The Diaries of the Mundane – A Photo Essay by Sofiya Romanenko

I first came across Sofiya Romanenko’s photography at the exhibition More – The Show, a group show of local female artists held at the Boxed Quarter. I was immediately struck by her recognition of the beauty found in the urban mundane; a bundle of stacked shopping trolleys forming a striking geometric huddle with horizontal and vertical lines transforming the everyday and overlooked into an object of interest. Having moved to Ōtautahi Christchurch from Moscow, Russia, Sofiya’s photographs are not simply a record of a universal urbanity, but a process of coming to know one’s surroundings, grappling with the unknown and jarring elements of a city that is constantly shifting as it sets about re-asserting its identity. The Diaries of the Mundane display an undefined poignancy, still moments of reflective observation, we stand on the threshold, looking in and yet a step away…  


The Diaries of the Mundane

I moved to Christchurch from Moscow, Russia almost five years ago, but until very recently our relationship could be described with a very specific image of a curtsy nod, accompanied by an awkward tight-lipped smile that strangers here give each other upon accidentally locking eyes in a public setting. Not that I knew Moscow any better, but that’s simply because I was acquainted with it just enough to not want to delve any deeper. Christchurch though – it has proved a whole other story.

It’s taken me a while to “get it”. To embrace the unsightly, the uncomfortable, the ugly. To recognize the potential behind each broken window, rusty fence, deformed road cone. To take in the rugged textures, clashing colours, confronting details. To finally start relating to it all. It happened at a time of great uncertainty in my life, when lone walks through dingy alleyways and railway tracks became a mental escape from the dreaded shadow of the future, side-eyeing me from each corner and gnashing its teeth in anticipation of swallowing me whole. It was around the same time I started revisiting my old hobbies, trying to reconnect with the “self” I had seemingly lost somewhere along the way of springing into adulthood, and a long-forgotten but quickly remembered skill in film photography came about as the perfect accompaniment to my wandering antics.

Christchurch and I still have a long way to go – for instance, I can’t learn its layout to save my life. But we get closer each time I capture yet another beautifully mundane part of its day-to-day as an ongoing diary of the city’s ever-changing nature. Eventually, all of what I photograph will disappear; replaced by shiny new malls, painted over for the sake of uniformity, gentrified to appease the upper class – all of it will be wiped out without a shred of doubt, the eyesores finally gone. But it will forever remain on film as a comforting reminder that nothing is ever truly gone as long as you’ve got some lonesome lunatics running around with old school cameras taking photos of literal trash.

To see more of Sofiya’s photography, follow her on Instagram: @chchasti

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Street Treats, Vol. 5

This edition of Street Treats is eclectic and varied, ranging from playful whimsy to blunt anti-establishment messaging. That ultimately is the beauty of guerrilla practice (or in the case of some of these works, permissioned but free from curatorial censorship), the opportunity to say what you want, how you want. As contemporary muralism has taken over the popular image of ‘street art’, it has also transformed the imagery and ideology deployed. While this still results in some pretty stunning works occupying our skylines and there are, admittedly, different levels of input and freedom, it is left to the smaller interventions to speak in an unfiltered voice. The content is not always explicitly political, but the act itself is, always. So whether it is a beautiful surreal flower sprouting from a concrete pillar,  a constantly recurring pencil, playfully collaged scenarios, vibrant names or scrawled messages that question the colonial history of our city, look and listen, they are speaking to you and about us…

If you have submissions for upcoming Street Treats volumes tag us on Instagram or email your pictures to hello@watchthisspace.org.nz!

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Postcard from Wellington…

Wellington. It’s a personal favourite. The capital city is perfect for an urban weekend away, with it’s cool bars, vibrant street life and innumerable cafes for mornings after (personally, no trip to Wellington is complete without a breakfast burrito from Sweet Mother’s Kitchen). While Ōtautahi will always be home, a trip to Wellington always leaves me planning a return, looking for reasons to make my way back soon. The beauty of the city for me is that the main event (Wellington is a favourite gig venue personally) is supported so well by the city’s additional charms – I always take a day to simply wander, up and down Cuba Street, along the waterfront, up the hills, and in doing so, catch the urban art that marks its walls and alleys. From big murals by well-known local artists, to the array of smaller additions, Wellington’s urban art is always fun to explore and seems a good fit with the city’s lively profile and physical layout. From painted boats to schools of sharks, piles of skulls to bicycle rides, playful to meaningful, what follows is a postcard from Wellington’s streets!

