A CONVERSATION OVER A CUP OF COFFEE
Name: and Anja Zver
A: Let's start off with your first nanograffiti-related project. You created project Nanotag during an exhibition in the Swiss town of Lausanne in 2015. Why did you decide for such an approach, what made you choose this rather scientific method of creating graffiti art?
N: With me it is always about trying to push the limits of graffiti, about exploring how far a graffiti can go. With nanograffiti, I specifically like the kind of satirical situation that it creates: graffiti artists usually tend to go for always bigger and bigger, whereas I went for the minimum. I also think it's extremely interesting when you have the chance to try on new technologies and explore the borders of what can be done. The project reaches beyond the field of graffiti art, it aims to be a reflection on what modern technology enables us to do. With the use of nanotechnology, I could also be creative in other media.
A: That's true. Size does have special significance when it comes to graffiti.
N: Of course. With nanograffiti, it is all about the fact that only a specific audience is going to even see these works; these will be people that are interested in street art and graffiti. This kind of graffiti art is able to appear on locations, which would be harder to access for conventional graffiti makers, or it can appear on "transient locations", from where classic graffiti would be removed in a few hours.
A: Already in Lausanne you worked on such locations. You were at the city castle and...
N: In Lausanne I worked at the city castle and fortress. But I did not get to choose the locations there myself, they were selected by the curator. His choice of locations got me thinking. In a while I realized I can actually make nanograffiti even on the most iconic of locations. For the Lausanne exhibition, I wanted to work on the most busy locations, and connect them to social networks like Instagram and Twitter. I came across a platform that showed who were the most active Instagram and Twitter users within a certain radius of a selected location, who had the most followers, and so on. But after some consideration, I abandoned the idea.
A: For the Kibla project, you created nanograffiti on iconic locations across twelve European cities. You went for a real graffiti tour, and these are actually quite common among graffiti artists ...
N: It's called interrail travel – named after the (fake) Interrail passes that were used for free travelling across Europe by train. By now, the level of controlling the tickets has increased, and only few people choose to travel in this way, but the expression interrail travel has stuck.
It is important for young graffiti artists at the beginning of their careers to be able to collect as many locations as possible, to meet other graffiti makers and create their own network of friends. With others, who have a few years of experience behind them, the motivation for making such a journey is often different: many times, they are on the most-wanted list in their home towns, and, if they are still very active, they are often also facing charges (incarceration, fines). This is why they go to work to other cities.
A: Was nanograffiti part of your way of emphasizing the point, that while abroad you are invisible to public authorities that are looking for you back home?
N: Not really. It was more about working on locations that are otherwise off limits. In the end, I didn't even actually put my graffiti on the sites themselves; I did my work next to the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, next to Tate Gallery in London, next to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. I didn't go on the actual arch mainly because of the visual effect, which I can now achieve by documenting the nanograffiti. If my graffiti was directly on the Arc de Triomphe, it would be much more difficult to present to the audience the environment, in which it was created. But in this way, I was able to capture the panorama shot of the surroundings with my camera. The graffiti on the lamp next to the Arc de Triomphe is still occupying a rather impressive spot, with no graffiti nearby, as they are unwelcome there.
A: ... and so you went on to create a graffiti that cannot be seen (laughing). So it blends in perfectly with the clean surroundings.
N: Even if my graffiti cannot be seen, it is still out there and it hasn't been removed. It can, however, only be seen using specific equipment, by the individuals interested in graffiti and those that want to see it. The nanograffiti will stay there forever, and it will be visible with the help of an app connecting to the internet. In the future, I am hoping to produce my own application for watching nanograffiti, but until then, these street art works will be available through existing AR apps and QR-code readers.
A: For each of the cities that you visited, you also selected a humorous, playful inscription, something that fits your own view of that place or sums up some of the adventures you experienced there.
N: Mhm. They refer to the locations where I placed my graffiti. They are satirical messages; my approach is no longer about egocentric signs, I don't repeat my tag name everywhere, these signs represent my personal views about a certain place.
In London, Jure Kastelic told me the story of the origin of the name of one of Britain's national art galleries, named after the Tate family. The Tates were and still are among the greatest sugar cane importers in Britain, they were also historically known as great lovers of art, who donated many works of art to the state. Because I did one of my nanograffiti nearby Tate, Jure came up with the perfect slogan, "Sugar daddy".
