring a canvas covered in Murillo's doodles and scribbles; graphic motifs that were somehow echoed in the moods of CdG's Autumn/Winter 2015-16 menswear collection) that he made a while back for the brand's Shirt line.
It looks like escaping the fashion connection for contemporary artists is proving more difficult than actually producing significant artworks.
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos