Urban artist Armsrock restates the qualities of artistic drawings and transfers them into urban contexts. Known for his life-sized drawings of humans at the edges of societies, he glues his drawings on paper on buildings and walls in city environments. As observations and statements they become ephemeral part of public space and community. Armsrock took some time out to give us this exclusive interview in the run up to The Thousands art exhibition. Check it out! When did yo... (continued)
Urban artist Armsrock restates the qualities of artistic drawings and transfers them into urban contexts. Known for his life-sized drawings of humans at the edges of societies, he glues his drawings on paper on buildings and walls in city environments. As observations and statements they become ephemeral part of public space and community. Armsrock took some time out to give us this exclusive interview in the run up to The Thousands art exhibition. Check it out! When did you first realize that art could become a full time career for yourself? Was your choice to become an artist something that was regularly embraced; given your talents during or was it something often frowned upon by your parents and teachers who told you being an artist wasn't a "real" job. I have always received an immense amount of support from at home in regards to doing art. In that way you could say that I come from a very stimulating environment. But art was not as much a âcareer choiceâ for me, as it was just always there. I have been drawing for as long as I can remember, and some before that. I think that drawing was always a direct extension of playing for me, it was a medium through which I dealt with things, told stories, created worlds and explored their possibilities. I believe that we all start drawing at the same time in our lives, I have in fact never met anybody who didn't draw as a child, and I find it quite interesting, it is something almost instinctive in us, the description of things through a visual language, often coming before the spoken or written one is developed at all. But I think that it is not as much a matter of when we start as when we stop. In most cases this happens around the teenage years, when we also stop playing, and drawing, as a part of that, is often replaced by other things. I just continued. As said, I grew up in a very stimulated environment, not just receiving this encouragement and inspiration from at home, but also from my circle of friends. I was raised in an activist environment where creative expression and DIY attitude was a very present thing, and through this I found a validity in drawing, a purpose. But again here, the choice was not to establish a career with it, it was something that like most things we did back then, existed completely outside of commerce. Over the last couple of years I have begun âmaking a livingâ off the things I do, and there are certain problematic aspects about this. Turning the playful joy of creating something into the attempt to create a object of commodity, a thing that can be bought and sold. Art is something that every society has always had and needed, and in that sense, making art is a job like any other eg. Making houses, and I am not a purist in the sense that I think that art can and should right now exist completely outside of the capitalist system. But I think it is important to be analytic and critical about the consequences of the âcommodificationâ taking place through the art market. If art is a job, the then artist should be paid, but there is something problematic in the way the market is bloated, the way that it so perfectly portraits capitalist fetishism. Now the question is: can we create art that survives within capitalism while also thumping its nose at the same system that feeds is? Can we be critical of the spectacle while playing out our part in it? What is the art scene like in Denmark right now? How has your art work been received over there? Through the last six years I have been living in germany, and I have just recently moved back to copenhagen, so my knowledge and foothold in the danish art scene is very rudimentary. My immediate feeling is that it is very much like denmark itself, very cosy, very comfortable. Dont get me wrong, there are a lot of people out there doing very very good things, but there is a general tone in the âart sceneâ (what are we actually talking about here? The galleries? The museums? The underground?) of bubblegum cosiness, things are best if they makes us smile a little, overtly critical things are having a very hard time finding founding, and people generally go where the money is. Most of the art I have been looking at there, since moving back, has mainly been art examining the subject of art. It becomes a little too much snake eats tail for my taste, the âart sceneâ is an exclusive and secluded enough colony on its own accord already without it being necessary for it to remove itself even more from the society it exists within. Like most street artists, you've decided to work under an alias. In your opinion what are the pro's and con's of using an alias rather then putting your work out there under your real name? How did you get the nickname Armsrock? Working under an alias is not a new thing in art history altogether, and not just within the segment of it that has been doing art in the urban landscape. My fascination of it is connected to an idea of identity as something flexible rather than static. I think that that which I regard as me is a thing made up of many