Artist / Graffiti Aficionado
Interview on 2nd March at Banana, Wangjing SOHO
KL: Tell me about yourself.
FC: I work mainly as a graphic designer. I do a lot of site projects as a fine artist and also I’m very interested in street writing, what is usually called graffiti, and street art in Beijing. I organised a series of exhibition events usually related to the concept of vandalism. I’m very interested in vandalism as a form of appropriation of public space. For my next project, on Saturday 26th of March, I’m going to publish a fanzine, around 60 to 70 pages of graffiti and street art that has been done in 2015 in Beijing. So it’s a very specific subject. So over one year we are following mainly one artist, his tag is SBAM and some of his friends. We have artists like ANDC (ABS crew), ZATO and MASK and other artists who are quite active in the graffiti scene of Beijing. What’s interesting about this new project is that we [Filippo and collaborator Lu Ran] are trying to look at graffiti from very specific points of view, the artwork but also taking into consideration the environment where the art has been done. It’s interesting this kind of self-expression in a country that is not famous for freedom of speech and incredibly is quite well tolerated by the government. Graffiti writers in China enjoy a lot of freedom.
KL: Do you know what the punishment is in China?
FC: They have no specific law for this kind of vandalism probably because it’s a problem quite new to China. They had their very first writers maybe 10 years ago but it started to be a little more popular only after 2007-2008 so it’s really a new thing and is not very well developed, it’s not very successful. I cannot say there is such a big scene here. It’s a very small number of artists.
KL: When you talk about the scene not being very developed, what do you think about the artistic merit of what they are doing?
FC: The scene has some very peculiar characteristics that keep it very different from what happens abroad in the graffiti scene. One of the most important things is they don’t paint trains and subways, I suppose because then the topic would become more serious and could be related to terrorism and these kinds of things. For your question about the value, the writers here are still a little immature. They don’t fully grasp the concept behind graffiti writing, some artists just see something on the internet and try to emulate it but, I must say there are a few artists, not so many, that have a very good attitude and they are quite excellent in what they do.
KL: Do you think they are using it as a political statement?
FC: No. My new magazine focuses specifically on street writing, on graffiti, so not so much on street art. The big deal for them is to write their tag as much as possible with the best style so there is no political aspect and I’m also sure that Chinese writers stay away from this kind of statement to avoid any problems with the authorities or police. Graffiti writing is post-political. It’s not a hippie movement where you want to change the world to make it better, usually graffiti writers fully accept the society for what it is and they fully accept the rules. This kind of crazy competition, the subtle violence of contemporary societies, they embrace it and develop this kind of childish game but in the end it’s an emulation of what you see in the street, like what advertising does, they write their name everywhere as much as possible, as best as possible. A graffiti writer, in a childish way tries to do the same, to promote himself as much as possible.
KL: To what end? Is it fame within the scene?
FC: I suppose that we live in a society where you know the sense of community, the sense of groups, these elements are becoming more and more weak so what is left is the ego, the self so with their work they are just trying to boost their ego as much as possible. Of course with the instrument of people who have no power, no money, usually these people who don’t completely fit into the rules of society. They still reclaim their own space, their own right to say, I am here. I exist. I suppose also that graffiti was founded on the failure of culture and the failure of revolution. When the movement of 68 ends up as nothing or even has been captured by capitalism to make money; being younger, trendy, rebel so you can sell music, clothes… when all of this was failing in the end of the 60s and the early 70s that’s when graffiti and punk music are born. So they give up on this positive message of Let’s change the world, Let’s save the planet because it became obvious that it doesn’t work like that.
The game is quite serious, these kids invest a lot of time in it, a lot of resources but still, it’s a game.
KL: What about when tags get vandalised as we’ve seen with the crown on the bunnies around Gulou?
