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The life of struggle for street art in St. Petersburg

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Evgeniya Altfeld, reporter: “This door to 2019 also opened a new stage of St. Petersburg’s fight to have its very own street art. It is just the case when citizens came out to protect an artist and his works. It is still alive, although lost some color because of utility workers’ attempts to paint it over”.

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It is signed by Pasha Kas. The artist from Kazakhstan recently moved to St. Petersburg, but has already become recognizable here. His latest graffiti was painted over in only a few hours. What it was and what it became. It became clear instantly what passers-by liked more – a faceless wall or a nostalgic picture. Ordinary people used coins to bring it back to life. The video became a manifest of sorts.

The “Yav” art group is the luckiest of them all. Their painting of Stephen Hawking – made to mark the Cosmonautics Day – has remained untouched. And artists are taking their time to add to it. The astrophysics formula used to study black holes had to be rectified – it carried a mistake. New paper form and a can of white spray-paint – now the formula is correct.

  • Why not Gagarin? Why Hawking?

Anastasiya Vladychkina, “Yav” art group: “We had a bit of a story with Gagarin. We tried to paint him, but passers-by called the police. Despite that it was merely an electric box. And since then someone else has painted a Gagarin elsewhere”.

Anastasiya Vladychkina is both a graffiti artist and a lawyer. Therefore, she can talk about the issue of approving graffiti in St. Petersburg like a pro.

  • We are trying to get approval from Mayakovsky’s library to paint Mayakovsky’s portrait in its backyard. Residents of the adjacent building have no qualms about it, but it is not an easy task to gather the needed paperwork. We have not even reached the Committee yet. It is difficult even for me – but imagine what ordinary artists have to go through. They need money for a lawyer – and such approval could cost up to 60 thousand rubles. And the approval is not guaranteed even then

St. Petersburg’s lawmakers have decide to legitimize street art. Such bill has already passed the initial readings and will be presented in front of the Parliament in February.

Denis Chetyrbok, deputy of St. Petersburg’s Legislative Council: “We can no longer live in a conflict – when graffiti liked by the city’s residents disappear on artificial reasons. The city’s government has to determine which places in the city are eligible for graffiti paintings. Electric boxes and power stations should be among those – because they carry no historical significance. We are also considering putting fireboxes in backyards on that list too”.

It is an interesting question – how do you make a legal distinction between street art and a splash of paint? Its really hard to judge the modern day art. There is no mechanism for that. But those behind the bill believe that the people will figure it out by themselves. For the time being, utility services are painting over everything – graffiti by established artists, splashes of spray paint and adverts.

Inessa Girko, specialist on working with landowners at real estate agency: “50-50, naturally. A lot of adverts and, certainly, teenagers write different kinds of stuff on walls. We are trying to fight it everywhere and have installed cameras at many places”.

Many residents are annoyed by the stripes, which eventually emerge on the walls, even though those are painted over by professional painters. And they try hard to match the color.

Anna Vasilyeva, painter: “Its not easy. All facades are different, the paint is old and hard to find. Even machines in stores would not always find a matching color, but we have to do it manually. Here I mixed brown, black and ochre”.

Meanwhile, St. Petersburg is being dubbed as the capital of street art. The works – like the painting of Yuriy Shevchuk – are painted over. But new ones appear in their place – like this shot from an old Soviet movie. The famous trio was rescued by the public resonance – there was even a photo-competition held in the city to support the graffiti. And here is the recent replica of a Picasso painting – Yuliana Poloz. So the lecture in St. Petersburg by the pioneer of street art – French artist OX – looks like a sign of international support. He spoke about the birth of street art back in 1984 and its current state.

OX, French graffiti artist: I believe the main thing is the artist’s personal responsibility, when one must understand what is suitable for a city where he or she works at. It is very important. And no laws can replace that. We in France know about the street artists in Russia, although we associate them with something flamboyant and pretty radical.

At St. Petersburg’s Museum of Street Art – the only one such museum in the world – holds an exhibition of works by the famous Russian graffiti artist Pasha 183, who died having left a major legacy. His friend and street art researcher Igor Ponosov says that when the artist first came to St. Petersburg, he could not find a place for a graffiti. The city is too beautiful by itself. The inner censorship is more solid than any law, but the dialogue between an artist and the streets should remain free – according to the expert.

Igor Ponosov, researcher of modern art: “If we are talking about street art, then it’s illegal and unregulated art - by default. And there should be no talk about legalizing it. If we do – it won’t be street art anymore, but something else”

  • So you don’t want it to be legalized?

  • No, I don’t.

The nature of street art lies in its non-conditionality. They want to paint it over – let them, says Igor Ponosov. There’s no issue in street art’s disappearance into thin air – like the famous “angel wings” at a bus stop, which was also the work of Pasha 183. But persecuting street art is like persecuting history. Because street art also existed in the Soviet days – there are still monumental placards and decorations at the size of a building. Like this laborer on the factory building. And right underneath him – a modern-day painting. Two epochs of street art on the same wall are sending one message – street art has simply changed its form.

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