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Street Treats, Vol. 4

High and low, under and above, inside and outside, protected and exposed. The city presents innumerable contrasts, all of which can provide opportunities for intrepid artists. From graffiti writers marking spaces no one else sees as useful or functional, to street artists creating moments of engagement in unexpected places, a city is always full of sites to explore and alter. From rooftops to wooden hoardings, lampposts to stop signs, revealing, playful and existential interventions can be found across and beyond our lines of sight. This diversity of locations is matched by the diversity of practice, with no material form invalid or off-limits; Chero One’s rocket ships, painted scrolls, or even hot sauce-filled buttons warning you not to do what you so urgently want to do. Always mimicking the visual culture that we come to expect, such interventions play on our tendency toward assumption. Popular culture rifs depend on your recognition of trends and eras, like digital memes, requiring some savvy understanding. Anti-advertising grasps the ubiquity and absurdity of commercial communications. Graffiti is an expected response to our dictum that success means having your photo on a billboard or the back of a bus. Ultimately, the streets are full of life, both official and unofficial, you just have to look closer and further, higher and lower, under and above, and start to sort out the relationships…

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Invers – A Photo Essay by Rowee the Kiwi

I first met Rowee the Kiwi when he joined a street art tour I was hosting. His camera was clicking from the first minute to the last, and not just capturing the murals and more prominent works we were exploring, he would often shoot off down an alleyway or into a vacant lot to capture something much smaller in scale. It was clear Rowee was what you might call a ‘street art hunter’, an urban explorer who understood the way artists can transform a cityscape. And he has seen a lot, his travels have ensured his collection of flicks includes some amazing works by renowned and anonymous artists, many that have since dissolved, leaving his records as a legacy. Having returned from living in Australia, he settled back in Invercargill, a city he has roots in, and this shift has coincided with the emergence of urban art in that part of world, notably through the effort and work of DEOW (both his mural work and his organisation of South Sea Spray, an urban art festival that attracts impressive rosters to the picturesque south).

In Invers, Rowee the Kiwi explores Invercargill through his photographs of DEOW’s work and centrally, the massive mural Mia… So let’s take a trip down south…

Mick Jagger famously said “Invercargill is the arsehole of the world”, but then… he’d never been to Bluff. Having lived here during the 70s and 80s, I certainly didn’t have much to complain about. Which is why it was such an easy decision the retire back here.

I first learnt of  Danny Owen, aka DEOW, through my grandson Zac, who was doing work with him, mostly on rooftops and factory walls. This one is in the YMCA building on Tay Street, created with Ikarus from the DTR crew and members of the SLK crew, Devos, Omen and Dias.

After many years of apparent neglect Invercargill’s inner city is showing signs of a renaissance. Most of a whole city block is being redeveloped. Plans seem somewhat fluid but already important works by DEOW have already gone.

The Kelvin Hotel underwent a face lift in recent years and a lot of people were interested in what was hidden under the wrap…

The unveiling…

At the time this was the biggest work of art in the Southern Hemisphere. Now surpassed by Adnate’s public housing block work in Melbourne and more recently by the Adnate Hotel in Perth.

The face of Mia revealed…

Demolition around Mia…

DEOW and Mia

The fear is that most of Mia will be covered by a proposed accommodation block that may be built on the now vacant block beside it.

One piece that has fallen to the developers’ bulldozer is DEOW’s magnificent Tua’s Story of the Ghost Bird

One that lives on is, to quote DEOW himself: “The ghost bird” – Ngāi Tahu / Rakiura’s Tītī.

It is said when the ghost bird takes flight on the new moon, all tītī scamper from their islands and start their epic journey north. The girl symbolises the next generation, the next one to tell the legend. The Southern Lights reflect over the South Coast and the Foveaux Straight, as the birds glide past the skyline of Bluff – Omaui – Centre Island – Riverton – The Longwoods – Takatimu, all seen from the city of ‘Water & Light’.

To see more of Rowee the Kiwi’s urban art photographs, follow him on Instagram

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Photo Essay – Urban Textures

Urban art is heightened and exaggerated by the environment in which it exists. Over time, the urban environment becomes layered with the remnants of its ongoing subversion and alteration. Graffiti adds to the cacophony of visual noise, while peeling paste ups echo the pervasive deterioration of worn surfaces. Stickers expose the multiple potentials of surfaces.

Urban Textures takes a closer look at the often ignored details that add to the fascination of our surroundings. The collected images skip between dense fields of graffiti, worn concrete, blocks of ‘buff’ paint, and peeling paper, but always with an eye on the textural surfaces that give ground to such layers. While the shiny and new garner the attention, here the focus is firmly on the broken, busted, worn and deformed, because, sometimes, beautiful is boring and the lived is more intriguing.

 

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Photo Essay: P.K. – There and Back

When P.K. told us how he compiled his photo essay, it was typically understated: “I pretty much just got a camper van real cheap with one of those post lock down deals, and thought it would be cool to document what I saw on the trip.” While the process of gathering the photographic collection may have been simple, the resulting images are striking.

Although graffiti forms the thread running through the images, the tags and throwies and pieces are not surrounded by a bustling metropolis as is so often the case. Instead they are captured in a still quietude within small towns and secluded rural areas, and notably the concrete undersides of bridges and highways that suggest such spaces are not intended for stopping, but for bypassing quickly. That stillness, not embraced by the majority of the shooting traffic, is captivating, exacerbated by that unique washed out South Island light. The stillness is also amplified by the sense of slight distance, the photographer ever so slightly removed from the scene. The worn concrete and the varying states of the graffiti, from fresh to faded, further adds an emotional quality, a suggestion of isolation and exposure. Of course, P.K. would probably shirk such readings, yet his ability to compose photographs that are both documentary and evocatively layered is undeniable.

