Filippo Minelli, Shape D_Z, 2012

Venturing Beyond

Graffiti and the Everyday Utopias of the Street

3 Mar – 2 May 2016
Terrace Rooms
South Wing

Exploring unsanctioned public art – or graffiti – as an intrinsically utopian practice.

Following the successes of Mapping the City and Futurismo Ancestral, Somerset House again collaborated with arts organisation A(by)P to present Venturing Beyond: Graffiti and the Everyday Utopias of the Street. As part of ‘UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility’ the exhibition explored unsanctioned public art – or graffiti – as an intrinsically utopian practice.

Arguing against the traditionally-held belief of graffiti as a dystopian movement or ‘glorified vandalism’, the exhibition showcased the specially-commissioned work of seventeen street artists from around the globe, from stars of the scene such as Shepard Fairey, Swoon and REVOK, to critically acclaimed artists such as Eltono and Filippo Minelli, each of whom have produced or specially selected pieces responding to this theme. A number of artists, including Nano4814 and Brad Downey, have created installation works on site at Somerset House.From 13 – 20 April, artists Horfée and Russell Maurice took up residency, providing visitors with an insight into the processes of the practice. Working in situ, they produced a new body of work based on the utopian themes of the exhibition. This project space then remained open for viewing alongside the main exhibition.

In a literal sense, graffiti compels its practitioners to ‘venture beyond’ spatial and architectural boundaries, but also metaphorically provokes them to ‘venture beyond’ conceptual frontiers, to form new ways of thinking, acting and being in the world. Graffiti ornaments the city in resplendent colour and brings art out into the open, an art which belongs to all of us. It simultaneously reveals an aesthetic and social practice which anyone is welcome to join.

Above all, graffiti and street art acts as an alternative voice, whether it is loud and brazen or more subtle and difficult to decipher, which strives to challenge the well-worn systems of society – something which Thomas More’s seminal text also set out. All of the artists will uniquely interpret their ideas on these utopian foundations of graffiti.

In addition, A(by)P and Somerset House produced a wide-ranging programme of events to follow the key themes of the exhibition, including workshops, talks, films, music and performances. These events were presented in association with the UCL Urban Laboratory.