Erasure as resistance: The street artist Blu gives back/commons the walls of Bologna

Street art doesn’t exist, there is just you and the world outside. Do what you like in the best way and think about what you are doing.

Blu, Kolah Studio Interview

Capitalism is a machine of appropriation, capturing agencies and forces through division, identification and commodification.  The commons, and the creative powers to commons, are thus placed at the service of monetary exhange.  The commons finds its ground in the generosity of nature, and within and through human life, in our collective ability to create ourselves and the worlds in which we live.  Capitalism “privatises” life for the benefit of a few, dispossessing nature’s creatures of their ability to autonomously generating ways of life.

The resistance to Capital must thus express itself in the form of a defense-creation of commons, a resistance however that is always threatened with capture; indeed, the resilience of capitalism lies precisely in its ability to mutate through appropriation, simulating and paralleling the flows of life, seducing it, trapping it, destroying it and thereby making it its own.  In this manner, the “democratic” revolutions, the contestation of workers, the rebellions of the colonised, the dissidence of the divided and marginalised populations of Capital, have all been susceptible to capture.

With history as our teacher, nothing has been more sustaining for capitalism than resistance through affirmation, for the affirmed subjectivities/agencies once identified, self-identified, can be tentatively either brought within the fold or excluded, rendered redundant, killed.  And those finally domesticated are in turn lost as autonomous agents in the only flows admitted, the flows of Capital.  Capital captures only to subsequently erase autonomy in abstract exchange value.

Before such a hydra like power, the repeated affirmations of ever new subjects of opposition, of counter-powers, are seemingly condemned to failure.  Instead then of re-enacting the gesture of radical separation, perhaps the answer lies in the absence of any affirmation, in the embracing of our own non-reality, in Bartelby like moments of refusal, of erasure.  This would not amount to passive acceptance of existing social relations, but the refusal to participate in their reproduction; a refusal that does not affirm another reality, but leaves open what realitiy or realities may come to be; a refusal that opens up/creates commons.

The gesture of erasure carried out by the artist Blu in Bologna (and earlier in Berlin), in the painting over of his art with grey, against its appropriation by the culture industry, exemplifies such refusal.

We share two texts below, the first from graffiti street, providing a brief account of the artist and his act of erasure, followed by a statement from the italian artists collective, the Wu Ming Foundation, who in collaboration with Blu, wrote the manifesto statement justifying the act.

Blu is the pseudonym of an Italian artist who conceals his real identity. He lives in Bologna and has been active in street art since 1999. Blu’s fame began in 1999, thanks to a series of illicit graffiti painted in the historical center and suburbs of Bologna, the capital of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region. In the early years of his career his used spray paint but later Blu used house hold paint where he could paint larger murals.

March 2013 saw Blu paint this huge mural in Bologna inspired by lord of the rings.

A closer look you can see characters from Star Wars such as Storm troopers and Darth Vader, Sauron as Berlusconi and even human like trees fighting over the gold ring. This piece was painted for XM24 at Via Fioravanti 24, a space in Bologna which supports peace movements, vegetarianism and anti-fascism. This was the fourth time in 10 years that the façade of XM24 had been painted, when Blu painted this mural representing the impending threat of XM24 being demolished by construction. You can see on the right XM24 defending their ground and fighting the bulldozers with watermelons, representing a peaceful fight.

Fast forward three years to March 2016 and Blu and co. can be seen erasing this mural that ultimately withstood the threat of demolition. Why?

On March 18th 2016 an exhibition called Street Art: Banksy & Co. – L’Arte allo Stato Urbano will open in Bologna, Italy. It is promoted by Genus Bononiae, a cultural output of Fondazione Carisbo, ie the most important and powerful bank foundation in town. The project stems from the desire of Professor Fabio Roversi-Monaco, President of Genus Bononiae, and a group of experts in the field of street art, aiming to “recover and preserve” the murals to save them from any other threats of demolition and save them from the ravages of time. In other words take the art directly off the streets of Bologna and privatise and sell to unscripted collectors.

