Street art as producer of urban imaginary

alternative spectacle

alternative spectacle

As the metropolis provokes and inspires, it is the exposure to difference, otherness and frustration that stimulates the artist (Sennett 1990). And as the personal and collective narration is aiming at using urban symbolism for reforming urban mindscapes giving new dimensions to urban space, this is exactly the way the sign is linked to the social and spatial dimensions of places. What matters in this case is how people use these places for creating their collective urban plots. Their different mindscapes and imaginaries are the indicators for understanding the physical reality of the urban together with its consequent meaning. And this is where street art becomes the tool for making the invisible visible again and a community re-imaged and re-imagined (Irvine 2011).

Except for offering uses and functions, space also includes potential and choice. The urban mindscape as another landscape, the one of the mind, consists of local and external images of the city which indicate something between the city as a physical entity and the visual perceptions people acquire about it (Bianchini 2006). Urban imaginaries can be defined as symbolic, psychic indicators of unconscious desires and social constructions impacting on urban reality (Silva 2003).

As Castoriadis underlines, social imaginary is expressed by the people’s potential for creative and autonomous self- activity (Curtis 1997). In addition to this, l’imaginaire urbaine has been essential for constructing an experimental utopia for new urbanism (Lefebvre 1996) and besides this we can also state that the exploration of what is humanly possible needs to use the urban environment as a potential for encountering possibility and diversity that will give way to recreation.

Therefore, city- dwellers need to participate in the process of attaching meaning to urban space by introducing their activities inside its context and therefore identify themselves through them. In most of the cases, thresholds, like street art communities, can provide with this opportunity as they give people the freedom that is considered as necessary prerequisite for play (Stavrides 2007). And there, the urban art movement, expressed via street art genres, becomes the paradigm of hybridity in global visual culture. Thus, street art production as a metaphor of the socio- spatial orientation becomes the community practice and purposeful tool for reclaiming space by spreading cultural signs.

As the city is not merely a physical mechanism and an artificial construction, it is involved in the vital processes of the people who compose it, it is a product of nature, and particularly of human nature (Ambrose 1994). As a consequence, the role of the metropolis in the production of street artworks is of paramount importance if we take into consideration that the urban space is not only the inspiration and stimulation of the artists but also the environment they comment upon together with the place that hosts and sustains street art. In this distribution of the perceptible (Rancière 2004), street artists, as other drifters and flaneurs, another type of strollers, are looking for evidence in the urban space and by collecting them, they tend to construct their stories as another visual journey taking place in our daily paths.

The artist Slinkachu for example, has created his world of Little People by setting up a variety of everyday life scenes of his tiny figures after having remodelled, painted and then placed them in city streets all over the world. In Slinkatchu’s work the world is transformed into this two-tier universe with reality contrasted against small frozen moments of an alternative world. Slinkachu decided to make something that would make people look down and stare with childlike fascination. The drama in the set-ups of the tiny characters reflects a wider urban experience and the annoyances of city life. The humour in the work prevents it from becoming too negative. It catches people where they least expect it and jolts them out of their everyday lives. His art might be small but his resonance is larger than life (Self 2008).

Another example is the artist Space Invader who by spreading out ‘’mosaic viruses’’ all over the city is starting up an urban game whilst blighting up the place a bit. The city becomes the concrete, the substance to work on and a variety of adventures with different participants is constructed in this context. These little interruptions on one’s visual field are cheerfully subversive and utterly unchallenging , presenting themselves as somewhere between a jeu d’esprit and a mirror irritation, depending on one’s point of view. Will your street be invaded next? (mine was), a type of game to capture them and search to find them. (Invader 2008).

The artist Mark Jenkins sculptures human- like figures by using box sealing tape and then positions them in strategic points inside the city. His practice of street art is to use the street as a stage where passers- by become actors. He usually appropriates indoor concepts by setting the same scenes outdoor in the streets; for example a man sleeping on a bed in the middle of a parking in Winston- Salem.

Different genres of street art can be then seen as a variety of symbolic signs and images that construct their own situations by using public space in order to communicate a meaning that most of the times comes in opposition to the dominant one. The power of the message is also backed by the specific spot it is placed since the narration has to be constructed by using what is already there and at the same time transforming it into something new by giving it a different meaning. A good example is the strategically placed stencil in the forefront of Barclay bank with a sinister man in black hat reminding people who are using the cash point the danger of contemporary city life by shouting ‘’Beware pickpockets’’. The inscribed ‘’Vote here’’ on a trash can in New York can be seen as another case of questioning today’s narration and symbolism while detourning the already existing meanings.

Therefore the placement of work is often a call to place, marking locations with awareness, over against the proliferating urban non- places of anonymous transit and commerce- big box stores, the mail, the Starbucks (Augé 2009). Street art is then the medium for constructing a new visual landscape, representative of a new kind of attention to the phenomenology of the city by introducing play and gift in public exchange.


