Pollution kills, but art’s the crime


Sao Paulo, Brazil
Alexandre Orion

This graffiti was created in reverse – by cleaning grimy city surfaces. It’s sort of a lift-and-scrub technique in which the dark areas are old, crusted pollutants. Authorities didn’t know how to charge the Brazilian graffiti artist responsible, Alexandre Orion:

The authorities were certainly miffed but could find nothing to charge him with. They had no other recourse but to clean the tunnel — but only the parts Alexandre had already cleaned. The artist merely continued his campaign on the other side of traffic. The utterly flummoxed city officials then decided to take drastic action. Not only did they clean the entire tunnel but also every other tunnel in Sao Paulo. (Inhabitat)

Reverse graffiti has been around for years. NPR ran a 2004 story about a UK artist named Moose who used a “shoe brush and water” to execute his street art; clean graffiti has been a medium of protest; Puerto Rican artist Rafael Trelles uses dirty concrete as his canvas. But Orion’s work is clever on so many levels at once. If removing pollution is vandalism, what do you call the act of creating pollution? How many drivers recognized that the medium Orion manipulated to create the graffiti skulls was actually their own contribution – their daily automobile emissions? It’s like involuntary interactive art vandalism!

And the choice of skulls as subject is brilliant – not just because of the cliche “pollution kills,” but because a naked skull has itself been “cleaned” (yes, I personally have boiled skulls to turn them denture-white). The bleached skull is a totem of life’s shocking transience, which we tacitly ignore – just as we tacitly ignore that our current consumer lifestyle is doomed by the impending shortage of fossil fuels. Which are called “fossil fuels” because. . . well, you know all that.

There are so many recursive memento mori themes in a temporary graffiti skull executed in car exhaust, I’m getting a headache. I think that means it’s good art. Right?

You can see a brief video of Orion working and the authorities intervening at his website. You can also view another of Orion’s projects, in which he executed graffiti and then photographed passers-by interacting with it, in alternately hilarious and disturbing ways.

Via Saint Gasoline

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2 Responses to Pollution kills, but art’s the crime

  1. Fantabulous! Orion – the magazine – should run a feature on this guy. I’ve been gathering artists for a piece on graffiti and “interventionist” art with an aesthetic bent, so he’ll be a nice addition. Thanks.

  2. Pingback: mondays with marjie {reverse graffiti} « a life of perpetual transition

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