Even the world of illegal art has rules of conduct. Falling Whistles, a charity that raises awareness of the ravages of war in the Congo, recently completed a street art postering campaign in Downtown Los Angeles. The only problem? They pasted their posters over the "Only Time Will Tell" mural on 2nd and Garey, which was created in July and has since become a mainstay of the downtown arts district and Los Angeles graffiti culture in general.
Falling Whistles hosted a pasting party on September 27th featuring "Free booze, food trucks, good music & street-art" as tweeted by Falling Whistles founder and occasional Huffington Post blogger, Sean Carasso. The tweet has since been taken down. In an apparently unintentional snub to the original mural, volunteers and revelers proceeded to systematically paste images of Congo war protesters over the large wall.
After the pasting was completed, a heated twitter feud began. One of the original artists, Revok, wrote on his twitter, "There are 1000's of walls in LA. Why destroy a great mural done by 10 international artists? get your own fucking wall." In the world of graffiti, it is considered an act of agression to intentionally cover up another person's piece. The move has been interpreted as a slight to the original artists, the L.A. graffiti scene and, according to some commentators, graffiti as a whole.
The mural, created upon Revok's release from jail, is based around the single phrase, "Only Time Will Tell." The large wall was divided into four sections to represent the seasons and the passage of time, and an international network of writers came together to complete the impressive display. As stated on fellow MSK artist Saber's twitter, "There was roughly a combined 85,000 miles of distance traveled in order to accomplish that wall......"
An underlying thread in this heated debate has been the growing tension between graffiti and street art. While the Falling Whistle charity would hardly be representative of the street art movement in general, this oversight is consistent with perception that street art is more accessible or publicly accepted than graffiti.
The two movements were cut from the same cloth, especially this latest iteration of street art that dates back to San Francisco's Mission School in the 1990s; however, street art has recently enjoyed a warm reception in the gallery scene. Graffiti continues to play the underdog without receiving the critical acclaim of artists like Banksy and Swoon, despite the fact that members of MSK and the larger graffiti community were featured prominently at the recent Art In The Streets exhibition at MOCA. Tension between the two realms can be cut with a knife and this latest incident is emblematic of the ongoing conflict.
Despite the brewing turmoil between graffiti and street art, the two parties involved in the argument appear to be creating a unified front to come up with a solution. Falling Whistles' Sean Carasso told the Huffington Post,
"When the wall on 2nd and Garey was donated to us, we were told that the beautiful mural on it was scheduled to be sandblasted clean in the next 2 months. Before that took place we wanted to use it to make a statement of solidarity in the community... It was never our intention to disrespect the artists and supporters of MSK. We love the art in our community and treasure the freedom to express beliefs through this medium. The point was to elevate the heroism of protest. In the end, we were not thorough enough. We should have found a way to communicate directly with the artists. We screwed up. FW [Falling Whistles] is working with the MSK crew toward a common solution. We can only hope that any negative attention will not detract from purpose: publicly standing up for peace in Congo."
Daniel Lahoda, director and curator for the L.A. Freewalls Project, was on the attack after Falling Whistles completed their postering campaign, but has since refocused on an even deeper issue; the need for a mural policy in Los Angeles. Lahoda told the Huffington Post,
"I think that as unfortunate as this situation is, the community will be best served by understanding that this is the natural result in a community without any real public art policy... In the past month alone, we have witnessed 4 hand-painted murals in LA destroyed by Advertising projects posing as mural campaigns. If there were a proper permitting process and 'time, place, manner' restrictions, then everyone would have a clear understanding of what is acceptable in the community and what is expected by residents and Artists alike.
This unfortunate series of events, underscores the need for proper public mural policy in Los Angeles. It's unfortunate that this happened, however Sean Carasso and Falling Whistles are actively engaged in making it right with the artists and the community."
Despite the words that have been exchanged and the actions taken, the parties involved are now focusing on a common enemy, the moratorium on murals in Los Angeles. If you would like to learn more about the LA's ban on murals and public art, there is a detailed account of the city's troubled history with public art on Saber's blog here.