Ambrose, P. (1994) Urban Process and Power. London, Routledge.

Augé M. (2009) Non- Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity, 2nd ed, London, Verso.

Bianchini, F. (2006) European Urban Mindscapes: Concepts, Cultural representations and Policy applications. In European Studies: A Journal of European Culture, History and Politics Vol 23 No 1,pp 13-31.

Curtis, D. (1997) In Castoriadis, C. ed. The Castoriadis Reader. Blackwell, Oxford and Malde, pp 8-15.

Invader (2008) Invasion in the UK: Space Invaders and Its UK Influences. Trans- Atlantic Publications.

Irvine, M. (2011) The Work on the Street: Street Art and Visual Culture. In Sandwell, B. & Heywood, I. eds. Handbook of Visual Culture. London, Palgrave Macmillan.

Lefebvre, H. (1996) Writings on Cities. Oxford, Blackwell.

Rancière, J. (2004) The Politics of Aesthetics : The Distribution of the Sensible. London & New York, Continuum.

Self, W. (2008) Little People in the City: The Street Art of Slinkatchu, 2nd ed, England, Boxtree.

Sennett, R. (1990) The Conscience of the Eye: The Design and Social Life of Cities. London and Boston, Faber and Faber.

Silva, A. (2003) Urban Imaginaries from Latin America Documenta 11. Stuttgart, Hatje Cantz.

Stavrides, S. Heterotopias and the Experience of Porous Urban Space. In Franck, K. A. & Stevens, Q. eds. Loose Space: Possibility and Diversity in Urban Life. 2nd ed, London, Routledge.

The revolution of everyday life

gazing at life

gazing at life

She loves those tiny crumbs of time when she can climb outside her thoughts and get lost into the acrobatics of another place. A place where the ordinary and the uncombinable can meet. A place where all sorts of people can fit. A third space.

Where lose playfulness can provoke and inspire. Where people can have a space to improve and not a little corner where they cannot move. A place where the fancy lady will dare to look at that filthy beggar in the eyes and drop her arrogance in the garbage for a while. And keep her coins inside her well- sewed pockets to explode like misery rockets.

And the golden war of arrogance and fear will flap the city streets with its angry wings, wounding all it could reach. Every petal of a flower, now flowers are plastic with no smell. And every pure beauty, untouched from dirt, now beauty is naked and nicked from regret. And every little imperfection that gave sense to the world ; the curvy, muddy pavements on which your sneakers would crush, the sweaty skaters whose tricks would make life go fast, the well- thought graffitis on the forgotten walls of an abandoned parking, the echo of the laughs and chats of teenagers in squares, the nasty fight of street- drinkers in fares.

And all you would see is billboards full of recipes for falling deeper in the trap, words of ignorance, orders for being more sad . The necessities of the modern man, crushed under the success towards which he once ran. Lipsticks, flat TVs and guns, where is your history, your consciousness and your rights ? You kind of lost them on the way, you say. So you gotta go back, find them and bring them to this generation in decay. They wait, they hope, they pray. There is nothing they can do but live their life in delay.

Do not avoid the rain they say, it is the only freedom given to us all without the obligation to pay. They can twist their minds inside the water flames and forget all about what society claims. They can cut their bounds with a sharp knife and set up the revolution of their everyday life.

Urban tales


weaving plots

She would stand in front of that big window observing the multiple aspects of street life. She would try to auscultate urbanity pulling her look from one’s static misery to another’s ephemeral happiness. She would think that people appear as found objects on a large stage of different performances. She would then try to look deeper inside their plots and give names to their feelings. She would sometimes match positive facial expressions to negative emotions, in the beginning just for fun, but she would soon realise that she wasn’t wrong in many cases.

That serious looking man would be a child’s father. He would overflow his lungs with screams and he would close his arms to his kid’s dreams. He would remind his son of his rules and objections and he would abolish any of his freedom and imagination. He would talk about a forgotten war and he would support a nation’s fall. He would release pressure by squeezing his fists and he would strengthen his hope by looking at his tattooed wrist. He would once escape the prison of his mind and an empty home would be all that he would find.

That young lady who had reached the sky in her bad quality heels, a modern Cinderella with Dior bag and a body made of diet pills. She would ignore the role she was given and she would waste herself on raising men’s fever. She would be in love with muscles and sweat, she would be a jerk’s bet. Her internal bruises would colour her face, make uped and dressed up she would make her way. She would drink, dance and fuck with a stranger overcoming her fears, she would wake up vomiting beer brimming over with tears.