A: In Lyon, your nanograffiti "Mine is smaller than yours" referred to a situation that took place during your visit. So, what was the story?
N: In Lyon, I met a guy who told me that his father, a biologist, has also created a nanograffiti by putting his signature on the cells that he studied. He showed me the photograph, claiming that the graffiti created by his father was smaller in size. And then I took out my photo of the graffiti I made in Lausanne, checked it to make sure how many microns was the size of his image and that of my own, and said 'no, no, no, look, mine is smaller than yours.' In my most recent series I went on to produce an even smaller piece than any of my earlier ones.
This is also the title of the exhibition (Mine is smaller than yours, KiBela 2018).
A: Right, I suggested this as the title for the exhibition, because it captures the essence of the graffiti subculture and its characteristics. It is a play on competitiveness and street rivalry, on the banter, humorousness and wit associated with graffiti. How do you interpret the sign "Mine is smaller than yours", in the sense of an exhibition motto?
N: What you said is true. I think the title is interesting, because it allows everyone to interpret it in their own way. It is not all about competition on the graffiti/street art scene. The project also involves other artists, whose work is related to the graffiti subculture, and who mostly work in the field of contemporary art. I invited them to create their own smallest graffiti, and thus contribute to the project.
A: This is the second set of nanograffiti that were created and will continue to be created as part of the exhibition in the city of Maribor. The exhibition is set up in two parts.
N: The first part is a sort of a presentation on what nanograffiti is. It is the documentation exhibited at the gallery space.
A: Exactly. These are two interactive video projections, a trailer from my trip across Europe, and a map marking the locations of nanograffiti in Maribor.
N: The second part are the graffiti on Maribor's streets. The idea is to get people out of the gallery space, into the environment, where graffiti actually exists. This is why the graffiti in the gallery space itself is presented as an intermedia project, and is not painted onto the wall.
The nanograffiti in Maribor were made by different authors; these are all people that I've met and have been following their projects. Danilo created a rectangle with the same proportions as that of a jumbo poster, with the sign "Space for your advertisement" inside. He opened up a new way of considering the possible uses of nanotechnology.
A: Would you say this is still a graffiti?
N: Yes, it's still a graffiti. Why?
A: It just made me think of the definition of the term: graffiti is supposedly an inscription, a written piece with emphasis on the development of typology and lines. With Danilo's nanograffiti, however, as well as with many others, it seems to be more about the idea, i.e., the concept. Apart from this unconventional approach, by doing nano-sized graffiti you are already altering the process of creating a graffiti.
N: Not really. It is not the process of creating a graffiti that is altered. With graffiti, the documentation is what is important: a record that confirms that it exists and that you made it, because it is going to disappear with time, like for example, graffiti that has been removed from a train. What is left, is a photograph, and a similar kind of thing happens with nanograffiti; I have the records proving that I made it, I have a photograph that was made in a laboratory, but you just can't see my graffiti out on the street with your naked eye.
A: It was precisely this part that I was aiming at earlier on: the graffiti were made in a nanotechnology center, inside a laboratory. A place, where you significantly change the process of creating graffiti. Traditionally, graffiti is created using spray paints and applying them to the walls of a train or some other surface. But working inside a lab with a scientist is something else, you have a lot of time to make your piece.
N: That's true, traditional graffiti means that you have a limited time to paint a piece of concrete or metal surface on the street. But in many ways, what I'm doing is identical to classic graffiti approaches, except I don't spray, now I have a diamond blade, I saw little pieces in the street and use them to make moulds which can be reproduced by casting, then I color them and finally make my graffiti in the lab. My spray today is the Focus Ion Beam, a machine at the lab (laughing). In the end, I take my graffiti and move it back to the street.
A: Does this machine apply colors or is it a laser?
N: The two of us (author's note: Name: and dr. Gregor Kapun) apply materials onto the pieces, for example carbon, which gives them a flat surface, onto which we then engrave, we make incisions using ion beam technology. For comparison, this procedure is now entirely different than it was with the Lausanne nanograffiti. We changed it so we could have more whites and blacks, a greater graphite contrast, and with it the possibility of creating incredibly detailed nanograffiti art. With earlier versions, we were engraving directly into a piece of wall.
