The Google Street Art Project boasts ambitious aims of immortalising, delocalising and democratising street art.
Paris-based Google Cultural Institute launched a new initiative on 10 June 2014 to catalogue street art from around the world. Aside from copyright and institutionalisation concerns, Art Radar investigates the potential for greater Asian and African participation.
Internet giant Google announced the latest venture of its Cultural Institute on 10 June 2014: a digital repository that documents and displays art from the streets, ranging from graffiti to formal murals. Entitled “Street Art”, the interactive map-cum-online-gallery already boasts over 5,000 works from 100 locations around the world, searchable by artist, location, style and medium.
Globalising graffiti, immortalising street art
For some works, viewers are able to wander around at will in a virtual 3D space using Google’s street view technology. This is the case for the La Tour Paris 13, the world’s largest collective street art tower. The building was demolished in October 2013, but Google preserves the breathtaking wall art in the form of interactive, immersive high resolution images.
The same goes for New York’s 5Pointz graffiti mecca: Google Street Art enables viewers to peruse annotated photographs of the vibrant walls, taken before the building’s exterior was whitewashed in November 2013.
As Google’s Lucy Schwartz wrote on the official Google blog:
The transient nature of street art means it can be at risk of being scrubbed out and lost forever to its legions of fans. But long after the paint has faded from the walls, technology can help preserve street art, so people can discover it wherever and whenever they like […] Street art may be temporary on our walls and sidewalks, but its beauty and vibrancy live on, on the web.
Asian and African participation
Geographical representation is, however, currently skewed towards central Europe and the United States, with only a few Asian and African locations on the map. Among them are the Filipino Street Art Project (FSAP) and French-Tunisian graffiti artist eL Seed.
Kim Dryden, Project Director and Producer of the Filipino Street Art Project says:
Google’s Street Art Project is a wonderful initiative. It brings value to both street art enthusiasts and the artists themselves. The street art scene in the Philippines is young, vibrant and fresh. We were really excited to participate because the work the artists are producing there is incredible and they deserve this kind of international attention.
Austin Smith, Director and Producer of FSAP, adds:
Our project seeks to document and share Philippine street art via many mediums, and Google’s new initiative and the web tools they’ve made available to us, is a great way to expand the scope of our work. So we certainly see this as a big opportunity for us.
Whether this opportunity can be extended to a wider selection and variety of street art, especially from Asia and Africa, will depend on the participation of intermediary organisations like the Filipino Street Art Project.
As The New York Times reports, in order to avoid copyright charges, Google can only display images provided by organisations that sign a contract attesting that they own the rights to them. Rather than searching through pre-existing Street View footage, Google offers their Street View technology to local organisations that have the right to the works.
This makes it difficult for unrepresented artworks to utilise the Google platform. Furthermore, the original anti-establishment and anonymous nature of street art is thereby undermined. The fact that somebody selects and determines the art to be included in the curated database is contradictory to the “democratic” motivation of the project.
In comparison, the user-submitted images in the Google Street Art Project’s massive Google+ community hit much closer to home. This aspect of the project pulls images onto its website based on street-art related hashtags.
Google’s curatorial impulse
Since its launch in 2011, the Google Cultural Institute has unveiled other exhibition-like collections such as Women in Culture, Made in Italy and Stories of the Holocaust. Amit Sood, Director of the Cultural Institute, acknowledged to The New York Times that the Street Art Project, like other initiatives of the institute, is a way for Google to generate good will in privacy-conscious Europe, where people are generally suspicious of the invasive Street View technology. He said:
It helps make people realise we are doing a lot of things that actually support the community.
- French-Tunisian graffiti artist eL Seed on his Arabic roots, “Lost Walls” and reclaiming purple – interview – June 2014 – Art Radar interviews Tunisian graffiti artist eL Seed to learn more about his artistic practice
- Manila’s mean streets: 7 Filipino street artists – part 3 – May 2014 – the third installment of Art Radar‘s feature on the Filipino Street Art Project profiles 7 artists working today
- Manila’s mean streets: The Filipino Street Art Project – part 2 – interview – April 2014 – for the second installment of our three-part series on the Filipino Street Art Project, Art Radar presents an exclusive interview with Founders Kim Dryden and Austin Smith
- Manila’s mean streets: The Filipino Street Art Project – part 1 – April 2014 – Art Radar brings you Part 1 of a three-part series that focuses on Filipino Street Art Project, which delves into the Filipino street art scene in and around Metro Manila
- 6 of the best street art projects in Asia-Pacific right now – March 2014 – six exciting street art projects in Asia-Pacific and Middle East, hand-picked by Art Radar
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