Graffiticide in Santiago de Chile!

In December, four remarkable graffiti murals – by Aislap (www.flickr.com/photos/aislaponer), Saile (www.Saile.cl), Grin (www.grin.cl) and Piguan (www.flickr.com/photos/piguan) – graced the breakwaters of the river Mapocho in central Santiago. First and foremost the duo Aislap´s “Material Poverty, Spiritual Wealth” of June 2009: a brilliant example of a graffiti mural realized mainly in cheap water resistant látex paint, with spraypainted details.

[1] AISLAP, Pobreza Material, Riqueza Espiritual, graffiti mural 2009, photo: AISLAP.

“Material Poverty, Spiritual Wealth” was universally admired, and had become an iconic image by November 2010, when Saile and Grin painted the same stretch of the Mapocho.

[2] Saile / Grin, graffiti murals, November 2010.

Grin has painted the Mapocho before: with the seminal Chilean graffiti crew DVE, and, on his own: his Mapocho sunbathing woman is reproduced in Joia Magazine, #15, “Chile”, 2010.

Since the 1960s when the BRP realized figurative propaganda murals in látex paint, the Mapocho has provided a huge canvas for underground Chilean art. You can see what it looked like in 2007 in Street Art Chile (8 books, London / Gingko Press, CA 2008) where the DVE wall is reproduced. So is a preceding contribution by Piguan, who in December 2010, inspired by the Aislap, Saile and Grin walls that now flanked it, revisited and improved the same stretch he had painted in 2007. On a colourfield látex background, Piguan and Bus portrayed women: Piguan´s a variation on a favourite santiagüino theme of heads with multiple sets of eyes.

[3] Piguan & Bus, graffiti mural, December 2010.

At the start of 2011 the stretch of Mapocho painted by Aislap, Saile, Grin and Piguan reflected the innovative and truly popular art being made by a talented generation of Chilean graffiti writers. All the murals predominately used látex paint, with sprayed virtuoso details. It is regrettable that they were all buffed, in unaesthetic grey. The stretch embellished by Saile and Grin has been made brutally ugly.

[4] ex Saile / Grin, January 2011.

The iconoclasts failed to erase the memory of Aislaps´s “Material Poverty Spiritual Weath”, the head and foot of which survive.

[5] Aislap, Pobreza Material … , January 2011.

Where the local council covered over Piguan, there soon appeard plop graffiti – a lesser genre than the carefully planned and executed graffiti murals that have been lost – by Fisura and Brazilian pixador Violentos.

[6] Fisura and Violentos, graffiti on council grey over Piguan graffiti mural, January 2011.

The last time large stretches of wall painting on the breakwaters of the Mapocho were erased was in 1973, when Pinochet´s military regime blanked a big BRP wall. A year into Chile´s first right-wing government since Pinochet, the strong anti-cultural echo is most unfortunate: it is perceived by Aislap as ´repression´. Whatever its declared aim, the buffing of graffiti murals is unmistakably political. Hence the BRP colectivo expresses: ´Our total solidarity with our graffitero friends, we are with them´ (Toda nuestra solidaridad con los amigos graffiteros, estamos con ellos). The blanking of the murals is ´horrible´ in the words of Pablo Aravena, maker of the film Next: a Primer on Urban Art (Canada/France 2005). Pablo´s impressed enough by Chilean graffiti to have piloted the film Chile Estyle (www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5jEH8Knl-4).

The blanking out was done to provide a neutral background for a light art project, commissioned by the ´Santiago´ commune of Santiago de Chile and sponsored to the tune of a million USD by Chilectra, Endesa and Enersis electricity companies. One kilometer of the Mapocho will be illuminated for four hours, seven nights a week, for 6 months: it will take a lot of electricity to illuminate a kilometer of wall for 720 hours. In the 2010s, any art that depends on using large amounts of electricity is misguided, nowhere more so than in Chile were power supplies are an urgent ecological issue, given Endesa´s plans to ´electrocute´ Chilean Patagonia by building hydroelectric dams on its rivers : plans that provoked the Patagonia Chilena ¡Sin Represas! (Chilean Patagonia: Without Dams!) campaign (http://www.patagoniasinrepresas.cl/). In contrast, technically skilful use of low technology rollers, brushes and látex is proven the best medium for painting the Mapocho.

