by Alice Ghinolfi
“Vecchia scuola” [Old School] is an epic anthology, more than 450 pages consisting of heretofore unpublished works and images. How long did it take you to do your research? What ideas did you have before starting and how did your work develop?
I think Hip Hop adds a lot to our lives: being part of it also means being active agents of its dissemination and historicization, and not just spectators. Since the early 80s, when there wasn’t any internet, this for me meant founding the first fanzine of Graffiti Writing in Milan, Tribe Hip Hop Magazine. It was a way to show our stuff and communicate with foreign countries, shouting that we existed, and representing the Italian scene. “Vecchia Scuola” [Old School], in a way, is the evolution of the work that started then, and it collects that very period to which I am bound. The job took years, because it portrays a period before the digital era, but it is exciting precisely for that reason. I knew what to look for, but I found more, hence the “epic” work, which includes the birth of the Writing phenomenon in Milan, from 1980 to the early 90s. It’s a period that deserved to be “collected and archived”, through a tool I particularly love, a book – different from social media, blogs, and websites. Slow, and with the love of browsing through the pages, as if you were going to see a piece in person, on the other side of the city. I have no idea how many photos I scanned and retouched to create the layout, but Vecchia Scuola [Old School] is after all the result of the contribution of many people.
What is the most obvious difference between the world of graffiti writing in the early nineties and today? What do you miss most from those years and what has improved?
As I said, starting to paint in a period without widespread information, without the internet, and without tutorials was an exciting experience. “Vecchia Scuola” truthfully represents the birth of this culture in Milan. Certainly the “old school” will always be that of New York … but this book recounts those moments when the first kids from Milan did the groundwork and created the conditions for the evolution that exploded in the city, from 1994 onwards. The difference is all here: the first years were all about research and novelty, the second part is about evolution and expansion, without a real difference or improvement but simply as a consequence of each other. Of course, those years for me will remain magical for the energy and the desire to discover – which is something that may have been lost when graffiti writing became less alternative and inevitably became more mainstream, perhaps losing some of its character. Actually, guys are no longer forced to play little alchemists and craftsmen, cutting and piercing spray tips, mixing dubious inks and building felt-tip pens with Pratico [tubes of shoe cream]. This is good, but not necessarily.
By now Street Art has also legitimized Graffiti Writing and people are almost accustomed to the designs on their city walls. What kind of reactions did you get in those early years?
Street Art is a form of expression with multiple decodable languages – incomparable to a tag outside your house! This has helped Street Art earn “sought-after” blind facades and front-row walls. In fact, in the first wave of street artists there were a lot of former graffiti writers, who brought a modus operandi and an attitude with them. Now for the most part that’s lost, thus reducing a revolutionary gesture to pure decoration. The idea that Street Art might have legitimized Graffiti Writing embarrasses me and amuses me in a way. This also happened simply due to the artists being in different stages of their lives. In many cases they’ve changed and have undergone a personal evolution, which has brought them elsewhere.
“Vecchia Scuola” starts from the years when everything was being created, even before the problem relating to tags and bombing started – back when the excitement was sincere and was perceived as such by the people, who in most cases appreciated it. The numbers have changed things, and now Graffiti Writing in Milan has to deal with issues such as repression and task forces, which other European cities before us had already faced. Indeed, things have not changed, leaving before our eyes a city that’s still active on every front, be it legal walls or black tunnels. Personally, I have always promoted a certain sensitivity – seeing a fifteen-year-old kid grappling with colors and walls, back in 1988, must have looked like a commendable and sweet gesture. It gave us the opportunity to practice and build the first Hall of Fame, which were still illegal no matter how lightly we painted. It was unwittingly an anarchic gesture.
What experience or event do you remember most fondly?
Precisely because those were years of novelty, every little discovery, new photo or meeting was a big deal. This makes those years incredible, irreplaceable and less boring. Everyone is a creature of their time. I do not have a particular experience in mind, I have too many…perhaps what I remember most fondly is the lightness I mentioned before, which allowed us to paint a wall in the street or a train as if it were normal or inevitable to do so, as if that were the road we had to take, without thinking of consequences or problems. We had to color the world and leave our name.
Any projects for the future? What can we look forward to?
Vecchia Scuola – Graffiti Writing a Milano [Old School – Graffiti Writing in Milan] was my first book. Now, in addition to continuing my journey with my indoor post-graffiti works and my outdoor walls around, wherever possible, I’m making a new book. This too is linked to the history of Graffiti Writing in Italy, but this time it refers to the town of Quattordio [Piedmont]. It’s an important place because it was the stage for an important happening on the occasion of “Arte di Frontiera”, a legendary 1984 exhibition held in Bologna, Milan and Rome. Quattordio hosted the founders Rammellzee, Phase 2, Delta 2 and Ero, who left an indelible mark on this place, which in turn celebrated their coming with a very rare book. My book will present a revised version of those contents, making them accessible to everyone, with unpublished materials. It will also discuss the new project “QUA” – Quattordio Urban Art project, undertaken with the Municipality and the town, which is always active and interested in welcoming this language, as it is part of its historical memory.
What is a question you always wanted to answer but nobody has asked you yet? Please ask yourself a question and answer it, as they used to do on that late-night TV show when we were young…
Finding a question is difficult, we already ask ourselves too many … but I have a consideration. Making “Tribe Hip Hop Magazine”, “Vecchia Scuola” and now the new book makes me understand that, for years, I tried to leave a trace of my work on the street, and kept doing so, and partly succeeded. But ironically, perhaps I’ll achieve my best results in a different way: always writing, not my tag, but a piece of our cultural history, filing it … My contribution: I’ll see you on the street.