Dispatch Work: Participation and “Pointing” Urban Spaces

Graffitti in Babilônia favelaAs a mixed media artist, I’m always on the lookout for intriguing, clever, playful, whimsical ways of using ordinary materials to bring delight to the urban experience. A few recollections came to mind recently – principally as a result of a cool project I learned about during the annual MIT IDEAS Competition retreat I attended this week.

The project that got me thinking back to my days of RAOC (random acts of collage) is a “kite mapping” project that will engage youth in Brazil’s slums in surfacing the narratives of place where they live. The idea is one part arts engagement (cultivate narratives of place), a second part technical (use sophisticated technology to document narrative), another part advocacy (application of evidence to legitimize place). Of course, I’m crazy about using collage as a means for story-telling. Like Rauschenberg, I believe collage best replicates visually how we perceive the city.

I won’t go into more detail; you can learn more about “My City, My Future” (aka ArteRio) here. But here’s my point: an “owned” city space is a healthy city space.

We as the ambulatory denizens of urban settlements claim public space each time we move through it, yet we rarely leave conscious, intentional evidence of that claim. When we do, its either harmful (waste) or viewed askance (graffitti). One generally must be a “professional” – sign-maker, architect, landscape designer – to have the privilege of shaping urban space.

And yet the delight and surprise we encounter when we come across the legacy of a Nina, Keith Harring, a Bansky, or a Shepard Fairey is part of what makes cities great – and ultimately a safe, welcoming, familiar, vibrant, exciting place to call home. Dispatch Work in Nabeul, TunisiaPublic art has never been, and should never become, the playspace of technocrats and establishment programs. And there may even be a bit of a renaissance in this “claiming” of public space by young artists working in a startling range of exciting media, which I wanted to catalogue briefly with three examples:

  • Dispatch Work uses, inspires others to use, and documents in-fill of cracks and fractures, opened recesses and crumbled away facades with delightful lego work. Recent work includes Improvisal Design in Sao Paolo, Brazil.
  • Tape Art is a public art and education collective that uses the line, as it can be drawn with tape of any color, to bring rigorous visual work into public and private spaces. Check out their river of art.
  • Blu! has created stunning large-scale animations in the UK and Brazil using the cityscape as canvass. MUTO is their piece de resistance (I think).
  • And who doesn’t love the work of the little people in London, left to (of)fend for themselves amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life. The micro-macro relationships are jaw dropping.

Its an exciting time for the urban artist and a great time for us to think and push the boundaries around art, participation, and community development. So I leave you with the Dispatch Work inspired concept of “pointing” the urban space – that regular act of brick repair applied to the urban space, small acts of creative care that playfully and delightfully assert our claim to spaces and places that surround us.

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