Architecture and graffiti are intrinsically linked. Buildings, like a train in a siding, are a blank canvas for writers to create art. Yet this relationship remains relatively unexplored. Far from working with writers, architects design against them; anti-graffiti glazing, cladding and all sorts of materials are available to deter ‘vandals’ from adding colour to a building. Occasionally, firms will include a permanent mural as part of their design, but these 2D facades fail to push the boundaries of either architecture or graffiti. The potential for cooperative design is (largely) yet to be realised.
The exception is ITN Architects. This Melbourne based firm are doing things never seen in Australia and possibly the world, combining street culture and architectural design to create unique and eye-catching buildings. Their first project was The Hive apartments in Carlton (pictured below), a collaboration between ITN and renowned graffiti artist Prowla. Prowla designed the letters and they were incorporated into the facade as structural panels of precast concrete, creating a beautiful amalgamation of the two artforms. The interior is also quite unique, like something out of a sci-fi flick.
ITN’s second project in their series of three street culture themed buildings is an ambitious design in Collingwood. Dubbed the End-to-End Offices, it is an ode to the glory days of Melbourne graffiti, when whole-cars rattled along the rails bringing colour to the masses, from the city loop to the suburbs. Perched atop the six offices are three decommissioned Hitachi carriages that house boardrooms for their owners. When completed, the design will certainly turn heads.
And here, in ITN’s half-finished construction site, among the piles of reo bars and timber frameworks, DOES set up his Endless Perspectives exhibition. The spot was perfect. And popular; the queue for entry on opening night was an hour long. As it was a building site, visitors had to be shown through in groups of no more than 10, which explained the wait. Once we arrived at the front of the queue we were issued with hard hats and briefed. Then we were in.
The exhibition itself was a curious one, based around five pieces and five cities. Amsterdam, Basel, London, Paris and Melbourne. DOES visited all of these cities and painted a mural in each, based on the colours he experienced while there. Once each piece was finished and filmed DOES buffed his own work, leaving not a trace of the original, taking only a canvas of each letter. Given the quality of his work, it seemed a shame that these incredible murals are no longer available for the public in each of these cities to see. But herein lies the point of DOES’ exhibition; to highlight the transient nature of the artform. Graffiti doesn’t last forever. If it isn’t buffed or painted over with grey, it will eventually be capped or have a new piece painted over it. The death of a piece is inevitable, DOES takes his work into his own hands.
Endless Perspectives showcases all five works; the thirty-two canvases from Amsterdam, Basel, London and Paris, plus the full original painted on a precast concrete panel of End-to-End. Each piece is mounted alongside the original sketches and a projected video of the city they came from. The designs blend an impressive palette of colours. DOES’ attention to detail is obvious, each letter is well considered and executed. The full-colour letter canvases sit on black and white prints of the whole; memories of what used to be, but is now gone. The contrast is visually stunning, and leaves the viewer thoughtful. Four are gone already, and once the viewer leaves, the Melbourne mural will also be taken down. Ironically, this fact makes DOES’ paintings more memorable than the ones we see daily on our train lines.
I wonder what the old heads and ‘graffiti doesn’t belong in an art show’ purists thought of the exhibition, since the pieces were definitely painted on walls originally. One thing is certain though, it was popular. The exhibition tour spilled out into the alleyway behind the building where a DJ and bar with free Jägermeister and Red Bull had been set up, and it was packed. DOES himself floated around the crowds, as did architect Zvi Belling of ITN. It was an impressive evening. Endless Perspectives ran all this weekend but unfortunately is now over. The canvases were for sale, so will be dispersed and probably never come together again once the exhibition has been toured, but such is the nature of the art.