Biancoshock's Solo Show and Book Release @ Wunderkammern Gallery, Milan
It was the Nuart Festival back in 2014 when we first experienced Biancoshock's work, falling in love with his refreshing thought process and approach to seize public space for his interventions. That year, he created a neverending red carpet circle, an invasion of garbage cockroaches on the streets of quaint Norwegian town to build an indoor installation where the Facebook logo was featured as the core element of a disturbing setting for Nazi propaganda.
We continue to follow Biancoshock's social media as he relentlessly produces new work and participates in the occasional festival. Providing an open critique of social media, mainstream Street Art, traditional graffiti, as well as vital social concerns of society, Fra Biancoshock has authored public art interventions that have gone viral, which turned out to be both blessing and curse for the artist, so about a year ago he decided to break away from his online presence. Focusing 100% of his activity on producing thought-provoking public work, he recently announced an exhibition and book release that takes place on November 27, 2019, at Wunderkammern Gallery in Milan.
So, what better moment to reach out to the artist, talk about the upcoming presentation, talk about terms like Ephemeralism, Urban Hacking, and Graffititricks, and discuss his love/hate relationships with street art and social media, a bit of a recap
Sasha Bogojev: Disturbe marks 15 years of your activity. What did you want to present with this exhibition?
Biancoshock: I don't know the exact number, but this year I passed +1.000 urban, independent, self-financed public interventions. It was time to make a point, first of all, for me. In the last two years, I had already received a couple of invitations for shows in Germany and UK, but I hadn't found a good feeling with the curators; basically, we both were too focused on setting a solo show just using my best-known artworks, reproduced in an indoor space. To be honest, I was not so excited about that kind of exhibition.
Then I received an invitation from Wunderkammern Gallery, and I really appreciated their approach and desire to take risks in something different. The exhibition retraces every phase, discipline and technique that has characterized my production to date: installations, documentation of site-specific works created on the street, sculptures, video-performance, props made by the artist and unique works. The exhibition is aimed at highlighting the multiplicity of techniques, messages, and media that characterize my artistic approach, and to highlight the ambivalence of my production in its different levels of interpretation; all the more intimate, conceptual and research dimensions as well as the disruptive and universal power of my public interventions born and developed on the street.
Did you create any studio work especially for this exhibition, and can you tell us a bit more about it?
In the show, I will present around 25 artworks, 16 being new projects, 'new' in terms of realization. A lot are conceptual artworks realized between 2014 to 2019, and never documented. For example, in the show, I will present a new series, consisting of six conceptual books. I spent every night of the last 10 months preparing the documentation for two of them... And they’re books. It was useless to spend all this time for the realization just to present them on Social Networks. They need a space where people can read the explanation, look at the documentation and the history of each book and then... it. The book itself is just a vehicle to transmit a concept and a big effort to realize it.
How does making studio work and presenting it in white cube space comply with the ideas of Urban Hacking?
I admit that, for me, it's certainly not easy to present my projects in white cube space. This is the reason I usually refuse invitations for solo shows, specifying that I don't want to seem arrogant, but it’s a situation that creates a lot of internal stress. After receiving this invitation, I took my time to reflect. I looked at my archive and I found a lot of strong unpublished or uncompleted projects to present, most of them already documented. I kept them private, waiting for a good opportunity. When Giuseppe (from Wunderkammern) explained to me his thoughts, I understood that that moment had arrived, five years after my latest solo show in Milan (Ephemeralism, 2014), in my city, tired of the low-budget Instagram festivals. It was time to concentrate all my efforts to make a point. This is not for a hypothetical public (I don’t have the arrogance to believe that I have a public), but just for me. To fix another step in my path.
Introducing Urban Hacking in a white cube space could seem nonsense, and it certainly is if you want to reproduce in the gallery an urban intervention born to be in the street. But I have so many projects that have been waiting for the right place for a long time. And Wunder is the place.
Where does that term come from, and how did you come up with it?
As usual, I thought and thought, crashing my mind, evaluating a lot of possibilities and, in the end, Disturbe came up in a spontaneous way. In my opinion, it’s a good concept for representing my art practice.
