La beauté est dans la rue

The poetics of Situationism are alive and everywhere at Nuart Festival, both literally in the form of banners and texts but also figuratively in the philosophies and energies of this annual urban arts festival, now in its 16th year. The Situationists, an avant-garde art movement of the 1950s and 1960s, were influential in the May 68 uprisings in France. They believed that intervening in sites of the city was instrumental in effecting major social change. ‘Beneath the paving stones the beach’ became an important slogan, one which alludes to this idea that beneath the physical structures of the city — where capitalism is made and remade — a better world could be created. Marxist through and through perhaps but an idea which resonates today in the actions of artists in the city, whether intentionally or not. Other ideas and art movements meet with Situationism at Nuart, which is why it is not all that surprising that this year’s festival, which ran from 8th September to the 11th in Stavanger, also celebrated anniversaries for Thomas More’s Utopia as well as the birth of Dada. These themes are so perfectly fitting for an event which celebrates street art in its many incarnations, an art which necessarily involves actions of creation and destruction.

Some minor controversy ensued this year when a local art critic and a local artist proclaimed that street art and Nuart Festival had become boring, linking public acceptance with lacking critical edge. Yet, what makes Nuart Festival unique is both its reflexivity and its forward-thinking. This is why the festival is so internationally renowned, why festival organisers, artists, press and bloggers, critics and scholars meet here each year, and why it has sustained itself so successfully. How appropriate that such criticisms should arise at the same time as Nuart introduces for the first time the concept of “post-street art”: a term which in its very existence acknowledges some of the inherent problematics of the institutionalising and commodification of street art.

Such criticism also falls flat because you only have to walk through the streets of Stavanger or on the site of Tou Scene to see the continued relevance of street art, to see that street art is anything but boring. And this year’s visit to Stavanger has me wondering if perhaps the ultimate subversion is the institutionalising of this art. And while artists who began their careers in the streets enter galleries and studio artists move their works into the street, one can’t help but wonder if this is what post-street art might be all about: this blurring of boundaries between elite and the everyday.

‘Beneath the paving stones, the beach’, graffiti from May 68 with the iconic photograph of the piece of French graffiti reading ‘Sous les pavés la plage’. Banner hanging above the stage for the series of Nuart Plus talks.

‘Life is elsewhere’ banner, one of the many found throughout Tou Scene and the streets  of Stavanger. 

At the end of the day, public acceptance or not, street art is no more institutionalised than other forms of art. And just like any other art form or art movement, artists continue to be critical, to push boundaries and push forward whether it is in the confines of the gallery, the pages of a book, or the spaces of the city. Where street art maintains its power is that the streets remain a site which is open to anyone should they choose to claim the space. The gallery becomes less relevant and perhaps that really betrays the source of these critcisms. Beauty is in the streets, in the small actions of publics taking back the city, whether in performative actions or paint on walls, poetry hung by staples on black fabric on houses, in the creation of situations and moments which can for a moment disrupt and provoke, inspire and evoke.

‘Beauty is in the streets’ banner hanging above the corridor leading to the indoor exhibition space at Tou Scene for Nuart Festival. 

Creating utopias

Standing in front of the text leading into this year’s Nuart Festival exhibition at Tou Scene, I had a pang of recognition. The words of one paragraph in particular were shockingly familiar. I had written them into a document only days before, in the programme for this year’s Nuart Plus symposium: some words on the creation of utopias and of making and remaking the spaces of the city.

As a scholar, this is a difficult moment and one that I have been encountering more and more as I collaborate and work with artists and arts institutions. Our words and our ideas are our currency as academics. We write, we talk, we share, and we do so within a rather rigid and often restrictive system; one in which ownership of our words and ideas is key. We instantly recognise our words and ideas because of this, and especially so when permission or credit is lacking. There is a paradox here, certainly, for the open sharing of knowledge and ideas is absolutely fundamental to what many of us (idealist) academics wish to do: change the world in some small or some significant way. Yet, the neoliberalising of academia means that we are rewarded or punished based on our numbers of publications which are tallied indiscriminately when we are measured against each other for jobs, for promotions, for funding. When your words end up in someone else’s applications for funding, when they end up on a website, or when they end up on a wall, it can be very uncomfortable. There is an etiquette among scholars that does not often translate into other milieus.

