Public Spaces, Public Art

I have things I like to take pictures of, especially when my passport’s got a new stamp.  Neon, repeating patterns, mopeds often catch my eye.  Graffiti, too, is a favorite.  As our train whizzed by towns in Morocco I was fascinated by seemingly infinite number of tags for “Fatal Tigers”.  Super scary street gang?  Nah, turns out Fatal Tigers is a soccer team from Fez.

The use of public space for art, whether wanted or not, is something we’ve talked about as we walk the streets.  They abound with visual treats.

Now, I am not implying that Reykjavik is some kind of artist paradise where creative folk roam the street with paintbrushes and palettes creating masterpieces.  There is plenty of the typical, slightly grubby looking tagged graffiti.

Still, it seems like public space is fairly fluid. A park was covered in colored tape, it seems ok to paint the sidewalk outside your business (like MANIA! has done).

There’s a fair share of politicized commentary.  We’ve seen a “Where’s Your Hate For The State” as well as “Nike La Police”.  I don’t know what it means to Nike the Police but it sounds anti-corporate/institution, no?

We even saw one piece that appeared to have a bit of a Bansky vibe.  If you haven’t seen Bansky’s stuff, it’s pretty sweet.  He’s done a piece in Chicago.  I’m not saying I know it’s Bansky, but the stenciling technique reminds me of him (and he’s worked here before according to this site).  And Sigur Rós had a whole stage design inspired by him.

The thing that’s been the most interesting is how hard it’s been to distinguish traditional graffiti (done on the sly, done illegally) from what appears to either be supported/commissioned wall art or folks just feeling inspired and starting to paint and nobody really minding.  It’s hard to do things under the dark of night when it’s light 23 hours a day.

For example, on a walk we saw a bunch of guys working on the side of the building.  Beers were open, scaffolding was up, spray paint was out.  It was 7:00 in the evening.

When we went back to see the finished project, which was on the side of the phenomenal public library, it had literary motifs (you may be able to see a certain delusory young man there in the corner).  Were they inspired or asked?

Some appears to be part of an advertisement for a business in that particular building, like the tie pictures from a few weeks back, or this piece on the side of a gallery.

Which became quite hypnotic the closer you got.

The Listaháskóli Íslands (Icelandic Academy of Art) is next door to our apartment and seems to whole-heartedly (and not surprisingly) embrace the use of public space.

And some does just seems like inspiration struck.  On our way home from the Pride parade we spotted a woman outlining on what appeared to be a boarded up building.

The final product?

While free-to-be-you messages and the like seem harmless, in 2008 the Reykjavik city council began actively fighting against graffiti.  Money (over 7 million dollars) and manpower was put towards stopping it.  Yet, at the same time, artists are provided supplies from the city at special events like Menningarnótt, culture night.  It’s unclear if the street art/graffiti now visible is the cleaned up stuff or if the city admitted defeat.

Some has a traditional tagging feel.

Some is playful.

Some is just plain beautiful.

And some has a little bit of everything.

So I haven’t quite figured out how the city and the graffiti artists play together.  If there’s a war still going on, it seems to be pretty mellow.  I’m glad the street art is holding its own.

After a month of wandering around while looking up, here are our two favorite pieces we’ve seen.


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