While P.K. may have simply ‘hit the road’ in something of a kiwi tradition, the images with which he returned form a subtly unnerving and strangely resonant collection that seemingly says something without the need for hyperbole…

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Street Treats, Vol. 3

The concept behind the Street Treats series is to reflect the diverse expressions on the walls of the city beyond the large scale permissioned murals, reaching into the traditions of urban art culture’s roots as a subversive, rebellious and independent art movement. Of course, it gets tiresome to use terms like rebellious for an artistic culture that is thoroughly mainstream now, but it is important to remember the potential of these types of expressions as both visual messages and tactical invasions of our heavily designed environments. Commentators (often those attempting to defend the ‘art world’ by dismissing street art, as if they are actually in competition) can often charge street art with a vacuity, and as such a lack of conceptual heft and valid commentary. However, the point is as much about the manner of expression as the content – the act is the message. There are of course exceptions, explicitly political messages that favour bludgeoning bluntness over sophisticated subtlety. The reason for such a decision is another aspect of street art’s aesthetic – the audience must be commandeered – they are not arriving inside a white cube with an idea they will be confronted, but instead engaged in their daily activities, necessitating an immediacy. Of course, in this type of situation, even a lack of message can impact a viewer, by simply adding an air of uncertainty and inquisitiveness to a stroll through a city. To that end, the selections in this volume run from wide-ranging political commentaries to nostalgic popular culture references, and importantly, the intervention into our surrounding environments, making use of the spaces and fixtures that we often take for granted, revealing the potential for transformation…

Don’t forget to share your own pictures from the streets by tagging us in your social media posts with #watchthisspace or #streettreats…

 

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Street Treats, Vol. 2

As the city continues to shift, refresh and transform, the little things matter more and more. The vacant and damaged spaces that encouraged more bold and brazen interventions are now less prominent (some of our favourite spots around the city face imminent revitalisation). The necessary contrasts of our urban surroundings are increasingly supplied by the small, unexpected things, clashing with the washed concrete structures and shiny facades that continue to stretch and grow. (Do I sound like a broken record?) Those little details that make a city lived in and alive can raise so many ideas, from the explicit to the subtle, the pointed to the more amorphous and undefined. Yet in each case, their mere presence serves to explore what it means to be part of and have a voice within a larger conglomeration. They provide a sense of the human and authentic (with just a touch of dissent, of course) and signs of contrast and contestation amidst the monolithic towers of progress (both literal and metaphoric), .

This second volume of Street Treats features a host of artists and threaded themes, from the traditional, yet entirely timely ACAB/1312 element, to graffiti’s unerring ability to speak of ugliness and beauty concurrently, or in the case of Teeth Like Screwdrivers’ ‘buff bluff’, the inherent potential in the blocks of grey paint that cover graffiti. Levi Hawken’s concrete sculptures have echoed the physical make up of the cityscape while speaking of his graffiti and skateboarding roots, and notably the Black Lives Matter movement. Vesil’s graffiti continues to be a highlight, diverse and well-placed, with an assortment of accompanying characters and accoutrements raising the spectre of playful nostalgia. Anonymous scribes contest election billboards and the future of human utility (I think…), or  more hopefully, remind us that ‘love is rife’. Stickers and paste-ups continue to have a rising presence in the city, with acerbic, humorous and intriguing additions to urban walls and fixtures. In the case of FOLT’s skull cut-outs, it is as much the absence as the presence that is striking as these popular sculptural pieces are removed. Cosmik Debris’ paste-ups suggest the molecular science behind all things and the scale of being, while Dr Suits blurs the line between art and advertising, without anything to sell. This collection revels in the details of the city, details that many overlook. Yet, when you start to look closely, there are always surprises, always discussions, and always alternatives…

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Photo Essay: Responding to the Gentrification of Street Art – Befaaany

For the latest entry in our photo essay series, we reached out to Befaaany, a Christchurch photographer whose work showcases the urban and concrete landscapes of the city. After being impressed with her striking pictures on Instagram, we knew she would be a perfect fit. Befaaany’s response was a beautiful collection of black and white images that run the gamut of urban expression, small stickers, bold graffiti, abstract paintings produced in perilous environments and the ephemera of a eradicated presence. In compiling these photographs, Befaaany is able to highlight the issue of street art’s gentrification and mainstream popularity, a process that has in many ways clouded our recognition of street art’s subversive and disruptive potential…  

 

Local street artists are constantly finding new ways to create art in a city filled with council-funded installations from international artists. These have included challenging gentrification of graffiti directly, blurring the lines of ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ street art, disguising their art into the city, and  leaning into the temporary nature of their art form. – Befaaany

 

Follow Befaaany on Instagram to see more of her amazing work…

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