While troubling as a scholar, this is also the beauty of collaboration. When working together with a huge number of people – regardless of your role – you can see bits of yourself everywhere along with the bits of the people you are working with. Though I uncomfortably recognised my words in the entranceway to this year’s exhibition for Nuart Festival, it was also a testament to the collaborative machinations of this event and institution. This is a self-organising system of administrators and volunteers, production crew and press, photographers and bloggers, festival organisers and curators from other cities, artists and scholars, politicians and publics. So many people come together in this organised chaos to make something truly beautiful, sometimes just a few words at a time.

An art of politics and an art of kissing wildly

Robert Montgomery’s light installation at Tou Scene.

I am absolutely smitten with the conceptual art of Robert Montgomery. His light poetry and urban interventions are infused with politics and passion, a questioning of capitalism and affirmations of love. At this year’s Nuart Fight Club debate on the proposed new term “post-street art”, Robert called for more radical and politically charged critical art: in an impassioned and humourous moment even urging the people to rip toilets from the walls and smash them en masse through the windows of the city in some perverse hommage to Marcel Duchamp. Somewhat fitting given one of the themes to this year’s festival was Dada.

While the light poem in the beer tunnels at Tou Scene — part of the indoor exhibitions for the Nuart Festival — was stunning and perfectly suited to its space, it was Robert’s interventions in the city that I found particularly moving and powerful. At once romantic and political, the white text on black background stands so starkly in contrast to surrounding space and the hacking of advertising street-furniture is particularly inspiring given my own interests in the excessive presence of outdoor advertising in cities.

An art of politics and and art of kissing wildly. 

Fuck Dada. 

A manifesto against Marcel Duchamp.

Messages from paradise scrawled on the walls of the university.

Chasing the sunset from Europe to America.

Stavanger par nuit

Je suis arrivée à Stavanger. Jeg har ankommet i Stavanger. I have arrived in Stavanger. A long day in Oslo with lecturing, catching up with visiting graffiti scholar Jacob Kimvall and having an inspiring chat on Scandinavian zero tolerance against graffiti, a quick little visit to the legal graffiti wall in Gamlebyen, and then off to the the airport. And all on four hours sleep. Still, managed to get in a short 3 km night walk here in Stavanger, to stretch my legs and see if any of my art still lingers in the streets here. It does.

Here are a few black and white shots, mostly from around Storhaug, incidentally one of my favourite places in Norway because its silos and elevated highways very strangely remind me of the neighbourhood I grew up in: the post-industrial landscape of sud-ouest Montréal.

”I came, I saw, I was won over.’, banner by Nuart. 

Streets of your town, wandering in Storhaug.

Like a motorway, with Jamie Reed’s rabbit.

Woman in the city. 

I see a ship in the harbour, I can and shall obey. 


Women of the night.


Cloudy day on Earth today

It’s a cloudy day on Earth today, people.

The following map was made by one of this year’s bachelor’s students in the Geographic Information Systems course. I ask every group of students I encounter to draw a map of Oslo.  


I love this map for the very simple way it illustrates how scale does indeed matter. I will share the rest of the maps when I have a few extra moments to spare so consider this one a sneak preview of more to come. 

Students are awesome.

Life and sex and love and art and death

Full breasts and soft, round stomachs, thick red Pre-Raphaelite hair, strong thighs, ideal and erotic woman full of power and life, couples and infants, scenes of love and sex, of birth and death. Emanuel Vigeland in ashes above the small doorway that opens into a vast domed open space: the Norwegian artist’s final resting place. And above Vigeland, skeletons locked in an eternal embrace. From their bodies, in a column of ethereal smoke, babies rise toward heaven or the cosmos or some infinite place.

