Thursday, November 17, 2011

Makin' it Last

Part of what makes graffiti so compelling is it's incredibly contradictory nature. Whatever manic and aggressive aspects an individual piece of graffiti can posses, its impermanence gives it an inherently fragile quality. Graffiti is all about the moment that you happen to see it - one day it's a blank wall, the next day it's a masterpiece, and the day after that it's gone again. Bam.

Despite that here-today gone-tomorrow quality, graffiti- and hip hop in general - has attained a cultural longevity that no one would have predicted 35 years ago. Some of the artists who appeared like bursts of flame, and may have been expected to disappear just as quickly, are now revered as elder statesmen. Photos of their pieces have become cultural icons, and in the rare situation where an original piece has survived, they have become pilgrimage sites.

So it's only natural that a number of thoughtful projects have surfaced that mean to preserve some international graffiti landmarks.

Photographer and film director Henry Chalfant is spearheading the restoration of the 30 hours of unseen outtakes from the classic graffiti and hip-hop culture documentary Style Wars. The film is an indispensable document of New York Street culture from the early '80s, and there are about 30 hours of film shot between 1981 and 1982 that have almost never been seen. Chalfant, who co-produced the original film, is trying to preserve that footage and re-edit it into a second full length DVD. Here’s a great little video from Chalfant about the project.

While Style Wars was screening for the first time in NYC, Keith Haring was being flown over to Australia to paint a mural on an outdoor wall of the Collingwood Technical College in Melbourne. The mural is one of the few remaining outdoor murals by this influential and brilliant artist who died in 1990, and it's been sitting exposed to the sun and rain for the last 27 years. Finally there's effort underway to save it, going on right here.

Giving a little cash to a project like these is a personal choice - what's more interesting is the growing awareness that these ephemeral works form a part of our culture that is worth keeping.

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