[submitted by Where’s Waldo, Seoul, South Korea]
Most artists who paint without authorization in public spaces would rather not draw attention to themselves. They work quickly and quietly so police don’t find out. Police are skeptical of street art to the point that they don’t even call it art. More often they refer to it as graffiti or—gasp!—vandalism. Admittedly, the streets are full of graffiti but they’re also full of art, and what separates the two is more than authorization through official channels. Unfortunately those in control usually can’t discern the difference between the artists and vandals, so true street artists must learn to keep a low profile.
All of this explains why I was so surprised and inspired by the DRIPAN Art Walk last weekend. The event included stops at a number of galleries, performance spaces, and bars in and around Itaewon, the epicenter of Seoul’s foreigner community. However, the highlight of the evening occurred not in a chic gallery but in a dingy underpass beneath a busy intersection. Here a group of artists created some truly inspired artwork and— incredibly— they flaunted convention by working under the most conspicuous conditions imaginable. Not only did they invite all of their friends to watch—they also invited their friends’ friends, any random strangers lucky enough to wander by, and five-piece funk band! Upwards of 70 people crammed into the underpass, many with beer in hand, and applauded wildly at the completion of every new layer. The traditionally furtive act of installation quickly grew into a flash-mob party.
Much of the party centered around a work by jimmySK, a stencil artist from the UK who has lived in Korea for 3 years and has been producing street art in Seoul since September. I’ve included a shot of Jimmy’s art below:
I had the opportunity to chat with Jimmy after the show. “Having a crowd of onlookers was a double edged sword,” he explained. “It was great having them there but obviously having all that extra attention goes against the subversive nature of what I do.” However, he also admitted to feeling a certain safety in numbers. With so many artists and musicians working together, he reasoned, any police officer stumbling upon the impromptu party would have had a hard time deciding whom to go after.
The crowd dissipated as soon as the installation was complete so I didn’t get the chance to meet any of the other artists. However, I’ve included some photographs of their work and the crowd (courtesy of Sheila Bocchine)
What transpired in the underpass underlines an important moral. I suspect many of the onlookers didn’t realize that the art created before their eyes was anything less than legal. I suspect that if the police had stumbled upon the party they wouldn’t have realized it either. Why? Because confidence is contagious. When you’re involved in a sketchy activity the best move can often be to flaunt it. One guy in a hoodie spraying frantically in a dark ally screams illegal. A group of artists working to the grooves of a five-piece band before a huge crowd seems pretty official.
The underpass party was a first for just about everybody involved. However, I doubt it will be a last. The concept is simple and could be replicated almost anywhere in the world with ease. I hope that it will inspire all you artist-revolutionaries out there to dream large. Let your next mission also be the excuse for your next party!