Interview – Urban Scrawl

I’m in my own zone as I make my way down to Melbourne City Library; I’ve just changed out of some abhorred work clothes and am entering the building, camera in hand, kind of wondering where the hell I am (an exhibition, in a library? huh?) when Kaff calls out my name. "Hey Fletch?" I glance around – "Oh hey," I reply, searching around until I find her, waiting near the doorway. We go to shake, laugh, then decided a hug is more the order of the day.

"I didn’t recognise you with your sunnies on," she remarks, beaming all the way. "Come on up, have a look before the crowd gets here."

Kaff-eines at the Melbourne City Library, somewhat nervously standing under a projection of some of the work in the show above, awaiting the "preview" crowd. As a part of the opening of the Midsumma Festival, a large swath of art lovers are making their way to several of the galleries that encompass the festival. Urban Scrawl, a collaborative group show between four highly talented street and light painting artists, Kaff-eine, Precious Little, TigTab and Blacklodge was the second stop on the preview.

The first thing I see as I climb the stairs is a large Precious Little pasteup – I’ve seen a few around Melbourne in the last few years, as well as plenty of her work at the last show her and Kaff-eine were in, Fibre Femmes, and have always loved them. This one, however, is probably one of the best I’ve seen yet -  it’s gorgeous – yet it’s only an introduction. The main wall of the show is covered in work. A large Kaff-eine mural. Gorgeous light-paintings, rendered entirely on camera – colourful imagery that I could swear were only possible with Photoshop. Dymo printed poems beneath accompanying illustrations, each depicting scenes within the words. Art. Art and more art – and as the crowd arrived, filling the space, I think to myself "this is exactly how a collaborative show should be."

Yes, I got pictures, I got plenty of them. Some of them are even in this interview with the crew of Urban Scrawl, accompanying the story behind the show. As for the rest, well, we’ll post them up after the opening – Urban Scrawl is just something that you just have to try to go and see for yourself …

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How did the Urban Scrawl collaboration come about; what exactly spurred on the idea behind the show?

Kaff: In winter, Presh approached me with the idea of doing a Midsumma show at the City Library, something she’d wanted to do herself for a while. She mentioned that there was a projection space, and I immediately thought of BL and TT (Blacklodge and TigTab), two artists whose work I adore. I’d been trying to work out a way to exhibit with them for a while, to show the rest of the world their talents.

We all decided, given our respective pastimes, and the concepts wrapped up in Midsumma, on the broad theme of secret spaces, identity and ephemera – it just went from there.

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How did this carry on from previous adventures in both street art and exhibitions, and explorations? When did the idea first formulate in your minds?

Kaff: I already admired Presh’s artwork, and adored her poetry. BL and TT have previously photographed my work, and more recently I’ve been lucky enough to hang around with them on their adventures, so we’d already been experimenting with collaborations.

When Presh came up with the idea, I was stoked to explore those connections further.

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Sometimes there a dissociation between the photographic arts and the more hands on visual arts – how has this show brought all of these elements, as well as words and newer elements such as light painting, into cohesion?

Kaff: That’s what’s so exciting about this show! It combines photography, light stencilling and painting, contemporary art, street art, urban exploration and poetry in a really unique way. We have Presh + my street art photographed, light painted and light stencilled by BL and TT, in frames and projections; I have visually interpreted Presh’s poetry in a series of works on paper; we have created a limited edition zine so that people can take away the poems + artwork together. All our work stands alone, yet these collaborations have taken us in new directions.

TT&BL: Light painting photography differs to the conventional way a photographer would capture their images. With light painting, `light’ is used like a brush to paint each image. It requires the photographer to move light around and `through’ each shot in a specific way, as it is being created.

We were excited when Kaff-eine and Precious Little approached us with the idea of the show, as it seemed a natural progression to merge well known art forms with light art. The resulting images gave Precious Little and Kaff-eine the opportunity to experience drawing and writing in light – and while it was captured as a photo, it was still necessary for them to create that art in a physical space; as they would in their chosen mediums.

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Who was responsible for what, and what did you each bring to the project?

Kaff: Presh has some gasmask grrls on paper, framed, + also some large aerosol paste-ups around the spaces. She also has sticker packs on opening night, and we have the Preshkaff zine; Swan Songs.

I have the series of watercolour and ink works on paper, interpreting Presh’s poetry; a wall mural with a few well-known characters; Kaff-eine mini-tvs, plus working drawings in lightboxes situated around the library.

