Grafitti and Street Art: advancements of the decade

Experiments with graffiti, street art and technology, from the archive to present day

In the departing month of 2014 the University College London hosted a three day international conference. The event was part of a research project - the subject: 'Looking at the impact of street art and graffiti on places and communities' - a symposium that questioned value, creativity and control in relation to the artform.


The event sought to 'review the futures of legal and illegal on-street visual practices', and what's clear is that, love it or hate it, the practice of graffiti and street art has evolved. It's now an academic matter, to be discussed amongst professors too. And what was once a creative by-product of the anti-establishment, is now too a studied and scrutinised subject on the lips of academics. 


After reading their presentations and listening to Grafitti Sessions' recorded lectures and discussions, between artists, writers, community members, urban managers, academics and policy makers, we were enthused to look again, and to explore some of the technological and social advancements related to the art.


In this endeavor, to discover what's been going on, we did a bit of 'desk based research', around the subject, and quickly fell upon EyeWriter: a groundbreaking project from back in the day, which is well documented on the net, and is already over ten years old.


And so it began, in 2003, when LA graffiti artist, writer, publisher and activist, Tempt1 was diagnosed with ALS, a disease which left him almost completely paralysed - but for his eyes. From his tragic illness, though, something amazing grew - a dedicated group, which led to the invention of EyeWriter.


EyeWriter was developed by a core team - members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks, and the Graffiti Research Lab: Tempt1, Evan Roth, Chris Sugrue, Zach Lieberman,Theo Watson and James Powderly.


The international team worked together to create a low-cost, open source eye-tracking system that would allow ALS patients to write and make images using just their eyes. The long-term goal was to create a professional/social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists and ALS patients from around the world that use local materials and open source research to creatively connect and make 'eye art'.


Tempt1 himself said, “Art is a tool of empowerment and social change, and I consider myself blessed to be able to create and use my work to promote health reform, bring awareness about ALS and help others.



Bringing us forward to 2014 Designers Block, we were introduced to a different line of graffiti-inspired experimentation in the work of our next graffiti technologist, Effie Koukla, designer of edible, nontoxic spray paint.


EXTRACT art products were born from an exploration into graffiti, specifically from research into health & safety and sustainability issues relating to graffiti equipment such as spray paint. The challenge was to replace petroleum based art products with safe and eco-friendly products derived from natural and sustainable sources. The thinking behind EXTRACT is to replace dangerous components in paints with biodegradable ingredients that users can literately consume. In this way the products become totally safe for the user in case of contact with the skin, ingestion or inhalation. EXTRACT’s revolutionary formula has been applied to three different art products, demonstrating several potential applications. All the products are permanent and odourless, and no mask or other type of protection is required during their use. The products are safe for use by all, including children and those with respiration problems. EXTRACT art products are environmentally friendly and, as they are not considered a hazardous chemical waste but as household waste, improve the chemical footprint of art products.



There's more. Artist Antonin Fourneau has ventured into LED and electronics with his public art piece Water Light Grafitti. As a digital artist he came up with the idea during a break he was taking in a park in Bejing, where he saw a man drawing calligraphy on the ground with water. This popular technique, called Dishu, appeared at the beginning of the 1990s. Watching and doing ‘enlightening’ projects with students and spending time in the electronic quarter, which is full of LEDs, made him think of the idea for Water Light Graffiti in April 2012 and he made the first model of Water Light in his hotel room in Beijing. - Sourced at AMA


In a recent interview with AMA he said:


"Water Light is perfect for mothers; it doesn’t make walls dirty. I’m not anti-Street Art, for me it’s just a new form of expression, adding to those that already exist. Some artists from Montréal have told me that they are very enthusiastic about Water Light, because it means that graffiti art can now be taught in schools, as it doesn’t use sprays that are forbidden there."


It involves drawing characters on a board filled with LEDs linked to mini-circuits whose current can be turned on with just a drop of water. As long as the water is present, the LEDs remain lit up and as soon as the water evaporates, the machine switches itself off. 


And finally, a recent vimeo binge led us to another graffitti related experimentation, this time using the propulsion output of the spray cans. It's called 'propulsion technology' - using the pressure of the expulsion of paint from spray cans to create robotics through aerodynamics.


All of the above is proof that the art of the street is evolving.