Cristina NualART

Tag: Street Art

Ha-ha! A graffiti artist’s magical trip to Saigon

This article was published in Word Vietnam magazine, December 2013, p.16.

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How do you explain your job to people? In a recent interview, a non-starving artist based in South East Asia said he is ‘a dancing poodle for the 1%’.  Another artist, Ha-ha has a business card that says he is an ‘alien theorist’. Being an artist has its perks.

Ha-ha believes that aliens can help us achieve solar consciousness, which is a step above from planetary consciousness, which is what we would achieve if we connected with trees, fish and all living beings on earth. Connection is a word Ha-ha uses a lot, both in relation to technology, and, I infer, a metaphysical form of bonding with others. Think Avatar, but without the Smurf blue.

haha_by_cnualart4Aliens are just like us’, says this graffiti artist. On his first visit to Vietnam, Ha-ha talked extensively about collective consciousness, archetypes, alternative realities, and other uncommon phenomena. I should have asked him if he has met many aliens, but my mind was clouded with visions of Age of Aquarius predictions.  I learnt, for example, that since Disney has acquired Star Wars, future episodes of the series will become a form mind control.

The original Star Wars film, Ha-ha believes, is a veritable encyclopedia of archetypes. After seeing the film in childhood, he began to draw pictures of spaceships and of Darth Vader, whom he thought was a good character, not an evil one. Prophetic…

The nickname Ha-ha comes from another media character: a boy in The Simpsons series who bleats ‘ha-ha’ when he hits other kids.

Ha-ha’s real name, Regan Tamanui, rings of his Maori ancestry. Fed magic mushroom soup by his grandmother from the age of 5, Ha-ha decided early on that he was going to be an artist. His career started taking off in his 20s, after he moved to Australia. There he joined the first group of Stuckists that formed outside of England. The Stuckists advocated for a return to good, old fashioned painting. Ha-ha made oil paintings.

The he tried spray-paint, and things took a turn for the better. He is now ranked as one of the world’s most influential street artists. He doesn’t say ‘street art’ though, he deplores that elitist way of referring to graffiti.

His artistic trademark is to merge two separate stencil portraits, overlapping two faces. These stencil fusions began as a way to illustrate archetypes. The bond in relationships  -between couples, people and robots, people and animals-  is an archetype. The pair is more than the sum of its part. This unity, easy for all of us to understand, is a small-scale version of collective consciousness. Ha-ha hopes we will elevate and ‘connect to a higher consciousness. Hopefully it will be a love consciousness.’

haha_by_cnualart5Acetate is Ha-ha’s tool. The artist cuts the transparent film into templates for spray-painting. For some portraits, he needs to cuts over 60 sheets of acetate to get all the detail. The front of his sketchbook is tattooed with rows of numbers. They’re not numerological charts. He notes how many metres of acetate he gets through, and how many cuts he makes. It’s a trick to keep focused. Ha-ha practices art as a form of meditation.

In October 2013, Ha-ha was invited, quite spontaneously, to be the first artist in residence at Saigon Outcast. It was quick and easy to bring him over from Singapore, where he was exhibiting, to live and work in one of the shipping containers overlooking a wasteland in District 2 for a month. Ha-ha enjoyed his first visit to Vietnam, and devoted himself to creating a series of portraits of Ho Chi Minh. The works, sprayed on walls or on paper, show the figurehead of a young man, or as the unmistakable legendary president.

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‘With the internet, and the global collective consciousness, we are manifesting this god, a god that is there and has answers for us. If you want something, you can just, like, order a pizza online, and it gets delivered in 20 minutes.’

 

 Text and photos by Cristina Nualart

 

Found Object + Ready Made

Accidental imitation of a Duchamp ready made as an impromptu urban installation.
I found this image in Saigon, where everything is the unexpected!

no images were found

 

KCBT and KCAT wall painters and plasterers

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Anybody who has been to Vietnam has seen the KCBT or KCAT phone numbers painted on walls around the city. It took me a while when I first moved here to understand what they were, because no other country I have been to advertises in such an anonymous way.