At the cost of four fine graffiti murals, the outcome of the recent mistake on the Mapocho is to widen the consensus in support of Santiago de Chile´s graffiti. Mutate Britain, Annabel Aguirre maker of the documentary After Pinochet (www.afterpinochetdocumentary.co.uk), Pablo Aravena, Chin-chin and Beto Pastene of the BRP ´colectivo´, Said Dokins and Laura García of Mexico City, Jacqueline Millner of the University of Sydney, French street art activist and former Kosmopolite organizer Nick Torgoff, and I back Aislap, Saile, Grin and Piguan in their quest to reimbursed for the materials with which they embellished the Mapocho; for walls of a similar size to paint in central Santiago; and for the right to repaint the buffed stretched of the Mapocho in six months´ time when thankfully the light project will end. We are confident in their will and their ability to keep painting big: in Santiago, in Valparaíso with Inti et al, and the length of Chile. Aislap´s mural at the Hospital in Iquique, northern Chile, is a masterpiece of in – since Joaquín Torres-García in 1930s Montevideo – the important South American vein of art for hospitals.

[7] Aislap, Hospital Regional, Iquique, 2009, photo: AISLAP.

Cekis, Aislap (when in 2008 their journey to Europe was sponsored by the Chilean Ministry of External Relations), Vazko, Inti, Fisek and others have established admiration for Chilean graffiti in New York, Paris, Los Angeles … . In Chile, blanking their walls is viewed as a deplorable act of ´anti-cultura´, and one not to be repeated.

Rod Palmer, Santiago de Chile, January 2011.

New Chile PICTURES from Rod Palmer

Here’s the latest on the Chile sense from our erstwhile correspondent Dr Rod Palmer. In case you didn’t know Rod is an aficionado on the the writers and street painters in Argentina, Chile and other less traveled corners – at least from a European’s point of view. He wrote this fine tome on some of the main protagonists in Chile. It’s a great read and highlights the Marxist routes of Street Art in Chile as well as beautifully illustrating the contemporary scene at the time it went to press.  And… in true Marxist style… You can BUY IT HERE.

Here are Rod’s latest observations…

New River Plate styles I last popped up for Mutate Britain about Chilean graffiti writers Juana Perez, LRM and Charquipunk in Rosario, Argentina, where Uruguayan Lälin painted alongside them.  Of the four, Lälin made the best splash on Rosario´s river Paraná waterfront: with a large paste up of her character, like Latin herself a  left-hander, holding a knife dripping blood.

Meanwhile Analia, founder -leader of the Stickboxing Federation, made a composite piece, looking to Japan´s Takashi Murakami, though Analia´s flowers, which include flores dentadas, are more varied and challenging than Murakami´s smiley-faced flowers.

In Buenos Aires, LRM and Charqui painted with Argentinians Ice, and Itu who signs himself Pelos de Plumas (meaning Hair of Feathers).

Ice and Pelos de Plumas are both outside Buenos Aires´ established street art ´ghetto´, who excel at ilustración type characters in látex: Gaulicho paints impressively big; Pum Pum self-portraits nattily signed ´pum´ … ´pum´ in the black látex lines within her blonde mane.

Of fellow graffiti writers in Buenos Aires, Itu looks most to Mart and Poeta (both are in Maximiliano Ruiz´ Graffiti Argentina, T&H 2008, and we look forward to Max´s Latin American Street Art).

In December Ice was but Pelos de Plumas was not invited to a self defeatingly ´exclusivo´ graffiti event in Buenos Aires.  Originally from Neuquén, 1150km south west of the capital, Pelos de Plumas is pioneering a ´nuevo estilo rioplatense´ (New Rio de la Plata style).  This new style uses the spray can like a pencil; intervenes in urban spaces, not just unrolling a graffiti onto the wall; systematically integrates the drip effects of latex and spray paints.

If graffiti and street art are, or were, outsider activities, those who don´t fit into graffiti crews and meetings are doubly interesting.  I think also of Antofagasta´s Izak, and Santiago de Chile´s Fis.  Fis is a misfit because un-biddable; Izak and Pelos de Plumas because they are uncompromising artists.  Ability is not the issue: Pelos de Plumas is very good at painting, including high up on ladders, and can greatly enhance any collective wall.

Pelos de Plumas is best at doing entire walls, such as his Ve y vive / Ven y vive (See and live / come and live) in Mar del Plata.

Pelos de Plumas abstracts his figures to varying degrees, and adds short but effective texts, to express the aqui y ahora (here-and-now).

Rod Palmer, Chile/Argentina, January 2011.