Pietro Rivasi, who also wrote the critical essay of my show, perfectly sums up the concept behind the title; “Biancoshock is disturbed. The double personality of this artist is lived as a gift, and allows him to undertake artistic research with distant but complementary characteristics. Disturbance is also his art, and this shocks the superficiality that too often makes us isolate in an infinite number of virtual practices and lose contact with what surrounds us. Urbe is a Latin word that means both city and, in its most detailed meaning, citizens, so for Biancoshock the public space, the urbe, is the quintessence of Art. It’s one of the main sources of inspiration and a privileged stage for its interventions. For this reason, he decided to disturb his natural comfort area, the urbe.”
Your work always feels to me as though you're a conductor who organizes the urban elements to carry out a static performance. Did you ever see yourself as a performance artist?
Well, if we use performance/performer in the strict sense used by the art system, I’m not a performer. I’m just a player. Since I was a graffiti writer, I always considered the city and its elements as a playground, my playground. For me, the street is like Instagram for a fashion blogger influencer: without the street, I would disappear. I consider the urban elements like public toys that, in this real and boring world, have a specific use. Since day one, my challenge was to give them a second level of value, a new role, starting to use them as vehicles to communicate a message to a heterogeneous, spontaneous and unknown public. That kind of public that only the street can guarantee.
You later fine-tuned the label of your practice to Ephemeralism. What is that?
It was 2014. At that time, my practice received a lot of visibility in social media and the press. After 10 years of doing urban activism without defining myself as an artist, and above all, with even the art world in agreements, I decided to give a name to my practice. Ephemeralism perfectly fits my artistic approach. So I decided to create Ephemeralism, not because I saw myself as the leading guru of a new movement, but because it was a way to help people to understand better my approach. I didn’t recognize myself in the street art label. It’s a "non-movement," which indicates all those works of public art that exist in space for a very limited period but last over time thanks to photographic and video documentation.
The ephemerality and personal experience of such work are essential elements. What type of problems do you experience when sharing your work with the world?
The first half of my artistic path is based on the same feedback: it’s not art, it’s just a fun activity. In those years, the Virtual Age was at its beginning, street art was not so considered and, I was the first one to not define myself as an artist. It has been the best period, only practicing urban hacking without a care towards definition. Now it’s different: my art practice has been accepted and recognized, sometimes also in the art system; now it’s a little bit more complicated. But the approach is always the same. For me, public art is the only way I have to fight my anxiety and to keep my brain alive. Don’t care about the ‘artistic success,’ but only to keep alive the goosebumps I still have when I’m in the street without a sponsor, a legal permission or a photographer.
About a year ago, you stopped publishing new actions on social platforms. What made you decide to do that?
There are many reasons, even contradictory between them. I admit that social networks absolutely played an important role in my artistic path. My works have been published all around the world, thanks to social platforms. This led to invitations from Festivals, shows, collaborations with other artists, etc. But you know, time is crazily running in the Virtual Age. I started to see virtual curators, virtual art galleries, virtual artists, intellectuals, virtual orators. Then I saw legal commissioned walls sponsored on Instagram. Too much for me. I grew up with different values, I spent my adolescence doing graffiti because I loved that kind of sensations, feelings, and the people I met during that experience. Maybe it was not the best way to spend my adolescence, but it was a real-life with real experiences, real friends and real values.
Now you have virtual followers and if you don’t have them, you’re no one. To be clear, 90% of my artistic heroes do not have a personal social page. Another important reason, less emotional, is the structure of the social platforms. My best-known artworks are the viral ones. One picture, a strong impact image, a clear and provocative message, an original way to interpret something and transforming it into something different. I’m not saying that it’s easy, and I still love that kind of art I do. But, as I will present in the show, there is another 50% of my stuff that consists of less immediate artworks, composed of projects with different documentation. Not one strong image, but a lot of video/photo documentation, research, an explanation. These kinds of projects can not work on social platforms, where you have to catch the engagement of your public within few seconds or your content disappear.
In the last two years, I started to deepen a more complex, specific research, also using new means to express my messages. I decided not to publish such specific projects in the 'Social Network Ocean.'
The show will also mark the release of your retrospective book. Can you tell us a bit more about it?
The book is entitled Dipolo. It presents a selection of work created between 2004 and 2019, presenting the double vision of my artistic practice: the Bianco side, and the Shock side. I prefer to quote the initial words with which Pietro Rivasi opens the critical text of Dipolo, "The Dipole, a word borrowed from physics, describes a small electrical phenomenon with a massive implication: the forces that affect the interaction between opposite charges, depending on their distance, are at the bottom of the reality with which we have to deal daily, in every field. A word that perfectly describes the artist and his poetry for several reasons. The correspondence with a psychiatric pathology mark, the bipolar disorder, allows the artist, with the irony that distinguishes him, to put in his works one of the most important factors that ensure admiration, a split personality. This trait clarifies itself within the creation of two main works, Bianco and Shock, which recall the artist’s pseudonym."
