A photoblog with pictures I've taken of graffiti and street art in Moscow (and anywhere else I happen to travel).

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Coincidence? Or a sign of the times...

Tonight as I walked home from work and pondered the large number of photos of the work of Moscow and St. Petersburg taggers and graffiti artists that I have built up and want to share with people who may be interested in this sort of thing, I decided that the best way to do so would be to start a new blog.

My first project,
Scraps of Moscow, is nearly 5 months old and going strong, but I am trying to avoid clogging it with graffiti photos that have more of a niche appeal. I have put up several posts (here, here, and here) with photos and commentary on Moscow and St. Petersburg graffiti, but I have many more photos that I feel compelled to organize in blog form. Mainly this phenomenon interests me because it seems relatively new. Of course, there have always been people writing things on walls here as anywhere else, even in Soviet times, but only in the past year (or really more like the past six months) have tags started to crop up with substantial density on the walls of buildings (not just in courtyards, either - often on the street side) in downtown Moscow.

Anyway, I had decided to start this new project, mainly for myself, though hopefully it will find a small audience of people interested in these things, so imagine my surprise when I opened the Moscow Times to the weekend arts and entertainment section, "Context," and found a story about a soon-to-be-launched magazine focused on Moscow graffiti,
Code Red.

I guess I'm not the only one who has noticed the trend. To judge from the preview of the magazine provided on its website, the publication will focus on more advanced artwork than one generally comes across just walking around downtown - they clearly know the spots where the artists work - but I notice that they have at least one pic on the montage page of a "Zachem" tag. I have a whole portfolio of that tagger's work at this point, which is just one of the reasons why I felt the need to start this new project - as I have time, I will post photos from the archive I've already amassed, and of course I will seek out new tags and interesting street art as I have time to do so.

For the time being (as you wait for the first crop of photos), the Moscow Times article mentioned above can be read in its entirety below:
Street Spreads
The creators of Code Red, Russia's first professional-quality magazine devoted to graffiti, say their craft should be taken seriously.
By Brian Droitcour
March 11, 2005

Code Red, Russia's first professional-quality magazine devoted to graffiti, will bring the art of the streets to bookshelves. Besides allowing graffiti writers to review the work of their peers and idols, the magazine may also interest specialists in contemporary art, who are beginning to study graffiti more seriously, and corporate designers, who use graffiti-inspired motifs in marketing products to young audiences.

The magazine skimps on text but is generous with images, allowing its "readers" to draw their own conclusions. Most of the first issue's 68 pages are devoted to photographs of graffiti. Some spreads examine the work of a single graffiti writer, while others report on festivals, such as last August's "Meeting of Styles," which drew artists from Eastern Europe and Germany to Gomel, Belarus. Another spread, titled "Germany," presents the work of that country's best-known graffiti writers.

The virtual absence of text is designed to help Code Red reach an international audience. This goal is made clear on the first page, where the editors' introductory letter is printed in both English and Russian.

"Until recently, Russian graffiti hasn't been taken seriously abroad," Dmitry Krokhin, the magazine's editor, said Saturday. But Krokhin, who writes graffiti under the pseudonym Oskes with the collective Absurdmafia, believes graffiti in Russia has reached a level of sophistication near that in countries where graffiti has been practiced much longer. As proof, he points to the development of distinct schools of graffiti in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Krokhin said he prefers the St. Petersburg style, which is sprawling and chaotic, to the discrete elements and logo-like shapes common in Moscow.

Krokhin said that his European contacts have already displayed interest in Code Red, partly because it is superior in quality to the homemade "zines" that prevail among graffiti publications in the West. "Zines are things people make and distribute on their own money," he said. "Because the standard of living in Russia is different, you can't afford to spend that much time on something and not profit from it."

Besides appealing to their foreign peers, Code Red's creators hope to earn the respect of Russians who would normally pay little attention to graffiti. The editor's letter states that Code Red aims to "form an unbiased opinion about Russian graffiti, that it's not just a 'teenage pastime' (as most representatives of the media and ordinary people trained in the academic art tradition think), but a serious modern cultural trend.

"While graffiti writers may never get much respect from law enforcement officers charged with preventing vandalism, they are already getting attention from "the academy." Last weekend's release party of Code Red coincided with the final days of "Collaborators," an exhibition at the New Tretyakov Gallery that showed the work of Absurdmafia along with that of artists who have already been canonized as classics of contemporary Russian art, like painters Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid.

However, Andrei Yerofeyev, the main curator of "Collaborators," drew a line between graffiti and the kind of contemporary art typically found in galleries and museums. While graffiti is a significant influence on contemporary art, he said, its origins and practice have more in common with folk art. Yerofeyev compared graffiti to the African ceremonial masks that influenced Cubist painting and the drawings by children and the insane that fascinated the Surrealists. "Artists live in their reflections," Yerofeyev said. "Graffiti is something that people just do."

Graffiti writers like Krokhin distinguish their craft from contemporary art, as well as from commercial projects, which they also engage in. While Absurdmafia has participated in museum exhibitions and worked on corporate commissions, such as snowboard designs for Rossignol, Krokhin described these experiences as fundamentally different from creating street graffiti, where he is free to do whatever he pleases and any object is a potential canvas. "[Companies] pay me and I always work responsibly, regardless of whether or not I enjoy it," Krokhin wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. "For an exhibition in a museum, I'm working more for myself and can carry out my ideas as I planned."

The creators of Code Red hope to bring graffiti to a wide audience while preserving the spirit of the street. The magazine will be on sale in a number of locations that cater to free spirits, like the OGI chain of bookstore cafes and United Styles hip-hop stores.


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