That youngster with headphones larger than the decibels of his music, a narcissist of drugs and pussies. Big watch, car and fame, small consciousness, dignity and faith. He would fight with his father late in the nights, he would fill in his pockets with a guilt that bites. He would embrace his complexes inside the impossible circle of the one-armed, he would insulate his ears from the buzzing of the mad. He would pave the street for his dreams with a Land Rover, he would soon understand that his oxygen inside the bubble was over.

That punkie with the crazy mother at home would wander in the streets with black eyes and no hope. He would swear to the god of metal his faith and he would trip every night with the rest of his friends. He would fill in the holes of his spirit with smoke. He would fight against the status quo that broke his world. He would paint over walls with an A bigger than his mind, he would consider it the starting point for shaking the public realm. He would burn cars and break windows to be heard, he would jump on his heart and let it scream his regret.

She would pull the curtains and sit back to rest her eyes.

The breathless city with the poisoned lungs and the rotten heart has no more tales, people are on sales.

The society of the spectacle is on rails and the city fails.

Hymn to the city

cross the line, fly away

cross the line, fly away

It is wider than you think

With its loose playfulness unfolding like frou frou ribbons in the sky

With its rainbow disco lights fondling the hidden encounter’s eye

It is wilder than you think

With its ghetto fists breathing anger in their lungs

With its street fights taming the stranger’s guts

It is darker than you think

With its shadows crashing down the light of your brain

With its acid sun drops fighting the spirit of the rain

It is falser than you think

With its enthroned spectacle running over its vacant paths

With its nicked beauty dressing its naked hands

It is sadder than you think

With its kids screaming for love and attention

With its seeds rotting from lack of affection

It is crueler than you think

With its shrunken fingers pulling the strings of your deepest pains

With its greedy smiles burying the melodies of your secret games

She is a sadist massaging your crying wounds

You are a masochist watering your rotten roots

She is the substance of your galloping imagination

You are addicted to the opium of your nation

She is the antidote for your broken wings

You are trapped in the magic of your firing strings

She is the revenge of your silent quest

You are cursed to follow her request

She is the holocaust of your blessed desire

You are convicted for all that you admire

She is the prison of your fragile heart

You are the prisoner of her anonymous art

Welcome back home

The city is your home

The racking dawn

lurking in the darkness

lurking darkness

The snow is innocent and soft and your memory hooked on your heavy pace,
the wind is whipping snowflakes on your chicks imprinting lipstick traces on your face.

Your dark brown hair is pulled like a tattered spool trapped in the nails of some nasty kitty,
the echoes of your cacophonous cries are musing the whole city.

Hanging wires are dancing like playful garlands in a kid’s eyes,
colour-blind paper war swirls around whispering your lies.

Fearless female hands tie two ropes with a mystery knot,
stone chimneys are distilling the disobedient smoke of your secret thought.

Sparrows are haunting the backyard tasting the velvet mould of its tender woods,
abandoned thoughts and rubbish smells are glowing under their dark roots.

The tremor of the pale light is rapping the naked trees,
the dawn is waiting numb out of your window on her knees.

To some place I know


buried city

Rubbish bags all ripped off, concrete walls with dark signs on, the sound of a beer can crushed inside the palm of the punkie teenager, idle footsteps of some hectic neighbourhood stranger. A motorbike parks itself in some dusty city slum, weak streaks of moonlight unlock one of its many paths. It always felt unusual but nice.

You were there again.

Wandering around the small turns of this urban labyrinth, charmed by the echoes of an unfound mystery rhythm. As an urban flâneur, your only guide is your feeling, your only way in and out is your nerve. It provokes and inspires, it is a glorious metropolis in decay.

The sunlight sets fire on your path. You get to see them again, wandering lost and found at the same places, beggars of their own destiny. They stink, they shout, they are crazy they say but you so much want to touch them, they are all so real and safe.

But you keep walking never daring to turn your head to their side, this appalling guilt that scratches your golden inside. You keep walking, sweaty worked out hands give you warm bread, old man with beard spits on your name.

You keep walking.

Old ladies, two of them uncoil their morals in a morning chat, you hear a couple of words or one. There is sun, so much sun.. you need sunglasses, they are your only protection against the spasm of the public realm. Warm grey sunshine, untuned mind.

Meat choppers tik takking and you weigh your lies. Hostile looks and trembling hands, the sound of your coins will nourish his heart. Lost fights with life, headless statues on time. Up and down, shaking hands, exchange is done.

Nighmarish parade of some gypsy kids with chaotic smiles, this city is lost in an accordion’s sound. Insignificant melodies of a young little man, swallowed by the charm of this beautiful smile. Sprayed on the surface of some debris in the street, it demarcates the beyond and the within.

Your heart is squeezing and your inside is freezing, this lava fills you up, your mind is about to crack, stark naked as a tyranny it messes up with your wounds while promising a therapy to all those she could.

Look long enough to see, it is an abyss, a lie, a beauty, a we . It is Athens.