different fragments, and a thing constantly in flux. Many of these fragments are something socially inherited and some of these are beyond my control, others are not. Every morning when I wake up, I gather all of those fragments which makes out âmeâ, and when looking at this task as something I can actively participate in rather than something that just happens, I am suddenly given a whole new range of opportunities, and responsibilities. âArmsrockâ is perhaps an as real and as fictional construct as that which we could call my âactual identityâ. In the start it was like a box, where I could put in what I wanted and put the things that didn't fit in elsewhere, but with all constructions like this, it has through time taken on a life of its own. The name is a made up construct, but dont we, through social dynamic, make up each other, together? What is your opinion on graffiti art despite the negative stigma that it seems to carry? I think that graffiti is in its essence the most ancient art-form that we know, that and perhaps storytelling. But the two of them very much go together I my eyes. It is something so integrated in human society and the urban landscape that I cannot think of either without it. I think that it is to a large extend being stigmatized because it is beyond our understanding; sociologist, anthropologists, art critics and historians can analyse it all they want, but it is and will remain a culture exclusively for those practising it. And this I don't see as a bad thing, because anybody who wants to can practise it, it is exclusive while not being excluding. It is the urban tribe, existing with its own set of codes and signals, its own rituals and language. And I think that it is extremely important that these âpart-culturesâ exist and are given space to fight the mono-cultural tendencies in our society. It is also one of, if not the, art phenomenons that has been spread globally the fastest. You find it absolutely everywhere, and I think that this alone grants it a justification. People all over the globe are doing it, âfor the hell of itâ, some give it more thought than others, but I think that there is something similar in everybody's drive to do this, write on walls. It is also something that can never really be tamed, it will simply not function inside a gallery. The same I think goes for that which we today define as âstreet-artâ, the word itself is even defined by its setting. It cannot be transported into a gallery or museum space without turning into something else, and there is something intensely beautiful about the elusiveness of this. A thing that has to remain wild or perish. I get the distinct feeling that your work seems to portray the society we live in and make a statement about it. With your art work being very specific and focusing on people, you've depicted issues of both poverty and war, as well as this sense of the general middle class working life. Do you think people will look at your work and see a reflection of their own lives and the world around them? Is this intentional? I cannot foresee what others will see in my work, I portray that which I see, but I do try to do this with empathy. I take what I know, how it is to be me, and try to use that to make something about others (for a fact I don't think that we can ever really imagine what it is like to be anybody else...but does that strive against my idea of flexible identity?) I think that one of the functions of art is to analyse the society and time it exists within and do this critically. Art cannot solve problems, but direct attention to them. When working in the urban environment it is very important for me to create works that are âeye-levelâ with the people whom I want to communicate with, and making something that people can identify with, making something that serves as an abstract reflection of a thing we all know helps this. I try to use my work to create space for people who are granted non, and to raise questions about the mechanisms and structures of the urban society. It has very much been a project on the beauty and horror that is right outside my door. The work that I have been doing on war and violence has very much been taking place indoors and not on the street. When I first started to get the offers to work in galleries and museums, I had to relate to this new kind of space, which is so much more secluded and class segregated than the streets are. And I had to figure out what topics it could be important dealing with in these spaces. On the street I had so far been dealing with my very immediate reality, the people that surrounds me on a daily basis. But another side of my immediate reality is what is going on in the rest of the world right now, through neo-imperialist markets structures, the wars that follows them and new communication technology we are all very much connected on a global level. I have been trying to work with some of the things that seem to stand as human constants in the connection and interaction between people, such things as power and vulnerability, exploitation and violence. Summarize the process you go through from conceiving a new idea to then making it into a new piece and getting it out there. How do you choose your locations etc? It differs from what I am doing. Right now I am making a new series of things for the street, and for that I have mainly been finding locations and then working out imagery that fits to these. My earlier approach was to go out and look at people, then create imagery from that which I saw and