Through September and October 2012 I was invited to be Artist in Residence at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in Toronto. The residency was broken into a number of projects, two within the Museum and two in the public realm.
This exhibition entitled ‘D.O.S.’, was based on an installation of wall drawings in the AGO’s Community Gallery. The works were all based on the city slogan ‘Diversity our Strength’ with a colour pallette based on General Ideas ‘Word Virus’. The works were made with the assistance of the AGO’s Youth Council (and Bob and Andrea.) Originally the works were conceived to have an audio component but this was not completed during my stay.
Some production images. (Memories of some late nights and getting to know the cleaning staff)
Part of my interest in undertaking the residency at AGO was to produce a series of public realm in a City where the Mayor was on a self confessed war against Graffiti and Street Art.
You can even get an official anti-graffiti app. This is the City’s Graffiti Plan. The plan distinguishes between Graffiti Art and Graffiti Vandalism.
Graffiti Art is defined as markings made or affixed to properties that are approved by the property owner or occupant, where the markings aesthetically enhance the surface they cover and the general surroundings, having regard to the community character and standards
Graffiti Vandalism is defined as any deliberate markings made or affixed on property that is not currently exempted or regularized by the Graffiti Panel, Executive Director or Council and: was made or affixed without permission of the owner; is considered to be a tag; for which there are reasonable grounds to believe that it may incite hatred or violence against any person or identifiable group; or contains profane vulgar or offensive language.
Th policy also encourages sanctioned works as a means to fight Graffiti:
Murals and Graffiti art are an effective means of deterring graffiti from appearing on structures.
Out of this policy the city has created StreetARTToronto:
StreetARToronto is a new partnership program with an overall mission to counteract graffiti vandalism by developing, supporting, promoting and increasing awareness of street art and its indispensable role to add beauty and character to neighbourhoods across the city.
Toronto also has a grants that program provides up to $5,000 to business and community organisations for outside mural projects in commercial or employment areas. Murals should give ‘potential benefits of the project, including the extent to which the mural project would contribute to community and business pride, promote a unique community theme, leverage partnerships, and attract pedestrians and customers to the commercial area. Identify the anticipated benefits in terms of economic development, community development, and youth involvement’, as well as having appropriate permissions and a defined timescale.
This was the headline of a piece written a few days after my arrival (article below).
On a humid morning this week, the acclaimed British visual artist Mark Titchner was strolling down Queen West toward his new studio at the Art Gallery of Ontario, battling a case of jet lag while taking in the area’s “organic” graffiti mural scene. “There’s actually a lot of stuff up on the walls here,” he observed, “actually more than in London.”
The 39-year-old artist, a one-time nominee for the prestigious Turner Prize, knows whereof he speaks. Mr. Titchner is famous for murals and billboards featuring edgy, ambiguous slogans – “Be Angry But Don’t Stop Breathing” – rendered in bold, luminescent lettering. His work is displayed internationally in major museums, but also on building walls, bus shelters and in subway stations, because he’s interested in depicting “the sense of silence” he perceives, paradoxically, in noisy public spaces.Torontonians this fall will get a firsthand glimpse of Mr. Titchner’s distinctive sensibility. Through a partnership between the AGO, where he’s artist-in-residence, and a new city program, Street Art Toronto, he’ll be creating three or four major murals, including one on a large east-facing wall at the Drake Hotel, where he’s staying until early November. He also intends to develop other works in collaboration with local youth groups for the AGO’s Toronto Now space.Street Art Toronto, interestingly enough, emerged from Mayor Rob Ford’s campaign pledge to eradicate graffiti, and has provided $325,000 for 23 works in 16 wards, including Mr. Titchner’s residency. Elyse Parker, the transportation services official overseeing the program, explains that it aims to move beyond the more traditional graffiti transformation projects that sought to engage at-risk youth. The city’s goal, she adds, is to raise the artistic bar without going to a highly formalized jury-selection process.
Over the past decade, the clandestine and often ephemeral street-art scene has exploded into the mainstream thanks to the popularity of stars such as Britain’s Banksy, as well as critically successful mural programs in Philadelphia, Miami and Brooklyn – cities where street-art tours have become common among art aficionados.
While street art traces its roots to New York’s graffiti and hip-hop scene from the 1960s and 1970s, the creators today are often young fine-arts grads who lack studio space and want to establish a profile in highly visible spaces, says Steven Harrington, co-founder of BrooklynStreetArt.com, who writes a weekly column on the subject for the Huffington Post. “We’re in a great period of flux.”
Drake curator Mia Nielsen and city officials hope Mr. Titchner, who works in several media, will help ignite Toronto’s indigenous street-art movement, elevating the profile of emerging local artists, such as Dan Bergeron (a.k.a. “Faux Reel”) while signalling residents and property owners that blank exterior walls are good for more than just ads, tags or whitewash.
In fact, his arrival this week coincided with the official unveiling of the first major commission by Street Art Toronto – a spectacular 80-foot mosaic mural at the ferry docks.
From experience in other cities and with state agencies such as Transport for London, Mr. Titchner is keenly aware of the inherent tension – using public spaces or funds, on the one hand, while creating genuinely provocative work on the other.
He offered a clue about the Drake project, which he’ll install in late October. “It’s not really supposed to be about me. … I suppose it has a lot to do with the idea of authority and power, and which voices are heard.”
The Drake project that is mentioned was on the same street as the City’s Graffiti Alley one of the most celebrated Graffiti sites in the city and most contentious.
Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s war on Graffiti has been well publicised this is from todays Toronto Star:
Toronto expands anti-graffiti campaign by hiring private company to remove it
Mayor Rob Ford is heating up the battle against graffiti by hiring a removal company to clean city buildings and structures.
“As you know, I’m obsessed with graffiti and getting it out of the city and keeping it out of the city,” Ford told reporters at a removal demonstration in an Etobicoke park Wednesday.
Toronto has retained Goodbye Graffiti for up to five years, at a cost of about $400,000.
At West Deane Park on Martin Grove Rd., Ford was told the company applies a cleaning product to soften the paint and make it easier to erase with a power washer that uses lots of hot water.
The mayor took his turn using the washer on a graffiti-covered washroom wall. He refused to don a company ball cap that didn’t fit, or other protection, and went at the graffiti in his business suit.
“His technique is a bit off, but I’m sure with a little more training, he’d be just fine,” said Goodbye Graffiti general manager Brent Bowman.
Ford said he was pleased with the results.
“Obviously, what they’ve got going here works,” he said. “The proof’s in the pudding.”
In the 2010 election campaign, Ford declared fighting graffiti a personal priority.
“Starting Aug. 1, Goodbye Graffiti will be responsible for removing graffiti vandalism on any and all city property. Everywhere that there is graffiti, I will guarantee we’ll be removing it.”
Ford urged people to take a photo and call police “if you witness graffiti vandalism in progress.
“Obviously, don’t put yourself in harm’s way, but if you get a picture of the people that are doing the graffiti, that would help the police tremendously on pressing charges.”
Ford also asked people to contact the mayor’s office or the 311 city help line to report graffiti on either public or private property.