Street art and graffiti is a practice apparently known to happen since ancient times. It has always been a form of expression, publication, advertising and/or political activism. Graffiti is inevitably associated with architecture because it occurs on it and most definitely has an effect on it. It alters it for better or worse and poses many questions about individual and collective creation and space. It has always been considered an underground activity because often it is seen as vandalism especially during the last few decades that property and ownership have redefined the concept of public space.
Much has been said about street art and its purpose. When it is not openly political it has been accused of being self absorbed or somehow exhibitionist. At the same time the very fact that in most countries graffiti is illegal and the artists are arrested and prosecuted for vandalism contradicts the latent exhibitionism theory.
So what motivates the artists’ passion? Is it the rush of the possibility of being caught? Is it the joy of their work being accessible to the public in a random and unconventional way? Or maybe it is a form of expression for people of underprivileged backgrounds attempting to appropriate space when no other way is available.
Even if the message conveyed is not straightforwardly political it seems that most of the times street art has been the underdog’s subtle attempt to attack the establishment. Either way the artists, regardless of their true identity being known or not, manage to acquire some sort of respect within their community even only by pseudonym and at times have been raised to legend-status. Nowadays this occurs more than ever with superstars like Banksy that managed to keep his identity unknown probably to magnify his status and fame even more. Nevertheless his work is sold for astronomical prices in famous galleries and auction houses around the world.
Naturally street art being sold in galleries has been frowned upon and at times even attacked by other street artists like in São Paulo, Brazil when Choque gallery was invaded in 2008 and all exhibits were tagged on. (read: http://www.designboom.com/contemporary/pixacao.html)
At a time when street art is getting to be more mainstream than ever and a new generation of misled artists seeking recognition appears, it is very refreshing to come across a space like Stigma Lab in Athens. The collective that is behind this space attest that this is a communal space where people can meet and experiment. This project has been in the making for 11 years and according to its FB statement (http://el-gr.facebook.com/StigmaSquad) “ Stigma Exhibition Lab is not a sterilized gallery commercializing art. It is a welcoming place”
We visited the Lab while the crew was putting up the new exhibition and they had absolutely no problem having visitors around as long as we did not photograph the artists. True to the old-school way they would rather not have their faces shown. In general Stigma lab did feel like a welcoming open space that favours expression and interaction over art-world pretentiousness, hence their having no problem with people experiencing their work in progress. However, regardless of how hopeful it is to witness new communities emerging instead of the usual patronising and solely profit-orientated galleries, street art’s heart beats in the streets, on architecture.