then find locations for it. I am right now in Eindhoven doing just that, making a âvisual mappingâ of the city, a notebook on impressions of its citizens, that will be formulated as etchings on over-sized dia slides that are going to be used for a series of mobile light-projections in the city. When working indoors it is a little different. I have just done a project in a museum in athens where I was very much trying to relate the architecture of the museum, to the history of the town and the country, and again this to the thematics that I was working with. There I was working in a passage area between the new and the old wing of the museum, so I figured that it would be a good choice to work with ancient and contemporary history of athens, and because of the predefined nature of the location (the passage way) I wanted to give it the form of a procession, which is also a very common theme in classical greek art. I enjoy the site and time specificness of the works, because it always forces me to do a fair amount of research and that way I am constantly expanding my horizon, one way or the other. In my opinion your art work best suites the dirty brick walls and cracking pavements, simply because they seem to breathe life into the otherwise deteriorating side streets. How have you found the experience of putting your art work into modern galleries etc. Do you think your art work creates the same affect that it has out on the streets? As mentioned before I think that the two spaces can never hold the same effect and therefor not sustain the same kind of work (it would simply not BE the same kind of work) for me it is important to relate myself to the location that I am working in, be that inside or outside, and in my experience the two different places, and the thoughts that goes into dealing with them, are constantly in correspondence. So the work is for me not meant to have the same effect, each different venue that I get to explore holds a different set of possibilities and challenges. There are some basic things that seem to stand clear to me, the gallery - and to a certain extend also the museum space is most commonly part of a class-segregated and commercial structure, while the street is most commonly outside of this structure. There are of cause all kinds of exceptions to this, when we are talking âstreet-artâ are we then only talking about things that are illegal? What about sponsored projects? And government funded projects? What if that which is taking place in doors is dealing more with the urban space than that which I found out doors? Does work on the street automatically achieve an artistic value by being there? Could we take a more general discussion about the terms âinside and outsideâ? Have you ever been caught or find yourself in a sticky situation? I have never been caught for doing what I do now, lets just put it that way. What is the key to keeping your work and ideas fresh and not getting mentally or physically burnt out by what you do? I don't think that there is one general key to it, everybody deals with it individually and differently. I find that I am constantly creating structures to keep focused and developing, and I am at the same time trying to deconstruct these structures to challenge how I think and work. One of the things that I find important to do right now is living chronologically, one day after the other, else it simply becomes too much. I find joy in exploring little things, the daily work, the rituals and routines. Quite often it is really quite mundane, very much just manual labour, but I think even these times are extremely important. We are often in a space where life is defined by its high and low points, but what about all of that which is in between? Finally, whats next for you? In terms of any new projects you have or any aspirations you have in life that you would still like to work toward and achieve. Is there anyone you'd like to give a shout out to? As I said, right now I am making a project that is working with light and projection, and this is something completely new to me, and something that I would very much like to continue exploring. There is a whole range of new spaces that is being opened up through this material. I am also making new things for a series of interventions in copenhagen. Moving back there has been a very important change for me, and I have been trying to formulate a project around what this leaving and returning has done to the way I view this specific city. It is going to mean a change in certain ways I have been doing things on the street, and that is only for the better. I have not been doing work outside for the last couple of months because I found that I was getting caught in the repetition of habits, and I needed to rethink my approach to thematic and form. But I think that I am at a place now where I want to start again. When I am not doing that I am making a project about newspapers and history, brainstorming on a thing involving theatre and and film, and in general just trying to get at least seven hours of sleep. Be sure to check out more from Armsrock by visiting his official website here The Thousands will be open from November 18th through the 22nd of November at Village Underground in London (54 Holywell Lane, London, EC2A 3PQ). A companion book will be published by Drago Lab to commemorate the event. Keep checking back next week for an exclusive interview with founder and creator of The Thousands - Michael Rushmore himself.
ArmsrockAaron HuntGraffitiThe ThousandsArtInterview