Wednesday, July 11
important issues are raised
Difusor’s success didn’t just rely on the artists’ talent and dedication to their work but also on the organisers’ well thought out concept for the festival. As well as showcasing the versatility of the stencil medium, they wanted to highlight important issues linked with street art in general: on Saturday, a debate took place with guest speakers Tristan Manco author of Stencil Graffiti, David Garcia from GSA and Israel Rodríguez and Gemma Galdón from the malababa project.

Tristan Manco opened the debate by questioning “the place of street art in the perfect city scenario” that most councils around the world are trying to impose. This is a particularly hot topic in Barcelona where a law has recently been passed to crack down on any kind of public art. The city used to be a playground for street artists but with this change of legislation, painting, pasting, tagging or even doodling in the streets are now regarded as criminal vandalism as opposed to art and penalized by heavy fines up to €1500. This led Mr Manco to question the way we view and accept art: every major city strives to have important art galleries recognised worldwide and yet, at the same time, fights free public art that can adorn its walls: shouldn’t the public be instead encouraged to recognise and appreciate art outside the safe and controlled context of the art gallery?

This is an issue that was also very important for the artists involved in the festival. I asked many of them why they felt the need to hit the streets as opposed to just paint in private locations and the most common answer was that they were trying to get art out of galleries. Their aim was to expose art to an audience that would not normally go to art galleries, to get art out of the obvious context of the gallery and place it in unexpected places to provoke thoughts. The Belgian artist Bandit, who is very active in the small town of Altea (Spain) with large and quirky black and white stencils, once received an email from a 13 year old girl: “my mum and I love your paintings” she said “every time I see one, it makes me think”. This perfectly summarizes the kind of response public art is aiming for.

Israel Rodríguez and Gemma Galdón, the people behind malababa, discussed the importance of public art in cities that are increasingly becoming impersonal and profit-driven. Gemma Galdón highlighted the disappearance of the public space in urban environment. She used the example of the shopping mall, a fake public place owned by private companies where people’s behaviour is controlled and geared towards profit making. These types of places are quickly taking over the cities and this shift from public to private, from open to closed is spreading to the streets too. In this context, public art provides bubbles of fresh air, “blinks from the routine”, as Gemma put it. These blinks are vital for any city to retain its identity, before it becomes just another grey and beige pile of concrete.

I therefore think that I am not the only one who would like to say “thank you” to the artists and Difusor’s organisers for bringing hundreds of wonderful “blinks” to the streets of Barcelona.

Discussions are already taking place about where to hold the next stencil festival: Lisbon (Portugal), Hamburg (Germany), Ljubljana (Slovenia)… Do it on the moon and I’d still be there.