The Changing Cities
An international academic conference ‘Street Art in the Changing City: Theoretical Perspectives’ will take place on June 7-8, 2013, at the HSE. The event has been organized by the ‘Graffiti and Street Art in the Cultural Cityscape’ research and study group, and the Poletayev Institute for Theoretical and Historical Studies in the Humanities. Experts in modern urban studies will participate in the conference. Keynote speakers will include geographer Luke Dickens (Open University of London, United Kingdom) and sociologist Andrea Mubi Brighenti (University of Trento, Italy). They both gave special interviews to HSE news service prior the conference.
Here is the interview with Dr Luke Dickens, Research Associate, Department of Geography, Open University, London.
— Do you think it’s possible to determine the social situation in a city by looking at the graffiti there?
— In a rough kind of way I would say yes. There is certainly a relationship between the ways a given city is inscribed and the wider social, cultural and political dimensions that constitute the city as a whole. Eine, one of the street artists who featured in my research complained to me once that he couldn’t paint his alphabet letters on the shutters in Stockholm like he did in other cities. Arriving there he had found that “they had about three shutters in the whole city because people don’t drive cars through shops to nick what’s in the shops”. He told me he liked LA much more because it “has got the biggest shutters in the world” and that for him “if it’s a crime-ridden city its good”! But I would say a lot of urban elements or ‘fragments’ can be read in ways that speak of the wider city; from buses, public parks, and surveillance cameras, to the ways the more marginal spaces are used. All these things can and have been used by researchers to develop an understanding of the wider social situation in a city.
— What's the difference between street art in a small town and a big city, like London or Moscow?
— In my experience it’s more about the big kind of street art and big-named street artists rather than the size of the city as such. The big names are highly mobile, well networked and able to travel all over the world painting different cities. You’ll see Banksy stencils of D*face (D*Face is an English multimedia street artist who uses spray paint, stickers, posters, and stencils) posters in almost every major city, and often much smaller cities too. What I think does differ more are the lesser known, more locally focused, and perhaps I might even say more modest street artists, who are less about being really well known and super-famous, as they are interested in making delicate, small and specific interventions into their immediate environment that touch people a little more deeply. I really like the work of Slinkachu, which are literally really small figures in urban situations, and the murals by Stik, which express a beautiful, tender sense of humanity in the part of east London where I live.
— How can researchers add value to social work with young people?
— One of the main things I like about working with young people is just how much they can teach me! Working with young people, and an interest in youth cultures, I would say is the common thread that has run through my academic career. From my research with train-bombing graffiti crews, to the ways youth cultures such as graffiti writing have been appropriated by adults in the creative urban economy, to my work with the National Foundation for Youth Music, the Salford Lads Club and now my current project working with teenagers in Hackney on a film project about home and belonging in the city, I would like to think that each has been led to a large extent by young people themselves. I think this is about constantly negotiating the ways a project can remain participatory in its truest sense, so that the benefits of doing such work can be defined and owned by the young people as much as they are by researchers like me.
— What are your goals and expectations of Moscow conference?
— I’m really looking forward to the conference as I’ve never been to Russia and I don’t really know what sorts of graffiti and street art you have over here. I’m impressed that the Higher School of Economics has a whole research team devoted to the subject, and think it will be really valuable to meet the group and hear about all the work they have been doing. For me, the conference has been an opportunity to revisit a body of work that I completed in various projects, between 2002 and 2009, and refresh my thinking and arguments that came out of that. The chance to do that has been really helpful in understanding just how specific, in both time and space, my study of ‘the geographies of post-graffiti’ really was. I think a lot has changed in the ways street art has been produced subsequently, and I can really see something particularly London-centric in the increasingly ‘knowing’ and self-conscious mode of street art that I was researching at the time.
— How did your cooperation with HSE start? Are you planning any other joint activities?
— I was flattered to be contacted by Professor Natalia Samutina, head of the Centre for Studies into Contemporary Culture, who invited me to come and talk about my research on street art. I’ve been planning my visit with Varvara Kobyshcha, a researcher in the Sociology department, who has been really supportive, and we are already planning on meeting together at the International Visual Sociology Conference in July, which is in London this year. I’m really glad that I’ll have some time during my visit to get to know the researchers in Moscow and hope we can find some interesting things to work on together in the near future.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE news service
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