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Kato, the Southern Capital of Street Art

The heart of Upper Silesia is teeming with street art thanks to the initiative that has been changing the city space for 8 years. The Katowice Street Art Urban Sound Festival 2019 is the continuation of the legendary Katowice Street Art Festival. Łukasz Kałębasiak, the co-founder of the festival and the spokesperson for the Krystyna Bochenek Institution of Culture: Katowice – the City of Gardens tells us about the most interesting murals, extreme emotions, big names and the development of street art in Silesia.

How have the 8 years of the festival-related artistic activities changed the city?

Our festival was first held under the name of Katowice Street Art Festival, which was used for the first few editions. This event has indeed strongly changed the cityscape. One of the first murals created in Katowice that has been with us so far was created in 2010 as part of the Off Festival. Dawno w mieście nie byłem by Marcin Maciejowski is one of the most iconic works. When we started the first edition of the KSAF, Maciejowski’s work was the last item on the street art list. That is why the first edition of the Katowice Street Art Festival in 2011 was a real blast. It has left behind some excellent works that we can still admire.

Dawno w mieście nie byłem by Marcin Maciejowski
(11 Warszawska Street )

The so-called Hen by the Spanish artist Aryz is the street art icon in Katowice, and it still can be seen at the back of St Mary’s Street. We call it the hen because it presents a decomposing hen laying an egg (immediately in the ‘sunny-side-up’ version). Since 2011, we have managed to enrich the city landscape with great projects, of which about 20 exist so far. Thanks to subsequent editions, Katowice is on the list of street arts in Poland reaching the summit next to cities such as Gdańsk and Łódź. In the south of Poland, we are definitely one of the best street art galleries.

In addition to artistic changes in the urban space has street art awareness among the residents and visitors evolved?

Hen by the Spanish artist Aryz
(Mariacka Tylna Street)

Over the years of the festival’s existence, we have managed to get the Katowice people familiar with street art. And we have been doing it gradually and intentionally. First, we invited artists who created more approachable works, somehow decorative, to raise the bar over time. With subsequent editions in Katowice, we have hosted more and more artists touching on important topics, more and more abstract and sharp in their expression. If Aryz is at one pole, at the opposite end of this scale appears Eltono, who has left an extreme emotion-evoking mural in the underground passage at Damrota Street.

Eltono’s work can be viewed as a cave painting depicting two tribes fighting with each other. The mural is very sharp, aggressive, speaks of violence in contemporary society, which we haven’t grown out of yet. After the completion of the works very critical voices appeared. Many people have said that the painting was scary, aggressive and it should not be found in a public space. And this perfectly demonstrates the power of this type of work.

Eltono’s mural
(Underpass at Damrota Street)

I remember one edition of the festival, probably from 2012, when two diggers covered in yarn appeared in front of Spodek. They were made by Agata Oleksiak (Olek), an artist globally known for knitting street art (so-called knitting) and very loud exhibits. One of them was the Wall Street Charging Bull dressed in a pink knitted outfit. A few years ago works by such artists as Mariusz Waras (M CITY), ESCIF or Tellas appeared in the Katowice area. What causes the city to attract the legends of street art so much?

In the beginning, the artists approached the festival with some caution, as it is with any budding initiative. However, I think that after the first edition of festival a good opinion about Katowice has spread. People who organize this festival are 100% involved in it and artists are offered good working conditions, which is why in the subsequent editions we have attracted big and serious names. The result of this was the creation of such works as The switch by ESCIF on Mikusiński street, which next to the Aryz’s Hen is probably the second most iconic work in the whole gallery of the Katowice street art.

A few years ago a reproduction of The switch appeared on the cover of one of the albums of the world’s street art. Today a book with the Katowice mural on its cover can be found on the shelves of the largest contemporary art bookshops in the world. We also had a hilarious case. A man who lives in the United States saw a photo of this mural somewhere. He contacted us asking for a photo of this work. We sent him the photo in high resolution, and he – as part of the rematch – sent us a photo of The switch hanging above the fireplace in his American home.

The switch by ESCIF
(5 Mikusińskiego Street)

Post-industrial spaces are a real paradise for street artists. What interesting places, apart from the walls of apartment houses, have been decorated by the festival creators over the years?

Indeed, the post-industrial character of Katowice allows for much in the field of street art. As the city is not full to the brim with monuments, it was easier for artists to enter the city center. We did not have to resort to concrete estates, and some very interesting works are still in the very center. I particularly appreciate those works that originated in the more traditional districts of Katowice, among old apartment houses and synagogues in Załęże or in Szopienice. These works best fit in there. Street art is the perfect counterweight to the architectural austerity of these areas of the city.

