Street art and public works are now widely accepted in high art circles and are held to higher standards than in the past. If a statement or mural is placed in to the public it is in a sense forced on to the public. What must this art say or do if the viewer did not choose to participate? If one were to start shouting in public there are expectations that the shouter should have something important to say or the public will view them as insane or irrelevant. Making a work public and even breaking the law to do so is no longer a sublime act of rebellion in itself. Street art is a contradiction in today’s contemporary art world. A nuisance to some, a legitimate work of art to others the works are subject to the standards and tastes of the art world and the tastes and temperament of the wider world. Italian artist Filippo Minelli plays with contradictions in society and his medium masterfully. His series ‘contradictions’ examines the way in which corporations have appropriated nature and intervened in the human and natural world. By intervening directly in a space, the works comment on our intervention and our relationship with earth’s new ecosystems.
Humans have changed the natural world irreversibly. The earth’s ecosystems are evolving and developing ways to tolerate or possibly eradicate their human intruders. Minelli is based out of Brescia Italy, a picturesque suburb of Milan near the foot of the Alps. His public works though, stretch well beyond his home base. In fact the breadth of his travel is impressive enough in it’s own right. But in the case of the “Contradictions” series the location of the works are crucial to their conceptual nature. Our human impulse to construct meaning out of art lends itself to street art. We react to what is clever and generally allow the work to be satirical and unflattering of our lives and ourselves. Humans do indeed like to laugh at themselves. Nowadays without a punch line public art will be reduced to being viewed as graffiti or a nuisance. Public art that can be viewed as important in a contemporary sense has come a long way from the Basquiat days when it was enough to merely evoke the glamour of the act. The rebellion of the act alone demanded little more of the artist than to simply write their name or leave a mark.
Aptly trained by graffiti superstars like Banksy, the contemporary viewer demands a clever statement if work is to steal the audience’s attention or gain acceptance. Minelli’s contradictions series is aware of the demands of the viewer and hands them a mirror. Look at yourselves. Look at the whole world. What do you think? Do you like what you see?
Facebook, Myspace etc are global corporate constructs. This is a human reality that touches every part of the globe. But, who benefits? Are we mimicking the structures of the industrial revolution? Who are the winners and the losers? The story always seems to be the same. The countries that have the research and development gain while the countries that manufacture tend to suffer. Facebook flourishes in California but the chips that power the servers and computers of the sites users are made all over the world, normally in the developing world. The works themselves are economical statements. Executing this is a simple matter of spray-painting the name of a corporate entity (often a tech company or popular website’s name) in a public space.
A gesture this simple can be passed off as a one-liner or juvenile trickery. What makes the work compelling is the context. Painting the word ‘facebook’ on a wall in Silicone Valley would be a meaningless gesture. Painted in a scrap yard in Mali and the gesture takes on a life in itself. Corporations such as myspace and facebook have such an intangible product that is interesting to see the connection made with the developing centers where the chips and hardware are often manufactured.
The shear breadth of Minelli’s travels is enough to be marveled at. His interventions in advertising and the public space can be found all over the world. Where he chooses to paint speaks to the relationship the developing world has with developed countries and what relationship all humans have with nature.
David Pierce, New York 2008