When we begin to see that there is in fact little separating art itself from the everyday, that art is prolific and its prolificacy is not damaged, but in fact only encouraged by the side streets and gutters and all that mess of the urban, it is then that we fully understand the world of street art. For the streets themselves hand out to us innumerable gallery spaces and show so clearly that function and art are not two mutually exclusive characteristics. So, then we can reconsider the pavement, the concrete and the streets themselves in light of this.
There is such commonality between the scrawl of a piece of antifascist graffiti and a sign which asks us in no uncertain terms to consider whether the human race of this planet is a malady or not – a sign that could be seen as it was lifted above a protestor’s head last Friday as part of the climate change demonstration which took place in Rome. And Greta Thunberg, who is something of the poster child of this movement, is also a face who is generally in the crowd. If not in person, as she was during the last climate Rome based protest in April, then certainly in her image which usually appears on a variety of posters and pieces of artwork.
The protest itself offered a great chance for hundreds of young people to show up in a city with a sense of the overt context which the street can give to their own political expression. And this voice appeared both visually and written down on posters, with such slogans as, “I use the bus, and you?” . This was a cohort and it thoroughly worked to destroy any myth of youth and political apathy.
There is no such lack of care to be spoken of, particularly when we consider the similar characteristics that exist between street art and protest. To start with, whether this political protest is happening in the form of a mural on an exterior wall, or whether as a mass of bodies as they marched between Piazza Venezia and Piazza del Popolo last Friday, it really is an utter arbitrariness which makes distinction between the street and the artistic.
And we can see such great political consciousness across the running commentaries and vocalisations that we find throughout Rome’s Street Art culture. Whether this be in BLUs over industrialised ship on the exterior wall of the Ostiense neighbourhood, or the gasmask wearing figures drawn on Roman walls by street artist Aladin. Or even Federico Massa’s, Hunting Pollution, where it is not only the ideas which seek to eradicate toxic social, political and environment realities, but where even the paint itself is able to neutralise toxins in the polluted air of Rome.
And yet despite the existence of these prominent political artists, the argument cannot be made that any of them rank higher as political works of art, than a group of young people, gathered in the streets. Kids whose blues and greens of self-drawn planet earths, lifted high on cardboard signs and next to slogans with the direction to “respect your mother”, brought to mind an urban Rembrandt.
So, we enjoy the gift of that fantastic amorphous characteristic of the Street Art genre, it helps us to see what a dynamic multi-layered installation the urban space is; that you can never define art as a single thing inside of the city streets. That you can imbibe a marching line so easily with the quality of the artist, a protesting line who are also imbibing our streets with the politics of our time.
And ultimately, the presence of this political Street Art in Rome, regardless of whether it is a painting or a march, exists because of the knowledge that if the walls and streets have become politicised, then they have become so in a way that is entirely reactionary to the depoliticisation people were made to feel in the first place. It is this sense which helps the people to see what a functional gallery space it is that the streets provide. And it is also this which when we are considering the opportunity for artistic protest, we are led to look as much to our piazzas and to our streets, as we do up on the walls of our industrial spaces. It is this which is one of the excellent things about the loud voice of Street Art. The fact that it is with such a voice that Street Art sends arbitrary distinctions between art and the everyday off packing down the road and so makes the opportunities for protest seem endless.