Well, it's true to say that we tried to engrave here as well, but the problem was the epoxy I used to cast the pieces. When you look at epoxy with your naked eye, it is clear, you cannot see the air bubbles inside it. Once you place it under a microscope, you can see there's giant holes.
A: So then these cave-like shapes gave me the feeling I was looking at your personal guide markings on some other planet...
N: Well, they weren't caves, the caves are gone, because I epoxy-painted them. Now you have mountains.
A: I see (laughing).
From this interview and judging from your previous projects I can see that you are interested in ways of moving (street art) from the streets into the gallery space, and vice versa.
N: I like playing around with ways of presenting the documentation of a piece of graffiti, of a certain project. At the exhibition in Kibla we will use sensors to create an interactive video, which will help to create a sense of depth of the nano-space. This is not a conventional record of a graffiti work of art, it is not a photograph of a graffiti; it is about being able to move closer towards the invisible nano-space, which you would not normally be familiar with. The video in the projection takes you to that dimension. Well, we'll see how it works (laughing). I hope it'll turn out great! For now, these are just theories, but I think it's going to work out.
The second project you would probably like to hear about, is the photograffiti project in Novo mesto.
A: Indeed. Project Kar je tu je tam (What's here is there) is your first project to directly connect an institutional space and the occupation of an outer public space, as part of your efforts as an artist, someone working in the field of culture. At the Simulaker Gallery, there was also no traditional photo- or video-documentation. It is as if your desire, the necessity to document something as ephemeral as a graffiti, becomes an inseparable part of a project, or even an entirely independent project, which can be presented at a gallery.
N: With the project Kar je tu je tam (What's here is there) I wanted to explain to people what graffiti is through the processes of a different medium. While working in the streets, I used no graffiti art materials, but went through the process of creating a photograph; I used chemicals, which I applied onto walls and developed photographs. What happened is that people did not understand there was a photograph on the wall, because it was a mirror image turned upside-down. It was a negative. This is why I call this "photograffiti", it uses the purest form of photograph, just like it was recorded by the camera, but people fail to recognize it. Everyone sees photographs as positive images. And in the context of a street environment, up there on a wall, the photograph is incomprehensible – in the same way that someone can't make sense of a graffiti artist's tag name, if they're not part of that particular subculture.
In the gallery space I used a camera obscura to create a new photograffiti, in which the other photograffiti was visible, from the wall across the gallery entrance. The latter was now turned right and more recognizable; it became a positive. Inside the gallery space I present things in a comprehensible manner – like graffiti is often presented in galleries, i.e., legibly – whereas in the street, the works are there for the expert public.
A: Have you made any other similar projects?
N: Yes, an installation and a performance including the audience, titled Nič ni večno (Nothing lasts forever), at the Museum of Architecture and Design (MAO). I pointed to the transient nature of graffiti and to the importance of documentation. At the time, the exhibition was being set up in MAO's new gallery space in the building's attic, where the floor was covered in dust. I asked them not to clean part of the space where my works would be shown, so that I could write into the dust "Nothing lasts forever". Next to the sign I placed some cleaning tools (a vacuum cleaner, a broom, a wet cloth), and the audience intervened into my graffiti. They could decide for themselves whether to wipe it off or leave it.
A: In the end let me ask you, whom have I been talking to today? You have gone through a few graffiti tag names.
N: You were talking to Name:.
A: Does the name Name: have a background story?
N: Yes. Name: is still a name and not a name at the same time. I never put my signature under those interventions in a city that were the most meaningful to me. What mattered most was the fact that the project was executed and documented well, but it didn't matter so much who I was. Name: became my nickname, which allows me to be "nobody", but at the same time I still have my name, because sometimes I need it.
A: And what kind of projects does Name: have in store for the future?
N: All good stuff. There are a few new projects that I've been working on. For some time now I have been working on the idea of underwater graffiti. I am currently experimenting with what kind of materials are suitable for underwater work. I am getting quite close to my goal, and I think soon I will be able to show off my underwater project. I don't want to get into too much detail at this point, as the project is still officially in the development stage. What I can say is that it will be an underwater graffiti project, which will be more closely linked to the graffiti subculture of the 1970s and 80s. People are generally more attracted by the idea of an underwater graffiti as such, how I am going to make it and so on, but personally I find the other part of the story much more interesting, the part about tradition in graffiti art.
There are other projects I am working on as well, but I suggest we discuss them once they have been realized.