Which mural created as part of the festival is the closest to you?

One of my favorite works is Made you look by a British artist Mobstr. The mural guides our eyes from the ground level through the entire height of the wall of the apartment house, all the way to the top, where we find an ambiguous inscription Made you look, which can be explained as ‘I made you look’, ‘I provoked you’. And that’s how street artworks. It is provocation to look and think.

A lot of materials devoted to street art are limited to providing a list of murals with addresses and necessary information about their creators. And yet, in street art the most interesting thing is a spontaneous and completely unexpected encounter with an idea that provokes questions. A great example of such a work is Daddy don’t cry made by Łukasz Surowiec in 2015. Do people ask or enter into dialogue with street art?

The dialogue with the mural takes place in the mind of each recipient. Following the artist’s intention, we tried not to add any text to the murals, especially a description on the mural or next to it. The only description is the one relating to Aryz’s work, because it is the work that was created as part of the first edition of the festival. All other murals stand-alone, face to face with the audience, space, and the street. And they are unsaid, unanswered. If a mural such as Daddy don’t cry triggers a media reaction, it will be an automatic answer. The work of Łukasz Surowiec is strictly narrative with a very strong history behind it. I think that everyone remembers the times of the miners’ strike and one of the important moments in the transformation of Upper Silesia, to which the mural refers.

Daddy don’t cry by Łukasz Surowiec
(14 Kupca Street, Załęże)

The same goes for educational works. We also try to avoid explaining them. A good example is the mural of Wojciech Korfanty created last year to mark the hundredth anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s independence. No information attached. You can guess who is depicted there, or you can look for information about it. We leave the murals unspoken because this is also the role of street art not to give easy solutions and simple answers. It is geared to inspire you to search, to get active.

Wojciech Korfanty
(Tenement house near Duda-Gracz Street)

If you were to point out five Katowice murals with the most interesting ideas and stories behind them, which ones would you choose?

Firstly, The Switch by ESCIF as the one that was the most successful. This is not the only reason why I think about it. This is one of the most ambiguous murals.

The second one is the mural Made you look created by Mobstr. It is enigmatic, and this is an element that I value the most in street art.

The third one is, thankfully, the still-functioning mural THINK by Spy, created at a great point, as the house between Szopienice and Janów is visible from various places. The work itself is a powerful appeal to use your own mind despite the current trends.

Made you look by Mobstr
(3 Lelewela Street, Załęże)

The fourth mural is Statistic by Sasha Kurmaz from Kiev. It is located between Załęska Hałda and Ligota. This is a purely abstract mural, almost like Mondrian’s, and is actually a visualization of a survey conducted by the artist. During the time of the fiery Ukrainian-Russian conflict, Kurmaz asked the inhabitants of Katowice about their attitude towards these events and visualized the results of their research in the form of a mural. In fact, it is a large ‘Excel -type’ pie chart, only transferred onto a wall of an apartment house.

And finally, the fifth work. DO NOT THINK by Peter Fuss is the most politically powerful mural that can be found in Katowice. It is also a very contrary mural that calls on you to stop thinking, focus on paying taxes and vote for those you have to vote for. It is a strong political and anti-system work. As part of a festival organized by a public institution, we managed to create a socially-oriented mural, often reproduced and interpreted as a voice of protest.

Coming back to the festival, apart from the murals being created, the event from the beginning is a mix of various artistic, musical and sporting events. Each edition brings new surprises. How will it be this year?

We will soon reveal more about how Katowice Street Art will look this year. And the festival is actually an event that has been evolving almost from the very beginning. After many editions focusing on murals, still within the framework of the Katowice Street Art Festival, we began to shift towards social activities and creation of objects in a public space.

DO NOT THINK by Peter Fuss
(17 Wincentego Pola Street)

The last two editions run by Matylda Sałajewska under Katowice Street Art AiR, or Arts in Residence, have implemented the concept of artist residencies. The artists were invited for a longer stay in Katowice so that they could get to know the city better. They chose the subject and space in which they would like to create by themselves. Importantly, all ideas were born here, in Katowice. The idea of ​​artist residencies is already behind us, we have ticked it off as a fulfilled demand and a successful experiment. Now we are starting to operate with a completely new Urban Sound formula, which will combine street art with the space of sounds. Sound installations will be prepared by excellent artists. Since 2015, Katowice has been a UNESCO Creative City in the field of music. Therefore, we wanted to combine these two areas, which is not difficult. After all, music and street art are intertwined, and contemporary street artists are eager to enter the musical space. You just have to match them well and let them create.

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