These eight hundred square metres of frescoes took Emanuel Vigeland, brother to Gustav and contemporary to Munch, some twenty years to complete. Entitled ‘Vita’, his mausoleum is ultimately a celebration of life and sex and love and art and even death: a powerful testament to the rhythms of life and humanity, a reminder of what is important. In dim light, the eyes adjust slowly to reveal more and more details, more and more bodies, interconnected and interwoven. The breadth of the space makes for incredible acoustics, even the smallest sounds resonating and then clinging in stillness.

Thank you to Yvonne Thomsen for her time and kindness and knowledge and for arranging a private viewing of this truly special place, certainly one of Oslo’s best kept secrets. Sadly, the memory card for my camera became mysteriously corrupted and I lost all of my photographs from my visit this weekend. First photograph is of a postcard from the museum, the second of the skeletal embrace courtesy of Patrick da Silva Sæther, found online at The Fabulist.

Women’s right to the city

I am so humbled to be one of the speakers at this year’s Nuart Plus, the academic component to the annual Nuart Festival in Stavanger. Being the only woman this year, I chose to debut a new piece of research I am working on about women’s right to the city. While certainly a feminist through and through, I am rather new to working on issues related to gender. And so it feels a bit cliché to be the woman talking about gender but someone’s got to do it, right?

Graffiti and street art are consistently portrayed as masculine practices despite women’s participation. Women generally remain a minority, however, and I suggest that this underrepresentation has more to do with women’s differentiated rights to the city than the mere fact that it’s a bit of a boys’ club. I shall specifically be talking about forces in the city which have the potential to further impede women’s right to the city, focusing on the proliferation of sexualised outdoor advertising in Oslo.

The programme this year is, as usual, outstanding and includes a keynote by my new co-supervisor David Pinder. Be sure to check out the programme for more information and do stop by if you happen to be in Stavanger.


Ain’t no cure for Marxism

I have a mild case of Marxism brought upon by Henri Lefebvre and Guy Debord. Worrying symptoms include feelings of alienation and depression, co-presenting with feminist rants and increased desires of withdrawing from society.

I hoped the cure might be revolution.

Have been informed by colleague that there is in fact no cure. Best treatments include alcohol and pragmatism. Hermitism is a possible remedy though interest in subsistence farming is recommended and further mental health implications are a risk.

Any tips for coping with Marxist blues much appreciated.

Oh bondage, up yours!

It is now nearly 2:00 in the morning and I have just arrived home. I was painting late in my studio, a short 15 minute walk from my apartment in a fairly centrally located neighbourhood in Oslo.

Walking down a main street which the tram runs along, I noticed a man on the other side turning back and frequently looking at me. Feeling instantly and instinctually uncomfortable, I stopped at the corner pretending to fumble with something in my bag just to give some distance between us, to allow him time to be on his way. But he too stopped and turned toward me.

“Which way are you walking?” he asked from across the intersection. “Because if you are walking this way, we can walk together and talk.”

Good to know that my Norwegian comprehension is now at the level of understanding basic street harassment.

I ignored him. He mumbled under his breath and dejectedly walked away.

The thing was, I was walking that direction.

I write about how women mediate their movements in the city based on the time of day and where they are walking though I rarely share my own experiences in the city. Tonight, I had to not only completely alter my route, but was also forced to take an alternate street which I prefer not to walk precisely for the reason that it is poorly lit, sparsely trafficked, and I am pretty sure I saw a badger there a few weeks ago.

I spent the remaining walk home feeling everything from foolish to violated to unsafe to annoyed but mostly fearful. Fearful that I would run into him again as I approached my apartment, fearful that he would see where I lived, fearful that I would have to politely deal with his continued unwanted attention, or worse that I would have to deal with his anger at my rebuffs.

To be perfectly honest, all I really wanted to do was have a nice chat with my Mum back in Canada on my walk home and get some advice on the painting I started tonight.

I recently finished writing a short essay on this topic, more specifically on women’s right to the city. I wish I did not have to live my research quite so authentically but the simple fact is, women deal with their inequalities every day and every day in the city they live it through their movements, navigations, and interactions. I look forward to sharing this piece soon. Until then, oh bondage, up yours!