FC: I suppose that’s normal. When something gets very popular somebody will try to grasp that thing’s fame. Usually in the more traditional graffiti writing, what you do is you start what is called a beef with another graffiti writer and you cross them; you go over and you paint over it. So inside the graffiti writer community it becomes the talk of the town, You know that guy crossed that very good and talented guy, so it’s a problem. For the bunny, that’s more related to street art, they did the same, the bunny got really popular so they used the fame of the bunny to become more popular by interacting with it. It’s basically quite smart. I like it. I find it interesting that they use any instrument and again, this kind of simulation of the rules of capitalism, being ruthless. Generally, in my opinion, contemporary art is always a source of inspiration for capitalism. In the beginning of the 20th century people were reacting with more shock but that’s when there was a religious conservative mentality. Capitalism is constantly eating up all of these revolutionary messages. They take it and remove the problematic parts and use it to boost their sales. Contemporary art, after awhile, will always end up in music video or advertising.
KL: Let’s talk a little about your art. I came across your works in Mado.
FC: I’m not a graffiti writer so I just take pictures of these things and then I overlap drawings, like censorship, I get rid of the original message. There was an exhibition [at 20% Picture House, Dongcheng] featuring three artists: me and two other artists. One artist who goes by the tag ZATO was just showing photos of his work in the city. My work was taking the pieces from the city and elaborating on them to redefine the art. Then we had another graffiti artist, a Chinese guy, very talented, called MASK, who just did paintings using his style from the street. So it was from the city to something in the middle to something that gets rid of the city and only the artwork remains. I’m very interested in this idea of using the city space because I really believe that cities around the world are a little bit the new nations. Cities are the new countries and I mean that in a cultural way. People say, I’m Italian but I think nowadays people can also say, I come from a big city. Big cities all have something in common. New York, Tokyo, Beijing, London, of course they all have their own characteristics but also a lot in common. Humanity is becoming more and more similar.
KL: So what is your aim with releasing this fanzine?
FC: I’m always ambitious so I hope it can influence the way of seeing the graffiti scene in China. This is really focussed on street writing, illegal stuff, more than focussing on the beautifulness of the art, showing the raw energy of painting in a place where you are not supposed to paint. I hope to show to the young generation of street writers in China one important aspect of their graffiti writing because a lot of writers here are excellent in doing their letters, their painting is beautiful, they’re technically amazing but what they lack is this energy. That is something that is common in contemporary art, you can be an amazing artist but nowadays it’s not very meaningful. Art should always add new meaning or a new interpretation. If you repeat something you are doing handcrafts. It’s a little bit the same for graffiti. The thing that is interesting for me about graffiti is it’s environmental art, art performed in a context and that its inner message is always a kind of rebellion. I’m trying to show the beauty and the power behind these ugly paintings.
KL: So this message is to young graffiti writers in China?
FC: Yes, some times they miss a little bit of this raw power. This is the first graffiti fanzine in Beijing and one of the first in China. I want to show them so they will start to be a little more conscious and proud of the Chinese graffiti scene and probably they can start to develop something of their own. I’m not this kind of westerner who makes the comment that graffiti in China is exactly the same as in other countries. I mean what do you expect? Graffiti in China they paint dragons and demons, graffiti in Italy we paint angels and Jesus Christ? I mean, of course, contemporary is a worldwide thing. It’s not that person in a village painting a wall 600 years ago. I’m not saying that there should be a Chinese style of graffiti. Of course, it’s an environmental art so the environment is different in China than the states or Europe so the graffiti will have different characteristics. So for the fanzine I want those two things: to find some of that raw power and to become more conscious of graffiti art in China.
Filippo Cardella is an artist and designer based in Beijing, his work uses the city and its inhabitants as an endless source of inspiration for his artworks. Despite never been directly involved in street-writing he studied the phenomenon all around the world getting in contact with some of the most significant artists of this movement.
The Graffiti zine will be launched at Beiluo Bread Bar: 70A Beiluogu Xiang, Dongcheng District 北锣鼓巷甲70号(近南锣鼓巷)
wechat ID: GiantSteps