Loading: Street Art in the Digital Age

Written by Giulia ‘BLocal’ Riva

Think back to the last exhibition you visited. It probably featured artists with a background in street art or graffiti. You likely saw canvases, sculptures, screen prints, or designer toys that were infused with an urban vibe. Yet, what you saw wasn’t the raw essence of street art -and, even less so, of graffiti- which are filled with adrenaline, movement, and action. It’s about the paint dripping onto shoes, fingernails stained from spray cans, and the bold act of being a vandal in public spaces. It’s about artists claiming public spaces as their canvas -not about just canvases.

When you no longer require physical works because you build your narrative based on digital imagery, everything becomes possible. You can work with images produced by others, assembling them into a kind of documentary, or you can take images created by artists through photographs, videos, or even entirely new digital creations to craft immersive experiences that convey what urban art is, all without showcasing physical objects like paintings or sculptures, which are meant for the art market in the first place” says Christian Omodeo about Loading: Street Art in the Digital Age, the show he passionately curated for the Grand Palais Immersif in Paris.

“It’s about artists claiming public spaces as their canvas -not about just canvases.”

Hailing from Rome and a Parisian by choice since 2004, Christian Omodeo manages Le Grand Jeu, an independent bookshop focused on street cultures, while simultaneously curating exhibitions on graffiti and street art. Notably, he curated the RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: Racing for Thunder exhibition in 2018 at Red Bull Arts in New York, among other successful shows, before venturing into his first immersive exhibition, Loading: Street Art in the Digital Age.

This exhibition offers an engaging experience that goes beyond the usual by showcasing the dynamic act of painting, something audiences rarely see. It transcends traditional canvas limitations, surrounding viewers with a 360-degree artistic journey. Unlike typical urban art exhibitions that cater to the general public with figurative and eye-catching artworks hinting at street culture, this immersive show focuses on the essence of urban art: the action. Moreover, by challenging conventional exhibition norms and embracing digital art, the exhibition introduces artists previously excluded from urban art shows for not adapting their graffiti to gallery-friendly formats like canvases.

“It transcends traditional canvas limitations, surrounding viewers with a 360-degree artistic journey.”

The exhibition begins with an enthralling film montage that takes visitors on a journey through the evolution of urban art, starting from the gritty streets of 1970s and 1980s New York to the vibrant scenes of today. This montage is displayed across a massive space, featuring a main wall that spans 30 meters wide and side walls that extend 13 meters, all soaring up to a height of 12 meters. The collection of video clips, drawn from various sources, effectively creates a documentary of urban art, offering viewers a comprehensive 360-degree perspective, quite literally.

In addition to stunning photography transformed into video installations — including iconic images captured by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant in New York, as well as contemporary works by a new generation of photographers chronicling street art and graffiti worldwide — another highlight of the exhibition is the projection of graffiti letters onto concrete walls. These animated graffiti pieces evoke the concept of GIF-ITI, pioneered by INSA, where graffiti is designed in stages to create a fluid animation effect. This innovative approach is a testament to how digital technology has continually influenced graffiti and street art.

On a deeper layer, the exhibition delves into a critical aspect: the significant influence of technology on urban art through the years, highlighting how digital advancements have revolutionized the genre. It’s undeniable that there’s a growing trend among street artists to create works with an online audience in mind, aiming for a far larger viewership on the web than the traditional passersby on the streets. Since its inception, the internet has transformed the operational landscape for numerous artists, notably Banksy, who emerged as a trailblazer in harnessing the viral potential of social media.

As you browse through Instagram next time, consider how many artworks were created with the internet audience in mind, rather than for the locals. From grand rooftop murals that can only be appreciated through drone photography, to pieces hidden within picturesque yet unreachable abandoned buildings, and the crowd-pleasing anamorphic works—a graffiti method that produces an image which seems proportionate and normal only from a certain viewpoint or via a particular lens, yet appears bizarre and disjointed to everyday passersby. The epitome of visual clutter, in my opinion.

Loading: Street Art in the Digital Age is not just a showcase of digital innovation within street art; it’s a commentary on the shifting landscapes of creativity and consumption. As the world braces for the next wave of change with the advent of AI, this exhibition stands as a testament to the transformative power of technology on urban art. It captures a pivotal moment in the evolution of street art, offering a glimpse into a future where the digital and the physical converge, redefining the essence of what it means to be an artist in both the urban and digital environments.

Loading: Street Art in the Digital Age is not just a showcase of digital innovation within street art; it’s a commentary on the shifting landscapes of creativity and consumption.”

Christian Omodeo’s Loading is more than an exhibition; it’s a declaration that in the age of digital ubiquity, street art continues to evolve, challenging us to reconsider our perceptions of public space, artistry, and the digital frontier.

 

Photos by Paolo Giannotti @giannotti_paolo

Giulia ‘BLocal’ Riva is a writer and content creator on a mission to unveil the artistic and rebellious heart of cities. She creates content for creative enterprises and museums, and her writing was published in street art catalogs and art publications. Since 2011, she has run the independent street art blog “BLocal”, which has become the media partner of important street art festivals around Europe. Rooted in the ethos of “Be Local,” she spends long periods in different cities around Europe, narrating their tales from the perspective of the locals on her blog. Over the years, she has worked and written for museums, art galleries, tour operators, street art festivals, magazines, websites, travel guidebooks, publishers, urban art blogs, and DMOs.