So, Upfest. I didn't have high hopes really, but I wasn't expecting it to be that strange.
For a start, having an event held in a car park is a bit random - not enough places to sit etc, not really big enough to move round. £4 to get out there as well, and then once out, there was a feeling of sterility to it. I couldn't put my finger on it, but then I realised. Usually when people paint together, they discuss what they're doing, and connect it somehow. So the fences at the Bristol Festival were painted by a huge number of people, but there was a 'flow' to them, even if the styles etc were different. Or if people just come and paint on a wall that's already painted, there's usually something done to connect the piece to what's there. But here it was just pieces next to each other, with pretty much no connections, and no attempt to join them together. Some of the writers I spoke to told me about how the people they were painting next to just weren't interested in that aspect - so it makes me wonder how much of the 'flow' is cultural to Bristol. I know in Barcelona there's a huge collaboration culture, and the stuff I've seen round Brick Lane, Southwark and Hackney - but maybe that's the exception? I can't imagine it is, so maybe it's something to do with the intention of the Fest? Something about the focus on having as many people there as possible, not on making it the best graff it could be?
It felt like was that it was a bit of a zoo of graff writers. People coming up and staring, getting close with no interaction with the writers - it felt a hundred miles from the atmosphere painting 'in the wild'. Everything I like about hanging out with graffiti artists felt missing - the cameraderie (in general - the groups chatting around Soker and Acer's pieces, f'rinstance, felt much more normal), the mellowness and the feeling of brotherhood. Sometimes I feel so out of place being a girl-but-not-girlfriend hanging around, because there's such a feeling of family amongst the blokes - but here I just felt weird.
It felt different in different sites though. The garage on North Street was just frantic, hundreds of stencillers inside, and no one local. By the time I got to the pub on Greenway Bush Lane I was doubting how I feel about graff - maybe I've just seen too much in these last 12 months? But then seeing the wall there, especially Jody and the lovely bloke whose name I didn't catch*, it all made sense again. It was like a finger down my spine - seeing how amazing graff can be again - and talking to them, especially about how they'd talked beforehand about what they were doing and how it would fit, reaffirmed the notion that the best graff relates to what's around it. It doesn't have to be slavish, it just has to take notice. Some really lovely pieces - will definitely go back and grab some shots when it's done.
It was fun to see so many people, and hang out and chat - and there were some nice pieces. It's just it didn't work as well as it could have done, and as an event felt soul-less. Someone told me that's the difference between events organised by writers and those that aren't.
* Edit: it was Boyd Hill, and I loved his stuff. Thanks Jody!