Street Life

In the 1950s Fluxus artists in New York, Situationists in Paris, and the Gutai group in Japan proposed an integration of art into life in their work. A radical proposition at the time, we now find ourselves at a more distressing juncture as war mixes into life. Yesterday Anders Behring Breivik was arrested in Norway, believed responsible for the bombing of a government building in Oslo and the gunning down of scores of youth at an island summer camp. War’s theater is now moving into the streets, into the reality of everyday encounters.

Tupac rapped in 1995 that the Streetz R Deathrow. He was talking about America in the aftermath of the crack epidemic. But today streets in Tunis, Taiz, Cairo, Athens and Beijing are pulsating with ideological conflict and power mongering at the scale of religious parable. In the 50s, the Situationist International group voiced a desire to wander the streets in willful playfulness, a subversion of the programmed order of modern life under capitalism. They wanted freedom from a society that war won them. And these artists, who would later ban art as a means of production in their revolutionary work, knew that revolutions spread on the street.

A city’s identity, the sum total of its various anthropologies, from the highest corner office to its underground, will always reveal itself on the pavement, on its sidewalks. L.A.’s emptiness, for instance, is reflected on its desolate streets. New York’s competition-driven neuroticism finds a stage on congested avenues and boulevards. But the streets of New York aren’t a revolutionary space anymore. They have become what developers and local politicians have wanted since probably after World War II: smooth corridors of various consumer experiences whose roughness is only inferred through decoration. New York is nostalgia’s boutique.

Those whose countries are now at war will hopefully see peace in their lifetimes. Like Paris, Tokyo and New York before them, their darkened streets may be the ground for new artistic and cultural action rising from the ashes of chaos and hopelessness.

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