Armsrock: making a catalogue of city people

Armsrock from Denmark is one of my favourite street artists and I was really happy to have him in Street Art Cookbook. Here is a longer version of the interview. And som more pictures. Enjoy.

WHY DO YOU PUT UP STUFF IN THE STREETS?

There are several answers to that question. I think that one of the main factors is that I feel the need to interact with the environment of which I inhabit. There is several different ways to “use” a space, and I am looking for one where I am using the city in such a way that I take something from it and give something back at the same time. This interaction becomes, for me, as much a way to cope with and analyse the city, as it is a tool to convey a signal. When creating art for a “white-cube” space, I have only the relative comatose architecture to play up against, but when working on the street, the piece of work that I intervene with there has the possibility to engage with every surface and angle, every bit of colour, sound, smell, texture and structure, and it is possibly in this moment of engagement that the actual works takes place, the drawing itself is just one part of the process, as much as the action of placing it in the street is.

I think that it is important to create art outside of the controlled, commercial and institutionalized spaces, to make the art exist as more than class segregated entertainment, to get it out where life is happening, where people are.

One of the main reason why I do art in the first place is because I see it as a possibility to communicate. Drawing is for me a non-verbal language so to speak. And one that can reach people across the gaps created by linguistics. In my opinion communication means dialogue, and should therefor preferably take place in a space where everybody can participate equally. This is of cause not true for the thing we call “public space”, but there is something about the idea of a “common space”, a space which we all share, and the possibilities and limitations that this space holds, that I think holds some relevance to the discussion of cultural dialogue. I don’t think that culture can exist as something that is created by the few and consumed by the many.

FOR HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS? INFLUENCES?

My first real, and feeble, attempts to create art in and with the urban space happened around 2002, but before that I had been involved in an activist structure where it was common practice to use the urban space and its structures for various purposes. These kind of things were not seen as art back then, but they were centered around some of the very same ideas that I retain in my work today.

When I started doing things outside of those community and activist based structures, it was not with the purpose to set out to become “an artist”, working with public spaces and their functions and problems, came as a natural extension of the kind of activist work I had been doing throughout my teenage years.

Graffiti was a great influence for me, but so was classical art, and the very creative cultural history of direct-action.

I started drawing portraits of people and integrating these in the urban structure around 2005. since then I have created literally hundreds of these images, concrete abstractions and interventions. Seen in retrospect it seems that I have been making a catalog or archive over moments, city people and the way the live.

ABOUT THE LIGTH GRAFFITI, HOW DID YOU GOT THE IDEA?

The light-works were done in context of an event in holland called Glow-International Forum of Light in Art and Architecture. Its a thing that takes place in the city of Eindhoven, and is all site-specific works.
When I was invited by one of the curators of the event she was perfectly aware that I had never worked with light before and had absolutely no knowledge of the field. So first I went to a hangar in Luneburg in germany to meet up with these two light technicians to figure out what could be possible. The whole project was realized with the help of one of these, Kai schwenck, without whom I would have been relatively clueless.

Up until this point I have been working very analogue. I have been doing all this drawing on walls, and on paper on walls, so it was in many ways a strange thing to have the machine be a connecting link in the process. Working with projections creates an activation of space that I haven’t seen in my work before, namely the space between the projector and the projected image. Here the images is opening up in the space and the surrounding objects and passing people are able to interact with it and affect its appearance. But at the same time the surface on which the projection is, is only activated by means of the light, which leaves no physical trace behind when removed. The activation, and deactivation, happens instantly, by the flip of a switch, and in that way it differs from my previous work which was very much about leaving traces.

I think that lights strange non-presence is really interesting. Its a thing that we are constantly surrounded by and making use of, and though its presence can alter our very notion of our surroundings, it is illusive in a strange way, impossible to gain a hold of. We are to a certain extend in control of it, while also making ourselves extremely dependent on it. It is very close to not being there, except as wavelengths of cause, And when spending all this time making things that are ephemeral, it seemed only logical to go into a medium where the material of the thing created holds no physical weight at all, yet is ever so insisting. I feel the same way about light as I do about memory.

Weightless insistence, city memory. Those were the keywords through which I engaged the project.

WHAT`S THE STORY BEHIND YOUR CHARACTERS?

I went to Eindhoven and stayed there a while, walking and walking and watching and making drawings of that which I saw. I made sketches of people, observing their everyday movements in the city. I wanted to let my drawn recollections of moments I experienced during the day come back in the night as abstract memories. Being in a city I dont know makes me move around a lot, so I knew beforehand that I wanted to make at least part of the project mobile. This was also done in connection to wanting to use some possibilities of alteration and repetition that working with projections gives. In this specific project I have been working a lot with spaces, as the same image was projected in different locations it took on a new meaning.

The idea of the project was very basically to intervene with the rhythm and structure of the urban space,to give new meaning to the lines of architecture and shed new light on old cracks in the sidewalks.

ABOUT THE METHOD: WHAT KIND OF MATERIALS DO YOU USE? AND HOW DO YOU PREPERE YOUR WORK?

I was working with a something called a Pani projector, which is very basically like a giant Dia machine. The come in different sizes but the one I was using ran around 2600 watts, so it was fairly bright. But it runs on slides, like a Dia machine, except that the slides for the Pani projector are 18×18 centimeters. One can either use painted glass slides or pre-developed photo-slides made out of plastic. The common practice with these machines is to take a photo, work on that in the computer and then develop the photo as a slide for the machine.

I wanted to retain an aspect of analogue craft in the work, so I didn’t want to involve computers in it. I therefor developed a bunch of slides black and worked directly on these. I used an etching needle, the ones normally used on zink and cobber plates for print, to scratch directly into the surface of the slides. In that way what I drew on the slides with the needle would stand as drawn with light on the wall. When scratching at the surface of the slides several layers of color appeared in the projection, this was created by the depth of the engravings in the black layer. I tried to utilize this by putting water on some of the slides to make parts of the developed layer dissolve and then scratching at them with a spoon.

We made the mobile projections using a large shopping trolly and a generator, which was a rather noisy but practical solution, but we also had some long extension cords to be able to pull power from plugs around the town. We then walked about from the sun went and for as long as we had gasoline and patience, crisscrossing though central Eindhoven while trying to find locations where the illuminations from the streetlight were low enough to let us get a properly clear image and also trying to figure out spots for the projections where people passing by would not expect there to be images.

ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES OF WORKING WITH LIGHT…

Due to the fact that the project happened as part of a large event it didn’t completely surprise people that we were moving our contraption around the streets in the dark, but we didn’t figure on any map and were not following a specific route so there were moments of confusion. But on an overall aspect it was more legal than working with drawings pasted to walls are. This of cause meant that we had more time at each location and could talk a lot more with passing people. We didn’t get too much attention from the local authorities which actually surprised me a great deal.

In the work I have been making in the urban space so far, the ephemeral aspect of each piece has always been fascinating me. And this aspect was maintained in the work with light, only in a slightly different way. The drawings would be on the wall for as long as the projector was turned on, and even then one could eliminate it by simply moving a hand closely across the lens projecting it. The slides are not very heat resistant and therefor start changing color after only a couple of days of projecting, they become unsharp and loose strength. This means that the drawings made for this project can only be used for this project and never again. Rain is of cause a factor, but it always is when working outside, but Kai-schwenk had built this very solid roof for the projector so that we were the only ones getting wet.