BL and TT have selected their favourite urban exploration,  light painting photos and some of our collaborations, for the framed photos and the projection space in the entrance to the library.

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Let talk time lapse and light painting – what are the pitfalls and traps in working with this style, and what are the advantages? How did light painting help to engage and integrate all of these elements?

TT & BL: While street artists use spray paint, we use `light’ to paint our art. We have the obvious pitfalls of working in low to zero light, and using a physical space which we move around in – as our canvas.

Advantages of the places that we visit are the resulting photographs. All of our photographs are taken straight out of camera – this means that we don’t use photoshop, or computer editing to obtain the final image. As a result of this, each individual image can take up to four hours to create.

We are really proud of the images that have been created within our collaborations for `Urban Scrawl’, with the images achieved being a great cross over of all of our chosen mediums.

Time lapse is a recent addition, which has provided us with a tool that allows our art to come alive – we will be utilising more of this in the future.

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There’s also an exploration of the written word within the pieces – how important a role did they play in the course of putting together the show? Presh describes herself as a "poetess mess" – but beyond the words, is there a narrative thread to the chaos?

Kaff: It was incredibly important to me, one of the main reasons why I wanted to do the show. The majority of my works on paper (and some of the street collaborations) were interpretations of Presh’s poetry, and the zine is entirely the end result of my imagery set to Presh’s words. Presh’s beautiful poems, which all have narratives, are autobiographical.

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"Identity and ephemera intersecting" – this was evident in the videos that you teased us with in the lead up to the show. Exploding colour and light, near-innocence laden characters, urban fauna and masks; all of these tools have been utilised to explore these intersections, yet the "true" identity of all of the artists is somewhat hidden throughout – tell us more about these aspects within the show.

Kaff: My identity isn’t set in concrete; it is ephemeral, evolving, changing.

My street persona is an integral part of my identity – but it isn’t all of me. There are pieces of me in all of my work, and in the collaborations, but I’m not interested in placing ‘realistic’ images of my physical self in my work when there are other, less literal ways for me to show myself to the world.

TT & BL: I agree with Kaff, what you see within all of our images is the extension of who we all are. While we use human form in our photography – it is only showing the ephemeral facets of self for that fleeting moment.

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With so many elements in the show, were you afraid of losing anything in the combination of different aspects? It seems like it would be a difficult thing to pull off – what were your major concerns in working in such a collaborative way over so many different mediums?

Kaff: I was really excited to see what would result from the combination of all of our practices! For me the process was easy, we all immediately started to bounce ideas off each other, it was a desperate rush to throw ourselves together and see what we could create in the limited time that we had.

The time we spent collaborating on location usually had a very organic flow, with ideas, suggestions and creations happening very naturally during the course of a several hour session.

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The show is a part of the Midsumma festival being celebrated this month, initially it seems that the City Library seems an unusual venue for a show of this kind – how did it end up that you exhibited in that space and what are the most exciting aspects of holding the show as a part of the Midsumma festival itself?

Kaff: Who hasn’t wanted to draw all over the library walls, really? And being part of Midsumma allows me to show my work to an audience who may not have come across it on the streets. It doesn’t have overt references to queer or LGBTI identity or sexuality, most of my characters are deliberately without a defined age/gender/sex/sexuality – but I think the emotions and concepts I deal with are certainly relevant for a Midsumma audience.

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You all probably need a bit of time off from hanging about in the darkness – now that you’ve accomplished a monumental collaborative effort, will there be more in the future? What else does 2012 hold for each of you?

Kaff: I love hanging about in the darkness more than you can imagine! But I’m itching to get back out on the street after this show. Presh and I have some big plans for street collabs and I can’t wait to get going on those too. I also love going on adventures with BL and TT, so I hope there are many more of those in 2012. I want to spend the rest of this year painting more, larger, increasingly intricate works, and collab with my favourite artists.

TT & BL: The exhibition has been a great way to start off 2012 – time now to get back to more adventures and light painting.

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For the past ten years, Fletcher Andersen (Facter) has cut his teeth writing for a variety of street press and music magazines. Drawing on his years of writing experience, and as an artist himself, Facter founded Invurt with the aim of promoting artistic events, and the established and emerging Australasian urban, street, illustrative, underground and low brow artists that partake in them. Follow him on Instagram @facter, or go like his facebook page, and check out his website, Irikanji.