Archive for September, 2009


Swap Box time again…

You can find this one over near the intersection of Roy Est/Coloniale...

And today I will be talking to you about Toynbee Tiles.

What are Toynbee Tiles, you might ask??
Toynbee tiles(also known as asphalt mosaics) are a street-art form that first appeared on the streets of early 1980s Philadelphia, where folks began noticing linoleum blocks bearing the words "Toynbee's Idea in Kubrick's 2001- Resurrect Dead on Planet Jupiter" embedded in the city's streets. Think Space Invader's tiles, only embedded in asphalt rather than mounted on walls. They're one of those city features about which a lot of theories have been tossed around but which there's no concise explanation for...just like pairs of shoes thrown over telephone wires.

Their durability and interesting location has resulted in the Toynbee tile medium being used by street artists worldwide. Here in Montreal, someone has been using them to embed robot figures in crosswalks (which look like they're the work of the Reflectorman project

Toynbee Tile group on Flickr

How to make a Toynbee Tile


The Graffiti of Griffintown

more to come….


Pixacao and Graffiti in Sao Paulo

Juxtapoz Magazine has a couple of articles up here and here on the interesting tension between graffiti and pixacao in Brazil. They’re definitely worth a read.

From the article…
“Anyway, pixo has a very peculiar style and it’s an illegal form of expression, made mostly by people from the marginalized areas that got nothing to loose and very little to expect. Their main goal is the “ibope” (the real IBOPE is the biggest statistics institute in the country, known for its TV audience reports). To achieve the pixo’s “ibope”, one must have their name written everywhere, in the higher and most difficult public spaces, is the “getting up” from wild style graffiti writer’s equivalent. When they’re successful, it hurts a society that sees it as a dirty thing, nonsense angry and crime. Very few people see it as a creative outlet, as a calligraphic expression coming, in general, from youngsters who got no study or familiarity with graphic design. Since the 80’s pixação has taken a major space on many Brazilian cityscapes, especially in Sao Paulo. Now, it’s a worldwide known style and many Brazilian artists with roots on urban subcultures we love, like OSGEMEOS and Vitché, used pixo elements on their works.

In this complex context, on June 2008, a pixo writer called Rafael “Pixobomb” organized an attack to Belas Artes (fine arts) University as his graduation work. Fine art student himself, Pixobomb, and a group with about 50 other pixo writers, invaded the university claiming that art must be related to social issues, using pixação to make his point. It wasn’t very clear if Rafael wanted to elevate pixo as an art form, or if was just used as a way of protest.

On September, the same group attacked Choque Cultural gallery, also in Sao Paulo. This time, claiming that the real urban art (the pixo) can’t be sold or domesticated, as, at their point of view, the gallery was doing. Choque actually sell works with pixo (and graffiti, tattoo, etc) influences but in this violent attack, British pop artworks which have nothing to do with Brazilian urban art where painted over, together with all the walls and even some Juxtapoz magazines (now highly collectables!)…”

Pixacao can essentially be seen as a home-grown Brazilian graff movement originating out of the underclass, and its name stems from the use of paints made from roofing asphalt. Practitioners of pixacao seem to have abandoned all aesthetic concerns in favor of a balls-to-the-wall version of the graffiti tagging concept of ‘getting up’- they compete with one another by trying to get their tags up in as many hard-to-access places and as large a size as possible.

When Sao Paulo decriminalized graffiti writing several years ago, it was largely in response to pixacao, and this has generated one hell of a graffiti/pixacao divide which raises some fascinating questions and issues. Firstly, there’s that of the line between art and vandalism in a world where street art has entered the cultural lexicon and fetches high auction prices once again (shades of the 1980s, anyone?). At the same time, many pixo writers come from the underclass of Brazilian society and have come to see their work as a battle against mainstream society. Here I’m tempted to say that those who aren’t given the opportunity to create (and by this I most certainly include the ability to shape their environment or affect change within it) will often choose to destroy instead.

…and I’ve come back to urban planning again. What do you think, dear readers?


Griffintown. Montreal

Spacing Montreal has an interesting article/series of pictures on an art-installation piece in the Montreal neighbourhood of Griffintown.

Griffintown, a historic working-class Irish neighbourhood bordering on the Lachine Canal, is a place of contrasts and curiosities bound to bring up visions of a low-rent developers’ game of Cadavre Exquis or something out of the mind of a hung-over Italo Calvino. A shimmering technical school stands several blocks away from a cluster of abandoned factories being gutted by a towering crane or a rundown historic building whose parking-lot houses a mobile-home and several meticulously-maintained horse-drawn carriages.

I’m working on a project in urban planning school which involves conceiving a potential redevelopment plan for this neighbourhood, and I’ll be sure to post updates when they come.