 

Recently a Hanoi art exhibition by Lolo Zazar showcased paintings that are directly inspired by these hybrids between graffiti and advertising. I used some photos of the ones I have  seen in and around Saigon for an interior design project. Two hand painted luminous pink and purple phone numbers, exact copies of the ones in town, are on my walls. One final large copy of the original shown above will be finished in gold leaf.

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The land of Rosie Lee

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I just found this information in an Arts Council report. No surprises, really. It’s all a vicious circle: the more arts you get, the more you want!

Londoners:

 

·  See the arts, culture and nightlife as among the top five reasons for living in London.

·  Attend more arts events than people in other regions – 82% attended at least one arts event in the last 12 months.

·  Have the most eclectic taste in the arts – they are more likely than people from any other region to attend several types of event.

·  Are more likely to participate in the arts – 90% took part in at least one artistic activity in the last 12 months.

·  Appreciate the arts – 79% think that the arts play a valuable role in the life of the country.

·  Appreciate cultural diversity in the arts – 80% think that arts from different cultures contribute a lot to the cultural life of the country.
 

Disclaimer: contrary to popular international pseudopinion, London isn’t England, and certainly not the UK.

Exit Banksy, enter Swoon

I finally saw Banksy‘s film Exit through the Giftshop, now on show in only one London cinema. Glad I made it to the big screen before it becomes just another DVD.

47_Swoon_photocnualartIt is really a good watch – tons of fun! I love the amusing turn of events that mess around with your preconceived ideas of who is the protagonist.  At first, your wishes are granted and you get lots of footage of street artists at work, and you naturally expect plenty more footage on Banksy for the main part of the film. But before I tell you what happens, I have to put Banksy on pause, to digress about Swoon, one of the street artists at work in the first part of the film, and the only female one. Swoon, as coincidence would have it, is currently featured prominently in this month’s Art News magazine, for her ‘sailing’ artspedition.

I first came across her work  in an exhibition in Village Underground, East London, last year (pictured). The Thousands was the mysterious title given to the week-short show by the very young curator. 18 year old RJ Rushmore was kind enough to give me an hour of his time to tell me about the stunningly well-light display of street art from around the world in the not-so-underground, superb space. Rushmore is a collector of Swoon and of other figureheads of street art, and some of the artworks in the exhibition were of his collection. He knows these artists first hand, from his childhood days hanging out in both London and New York, encountering the artists at work in teenage infested wastelands and alleyways. They way he told me about it all, I’m guessing that he started collecting with little cash, whereas as we see in the film, street art is now big bucks. Moral: it’s good not to be metrowealthy and grow up in plush, cleansed neighbourhoods, if the vandalism you would otherwise encounter can be turned into gold – and celebrity status. My hat off to the teenage curator/collector for utilising his life experiences to his advantage. And my hat off to Swoon for her skilfully crafted cut-outs and paste ups. She’s worth keeping an eye on.

As for Banksy, he is very clever, as well as skilled. His Guantamo Bay interventions in Disneyland are as funny as the reactions of the Mickeyguards when they discover them. See him also transform a beautiful red phonebox into an equally beautiful, and humorous, sculpture, with meaning appropriated by BT… (if, like me, you’re into red telephone boxes, check out David Mach’s sculpture in Kingston-upon-Thames).

After this exhilarating spur of live artmaking (including -and yes, I disapprove- a live, painted elephant) the way Banksy turns the film around, (by way of ‘revenge’?) is better than fiction. The cameraman and the street artist swap places, and the unexpected outcome brings about a sad-but-hilarious real-life take on the art world. Possible ponderings revolve around the power of money, of advertising, of using your friends because the ends justify the means, of the American dream, of madness or of sheer willpower. Definitely lots to think about, but smiling most of the time. Respect!

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P.S.: A really interesting piece of research on the legal quandaries implicit in graffiti:
Tomasz Rychlicki, ‘Legal questions about illegal art,’ Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (Vol. 3, No. 6, 2008) pp. 393-401

Unless otherwise specified, text and images © 2017 Cristina Nualart

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.



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