It certainly makes one question their incentives, as the powerful in Bologna have now criminalised graffiti as vandalism, arrested a 16 year old boy for spray painting and demolished the street art hubs the youth culture hung around… and now they want to save the art on the streets?  Well this arrogance promoted a response and that was from Blu himself, who unwillingly features in the exhibition. Blu is erasing all the murals he painted in Bologna over the past 20 years, by painting over them in depressing grey paint.

On March 18th an exhibition called Street Art: Banksy & Co. – L’Arte allo Stato Urbano will open in Bologna, Italy. It is promoted by Genus Bononiae, a cultural output of Fondazione Carisbo, ie the most important bank foundation in town.

Some of the exhibited works of art come directly off the streets of Bologna. They have been removed from walls with the stated purpose of «salvaging them from demolition and preserving them from the injuries of time», which means turning them into museum pieces.

The patron of this project is Fabio Roversi Monaco, a former member of the Zamboni – De Rolandis masonic lodge and former Rector of the Università di Bologna from 1985 to 2000, as well as former president of Bologna Fiere and Fondazione Carisbo. Currently Roversi Monaco is the president of Banca Imi, president of the Accademia di Belle Arti and president of Genus Bononiae.

More than any other in Bologna’s recent history, Roversi Monaco’s name evokes power, money, politics… and the ensuing repressive policies. When the university celebrated its Ninth Centenary, he refused all dialogue with the students who protested the high costs of the grand gala. During the inaugural ceremony, the police kept protesters out of the hall. The event ended up with 21 demonstrators indicted. That was in 1987. Three years later, when students occupied the university to protest a law which opened up the gates for private investors, 127 students were charged and taken to court for several alleged offences.

Thus, it is not surprising to see Roversi Monaco backing those curators, conservators and promoters who, heralding their love for street art, found a good opportunity for their careers and now are using the work of other people with patronising arrogance.

It isn’t surprising, either, to see the former president of the most powerful bank foundation in town promoting the umpteenth privatisation of more and more pieces of town. This exhibition will embellish and legitimise the hoarding of art taken off the street, which is only going to please unscrupled collectors and merchants.

It isn’t surprising to see the good friend of both “centre-left” and “centre-right” politicians pretending to solve the contradictions of Bologna, a city which on the one hand criminalises graffiti, puts 16-year-old writers on trial, praises “urban decorum”, and on the other celebrates herself as the cradle of street art and wants to recuperate it for valorisation on the market.

It doesn’t matter whether the pieces removed from the walls of Bologna are two or fifty. It doesn’t matter whether those walls were part of condemned buildings or part of the landscape in the northern outskirts of town. It doesn’t even matter that seeing street art exhibited in a museum is paradoxical and grotesque. This “street art” exhibition is representative of a model of urban space that we must fight, a model based on private accumulation which commodifies life and creativity for the profits of the usual few people.

After having denounced and criminalised graffiti as vandalism, after having oppressed the youth culture that created them, after having evacuated the places which functioned as laboratories for those artists, now Bologna’s powers-that-be pose as the saviours of street art.

All this deserved a response.

The response came last night. Indeed, it keeps coming right now. One of the artists who unwillingly features in the exhibition is responding in the streets to what is being prepared in the posh rooms of Palazzo Pepoli.

Blu is erasing all the murals he painted in Bologna in the past 20 years.

We are faced with arrogant landlords who act as colonial governors and think they’re free to take murals off our walls. The only thing that’s left to do is make these paintings disappear, to snatch them from those claws, to make hoarding impossible.

Blu is being helped by the activists of two occupied social centres – XM24 and Crash. It isn’t by chance that both places are in the Navile district, an area where “citizen participation” is dead under the collapsing weight of failed housing projects and travellers’ camps are the subject of fake emergencies.

The people who take this action don’t accept that yet another shared asset is appropriated, they don’t want yet another enclosure and a ticket to buy.

The people who take this action aren’t willing to give up their work for the benefit of the same old bosses in exchange for a stool in the cosy club.

The people who take this action can tell the difference between who has money, power and the highest offices, and who deploys creativity and intelligence.

The people who take this action can still tell what’s right from what’s easy.

Wu Ming, Bologna, 11-12 March 2016
(39th anniversary of the killing of Francesco Lorusso)

Blu’s work is amply presented on the artist’s website, at  Blu’s public wall murals also complemented by video work.  We share some examples …

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