Street Art: an Urban Perception Shift
photo: the pigs

Street Art:
an Urban Perception Shift

BY Agnieszka Słodownik

A poster, or any other urban arrangement, can point the inhabitant-audience to a place usually ignored. Just like with cycling, which makes one aware of every curb, evoking an intimate connection with the urban physicality

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“Art is anything you can get away with” – thus spoke Warhol, quoting Marshall McLuhan. Yet street art? It breaks the rules of the city user’s manual. Walls, bridges, and sidewalks become a carrier of meaning, waking up from inertia creeping, or just gluing passers-by to a slightly different kind of TV.

The alarm-clock goes off. Get innocuous by LCD Soundsystem wins over the dream. It’s 1 AM and it’s time to poster.


I go to the kitchen, where I meet Jadzia, who’s already got the coffee started. “Is there any glue left from last time?”, I ask her. The response is negative. We need to whip up a batch. Wallpaper powder glue plus water. Mix, leave until it thickens. Next, pour it into two 1.5 liter it-used-to-be-milk-bottles with holes in their caps. I collect all the posters prepared earlier. They dried just in time. I put some old jeans on, and a worn out XXL men’s hoodie. I fill my bag with glue, a brush, cigarettes, posters organized slogan-accordingly. No cell-phones, money, no ID.

don't be afraid. it will soon begin
photo A. Slodownik
The map of the city gains a specific legend. The streets popular amongst policemen. Well exposed facades. Spots with other posters. Paths explored by drunk guys on their way back from a bar. Dark corners, where utensils can be freely laid out. Smooth and uneven walls, glass, abandoned phone booths. Passing by a university library is a good way to drop a note to the students. What message should be thrown in the faces of officials leaving the ministerial building after work? What should be said to people after mass?

“People sit here in front of the café during the day, so they have a view at this wall from around 100cm above the pavement.” – Jadzia says. We want to catch their eyes. Our heads project movies filmed with the memory during the day. We turn left, we turn right, quickly dabble the paper with glue and  spread it on the rough bricks with our bare hands. So this is what they feel like. You don’t USUALLY touch walls, do you. The manicure enhanced by the spray-paint harmonizes perfectly with the skin growing darker and darker with every poster glued.

don't panic. it will soon be over
photo A. Slodownik
This is physical. It begins with the tedious work of cutting-out, carefully pressing the stencil knife against cardboard or X-ray foil following the shapes of the letters. This activity cannot be done thoughtlessly. Otherwise the risk of BPS sabotage might occur. The Belly Protection System keeps you from cutting through the barbs. Letters like “B”, “A”, “R”, “D” require special attention. Fingertips and joints will be painful for at least two days. Next up is gluing. Descending. Stretching. The nightly aerobics heighten the temperature. Jadzia slides into the narrow space between a post and an electrical box. I jump up five times in a row and slap my hand against the poster located 2.5 m above the ground. Until it sticks. Then this piece of wall just above the steps. I squat down. For a moment there I detach and raise my head to see the surrounding trees and buildings. They look strange. I never consciously looked at them from a child’s perspective.

We go to the main street. Under the big sliding entrance doors of H&M, Mr. Wendal lies wrapped in tattered hobo clothes, slightly changes the brand’s identity. “Finally, an advertisement I’m the target of” I think to myself. The church nearby is closed. Four homeless people sleep at ground zero.

Street art

Any kind of art that uses streets as its galleries. Not necessarely with a blessing from the State. Walls, plaster peeling off like old skin, sidewalks, posts, bridges, steps, handrails, train rails; anything city-like becomes canvas for pre-prepared stencils, becomes a bill-post for posters, a material available for creative redefinition.

Apart from the posters’ content, the nightly gluing rit must be praised. The sacrum of the closed shops. It’s finally quiet. The rhythm is slow, lazy. Subtle desaturation of the CMYK scale. Different angle of artificial light’s incidence. Apparent lack of stimuli, concealing the exciting mysteriousness of dark corners and a pleasant anxiety evoked by the few present individuals wandering at night.

As Marcin Świetlicki wrote “One day this city will be mine.” We spray the territory like dogs. Each poster is adrenaline. We are a. two women b. going round at night with c. not a very legal kind of self-expression. An intimate bond builds up between the non-obvious, forsaken street spaces and us. We’re not indifferent. Each subsequent night action results in less fear. The city indeed becomes ours. One time, we’re on our way home, and we suddenly realize, that we’re walking in the middle of the street, instead of taking precautions like before. We reclaim the city from the banks. In the morning, I feel like I have the right to walk around. Professor Bauman, I’m not a tourist anymore!