Basically, for the first time, we present my artworks divided into the two different but complementary realities that characterize my artistic DNA: on the one hand "Shock," the street-based public interventions immediately recognizable and understandable in their message. On the other hand, the conceptual works are suitable for museums and galleries exhibitions, which require interpretation and consideration on multiple layers of meaning, and deal with more complex themes, referable to the "Bianco" category; a non-color, a material to be shaped that stimulates in-depth study and experimentation.
Thirty percent of the book consists of new and unpublished projects, and it’s available in an Italian/English version. Usually, I’m very strict with myself, but this is one of the few times I can say: a good job, Fra.
Does the book feature any surprises, interventions or hacks? And how long did you work on it?
I spent more than 15 years doing urban hacking without speaking or explaining some projects. For my nature, I don't feel comfortable talking too much, so Pietro took charge of working with me for many months, starting research that would help me to understand the features of these two personalities. As for the show, the book has been a big challenge for me, since I prefer the silence and I’m a very insecure person. The same for Pietro, who in my opinion, is one of the most prepared people in the world in matters of graffiti culture. For me, the challenge was to publish a book, aware that it will receive criticism and judgments, for Pietro the challenge was to try to extrapolate from my mind the concepts and values that characterize my art.
After working together daily for 10 months, I can consider Pietro the best psychologist. And the same for Wunderkammern. In a period of editorial crisis, they risked taking charge of an independent publication of an independent artist. For this reason, in the book, I use the term Dipolo Team.
How important is the aspect of humor in the work? It's always the first thing I gravitate toward.
For me, it’s essential. It’s very difficult to render an artwork humorous. It’s difficult because we live in a meme period and the risk is that humorous becomes stupid, banal. There is a fine line between those concepts. In my opinion, it’s the best way to touch the right vibes of the public. You know, in Italy, we have a popular proverb, "Dare lo zucchero prima della pillola," which translates to, "To give sugar before the pill." My art has the same approach, humor allows me to catch the attention of the people. Then if you are able to transmit a message, you make the difference. And eventually, if you are able to stimulate a reflection by the viewer, even for a few seconds, you win.
Can you explain the recent project of Graffititricks?
The Graffitricks series includes five self-made tools, realized between 2014 and 2019, that ironize on the “getting up,” arising in the public space by writing your own name everywhere. This action, which has always been at the base of graffiti, leads writers to face the issue of being discovered, so they all have the need of figuring out a gimmick to avoid it. The series is based on this principle; giving suggestions about extreme but fun gimmicks that allow writers to do their works, tags, even in the daylight.
It’s a series of absurd and funny actions that, on the other side, underline an incredible skill of graffiti writers that is often not so evident for the audience: graffiti is the last piece of a puzzle made of action, will, interference, tactics, and technic. The graffiti writer always has to find a strategy and creative solutions to leave his name where the other ones are not able to do it.
I'm guessing conceptualization and research must be a big part of your practice. How much time do you spend on that side of your work?
Ninety percent of my time. I got a special black book that contains all the ideas that I won’t realize because, after doing research, I saw that some artists had already done something too similar before me. Research is essential for exploring new fields, topics and techniques, and it’s a useful tool to know what has already been done. One of the weaknesses for which I have been criticized, and that I accept, is the fact that my artworks are all different, risking that I never go deep into a technique or a topic. It’s absolutely true and this complicates my recognition in the Art System. But it's part of my DNA. I love learning new techniques every time and it’s the urban context that stimulates my new ideas, not the opposite. And well, to be honest, artists who always do the same thing bore me a lot.
What is the main reaction or feedback you're hoping for from the general public?
I just hope one thing, and you named it: reaction. Today the human being has less attention span than a goldfish, 8 seconds against 9 seconds. Maybe it’s time to react. One of my new projects in the show talks about this topic. And I hope to receive a lot of critics, judgments, suggestions that can help me grow. We all need confrontation, not fake and digital compliments. When I read, "Genius!" under one of my artworks, it's like saying sorry to your girlfriend after you cheated on her.
Biancoshock's Disturbe solo exhibition opens at Wunderkammern Gallery on November 27, 2019, with an opening reception from 6:30 to 9:30 pm, and is on view through December 21, 2019.