Imagine utopia - impossibly tall buildings and whizzing tech might come to mind. Others might envision an ecological paradise with never-ending stretches of green. Or perhaps your ideal is a totally equal society.
All these interpretations can probably at least agree there’ll be no graffiti in their brave new world. As an art form - there’s neither time nor willpower to have that debate here - that can be legally punished and is often denounced as the territory of vandals, graffiti doesn’t lend itself to most people’s idea of bliss.
Somerset House’s new exhibition Venturing Beyond: Graffiti and the Everyday has a different idea, exploring graffiti as a “intrinsically utopian practice” through a showcase of 17 street artists from those famous (or infamous) to the scene – Shepard Fairey, Swoon and REVOK – to critically-acclaimed artists such as Eltono and Filippo Minelli.
Venturing Beyond: Grafitti and the Everyday is running from 3 March - 2 May at Somerset House, Terrace Rooms.
‘Venture beyond’, from the exhibition’s title, references graffiti’s knack for breaking boundaries – whether legal, architectural or aesthetic – in a service, rather than nuisance, to the public.
Challenging the well-worn rules of society is a rebellious thread shared with Thomas More’s Utopia, the 500th anniversary of which the exhibition is celebrating as part of Somerset House’s UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility.
Image: Utopian Security Co. by Petro in an exploration of how costumes of authority, such as high-vis jackets, can make you allegedly safe.
No, Somerset House was not fleetingly a war zone. We were treated to a smoky show at the exhibition’s press preview – check out more of Filippo Minelli’s work with smoke.
Fom 13-20 April, Horfée and Russell Maurice will take up residency in Somerset House, where visitors can watch them creating a new body of work based on the ‘utopia’ theme.
Image: The Only Emergency is the Absence of Emergency by Filippo Minelli, who asks where the room for asking questions and doubt is in our tight-knit social systems.
Of course, art within the safety of a gallery – which is then no longer graffiti - by celebrated street artists can seem far removed from the reality of jailed grafitti artists.
Image: Nolens-Volence by Saeio. Councils remove grafitti by painting over it - creating an artwork in itself.
Image: Brad Downey's work forms his name