Crossing a few boroughs in foot means returning home at 5 AM. We vacuum the penne we’d prepared before leaving, and have a glass of wine, lulling the still strong excitement. We have to wake up in a few hours to digitize the posters in daylight.

Absolution on the bridge over the Garonne river
photo A. Slodownik
In the semi-awoken state of the morning the night escapade seems an infantile excess. I take my camera to commit the crime of repetition. I retrace my trail. Almost everything is still in place. A few posters have been taken down by the city cleaning crews, the rest of it has been decorated by strangers and the everyday turmoil. The traveling poster is my favorite category. White and red plastic barriers, which we altered, took our posters to a different place. The workers started another stage of road work, taking them along. Jadzia believes workers don’t tear them off, because they like them. I stick to my belief in humanity’s laziness and I’m just glad they didn’t care.  

For a moment the official communication line of the city space has been impaired. The peremptory BUY, EAT, TRY, HAVE is undermined by the questioning IS IT SO, or the confusing IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT/IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT. American anthropologist Edward T. Hall, the creator of theory of proxemics has distinguished four types of interpersonal distances: intimate space, personal space, social space, and public space. The slogan WHERE DID ALL YOUR DREAMS GO? placed in the public space seems to yell out to the people rather then vanish in the artificial scenery of galleries, internet virtuality, or staying in the intimate space, from whence it originally came. The slogans that relate to the personal level thrown in the public one knock you out of the comfort zone much more effectively.

it's not your fault in Toulouse
photo A. Slodownik
The messages intertwine. We placed one of our posters like a comic strip bubble next to a piece by Monsieur Qui. This, together with the accompanying road signs, creates a collage of meanings. I pass by Invader‘s pixel tiles and a traffic light post dressed in a woolen leg warmer (guerilla knitting). Is it there so that the city doesn’t feel the cold? So much tenderness. There’s also a street post converted into a large cigarette. Pure filtered attributes of the city. A structure un-warped by preconceptions.

Some of the posters have been anonymously commented on with a pen. Is it possible that in spite of the infamous urban insensitivity someone had enough will to reach for the pen in their bag and stand up to the provocation? It’s hard to comprehend, but a slight dialogue has been triggered.  

Street art brings to my mind Stephane from Michel Gondry’s The science of sleep [La Science des rêves, 2006], and the way he dealt with unaccepted reality by living in his dreams. The art of the street is also a redefinition of the status quo. It calls for an attentive look, and so it creates. A poster, or any other urban arrangement, can point the inhabitant-audience to a place usually ignored. Just like with cycling, which makes one aware of every curb, every edge, evoking an intimate connection with the urban physicality.



Created by two Frenchmen: David Belle and Sébastien Foucan. It’s the art of movement in the city, which takes a variety of techniques as its tool for overcoming obstacles: jumping, rolling, vaulting, landing, balancing. It’s a metaphor for overcoming difficulties that we come across in life. Parkour puts an emphasis on the concept of self-development, learning to transgress one’s own limitations. Self-knowledge obtained by physical training. It’s not supposed to be competitive.

In the meantime let’s look at Castro by Alejo Moguillansky. It is an Argentinean film adaptation of Beckett’s Murphy. Surreal image of people running at random. “Walk before you run, sit down before you lie down.” The protagonist’s words leave one with concern. City slickers flow through their space at a speed that exceeds the cognitive capabilities of the brain. If one does not overestimate the power of subliminal perception, it means that the city is a ghost city. It’s abandoned, not assimilated, since to keep focus on urban nuances, one would have to notice it first. Walk instead of running, stand instead of walking. Or even hide in the closet, like Castro does.

On the other hand running can take one closer to the essence, as is the case with Parkour AKA l'art du déplacement. The Traceur or traceuse runs, surmounting urban obstacles to reach something more than the finish line. It’s about crossing physical barriers, but, most of all, the limitations of one’s own mind and body. Perfecting particular moves, a form of expression. A sense of freedom achieved through the city’s shape. Regaining humanity. Meditation for an ADHD society? Modern embodiment of the mindfulness concept so essential to the philosophy of Buddhism? Parkour might be the source of hope’s leftovers, so to speak. As long as it’s not the MTV version, The Ultimate Challenge, which turns the art into shallow competition, a single-season trend. Assuming that slowing down is no longer an option for us, perhaps Parkour is the answer. Yet street art seems to have one substantive advantage. While running on the rooftops is supposed to bring enlightenment to the subject only (although that’s a lot already), the art on the street has the potential of awaking all those who simply want to notice it.