New Project Aims To Map The World's Street Art

Aug 23, 2012
Originally published on August 23, 2012 5:47 pm

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

We're gonna take a global look stroll now, looking at street art, everything from a mural of creepy pink bunnies in San Francisco to a sculpture of a brick train engine stuck in the ground in New Zealand to a street light covered with knitting in Bristol, England. It's all collected on a website and a mobile app that will launch at the end of the month. It's called Big Art Mob and it's the creation of Alfie Dennen, who joins me from London to talk about it.

Alfie, welcome to the program.

ALFIE DENNEN: Hi, thank you so much.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I've logged on now to a beta version of your Web site. You have pictures of 12,000 public artworks in your database. Why don't you take me now to one of your favorite ones?

DENNEN: I think my favorite really has to be a piece by Anthony Gormley called "The Quantum Cloud." It's 30 meters tall and it's set against the Thames. And what he did was write an algorithm which at the center of it, if you look from certain angles, you can see the image of a male form, which is his form. And it's galvanized steel. It's this enormously imposing structure, but it sits beautifully within the skyline.

BLOCK: Yeah, it's incredible. You see this huge form, this male form, in the middle of this - what looks sort of like barbed wire almost surrounding him stretching up into the clouds over the Thames.

DENNEN: You've got to see it sometimes. It's really beautiful.

BLOCK: You know, as we've been talking, Alfie, I stumbled upon something called Pixie Doors at Greenwell. And they're wonderful. They're these little, tiny painted doors that are embedded in the roots of trees. And they're, you know, places where fairies or pixies can get into their homes...

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: ...about 10 of them in Cumbria, it says

DENNEN: Yet, I think that this is the thing which excites me most about people: they can go out into the world and they can do these things which have no intention other than to delight you or me, or whoever finds them.

BLOCK: And we get a sense from this that there is a really big range of what you have here. It could be a museum piece right in a public space, a big piece of sculpture. Or a wall of graffiti, or some just little anything, anywhere - a pixie door in the middle of Cumbria.

DENNEN: Yeah, exactly. I mean, you know, we're not setting out to create a huge canonical work which defines explicitly what is and isn't art in the public realm. So pixie doors certainly, they fit right in alongside those graffiti walls whose character emerges over years and decades, all the way through to the bronze man and a horse which we all have in our towns, villages and cities.

BLOCK: Isn't curated in some way? I mean, does anything qualify or do you draw some distinctions between what gets on the app and what doesn't?

DENNEN: Well, I think if you uploaded a photo of your undoubtedly delightful kitten...

(LAUGHTER)

DENNEN: ...that would not be art. You might think so, but I think the broader community would not.

BLOCK: And do you think public attitudes toward street art or graffiti have changed over time?

DENNEN: Yeah, I think, you know, starting in the early 1980s in New York you had this enormous sort of savage attack on graffiti and street art culture, in the sense that it was linked directly to crime. And I think that that stigma that surrounds graffiti specifically, you know, it's dissipated over time. But I think that it's still largely there.

But graffiti as a form has, of course, evolved and has become, you know, one which is beautiful to look at. Which I think also is different to Johnny 505 tagging up a wall around the corner by the Wal-Mart. So I think that whilst attitudes have changed, there is the sense that maybe our policies haven't really adjusted to accommodate. And part of that is maybe that the way that we define public art is sort of - it's no longer really correct.

BLOCK: I've been talking with Alfie Dennen. He's the creator of the Big Art Mob Project, creating a database of the world's public art.

Alfie Dennen, thanks so much for talking to us.

DENNEN: Thanks so much, Melissa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.