Interview | ‘Barrier Tape’ – SpY
Those who make their way across the wharf will be able to hear the new work ‘Barrier Tape’ from a distance. The countless barrier tapes hanging from parallel strings dance together to the rhythm of the wind and spectators can move through and around these hypnotic “waves”. The brains behind this multi-sensory experience is Spanish artist SpY whose work has appeared in many urban public spaces internationally. SpY is known for his spectacular and large-scale public interventions and installations that are in dialogue with their surroundings. The artist plays with a contrast in the aesthetics of his work and the recognisable everyday urban objects it is made up of and – in addition – involves spectators as active participants in the artistic process. SpY designs and produces his projects from his platform SpY Studio. His project ‘Barrier Tape’ can be seen on the NDSM until the 26th of September and we asked the artist all our burning questions in the interview below.
Who SpY is, is quite a mystery. Though what you do – your work – has been shown in many cities around the world. How would you describe the essence of your work?
“My purpose is to address the public directly in order to generate reflection and dialogue, to question them and make them work as active instead of passive subjects. In this sense, the urban environment facilitates and promotes this process.
I look beyond the formalism or aesthetics of the works, that my own artistic attitude and that of the public becomes a way to build the work as a whole.
Observing and being receptive to the dialogue with the city, has been the process and the framework where I have expressed and communicated my ideas for years.”
Your work is very much out in the open, but you as an artist are not. What is the motivation behind you staying under the radar?
“We are living in a time of social media overexposure that is creating confusing realities. We navigate in a fog of misinformation and hectic social conditioning. Distraction is being favoured over concentration, the automatic over the reflexive, and confrontation over empathy. The earthly order is being replaced by the digital order that denaturalizes things and emotions of the world by computerizing them.
All this overwhelms me and having a low profile allows me to move quietly without overexposing myself too much to the media having to create a “SpY” character from which everyone expects a witty and brilliant summary of the intentions of the works.”
How did you start doing what you do and how have your public interventions evolved over the years?
“In the late 80’s – attracted by the paintings I saw in the streets – I started painting graffiti.
In a self-taught way I started to develop my own paintings and to identify myself with my own style, I had no experience nor had I been educated in an art school, but I was powerfully attracted to the idea of seeing my name everywhere.
After many years of working in the streets, it was like a natural evolution that I developed a keen sense to see the city as an artistic support with great possibilities to make my current works of urban art.
From graffiti to the present day, I have been defined by a constancy and curiosity to investigate other tools and formats in my work. I dedicate a lot of time to the ideation, theory, practice, and management of projects. My intention is to raise important questions that generate reflection around the work, and I seek to formalize and communicate these approaches through different formats.
It has been a journey in which I have been transforming my working method and proposing new ways of working within this framework.”
There are many souls involved in developing your ideas, could you elaborate on what your platform SpY Studio is and how you work?
“It is a very liquid studio that quickly adapts to the new challenges of each project. The studio is both a laboratory space and an eclectic team of specialists, technicians, and craftsmen, who collaborate with a great spirit of learning and research. Weaving disciplines and collaborating with other professionals from different areas implies having a solid work methodology that adapts well to different challenges and at the same time is flexible enough to be open to experiment with the unexpected.
The Studio is currently researching and experimenting with kinetic art in movement and the use of new tools and media that combine the digital, mechanical, and electronic with elements of the urban imaginary that we commonly find in the streets of any city.
For example, we are working on a large permanent kinetic installation for the atrium of a hospital in Switzerland. It requires a sophisticated engineering work that integrates innocuously into the architecture and a custom programming system that will bring all the movements of the work to life. It is a project on which we will be working with an engineering company and two architectural studios and will last for two years until the hospital is completed and operational.
In a more ephemeral state, we have recently realised a kinetic sculpture called ECLYPSES of 60 meters long composed of 20 backlit mobile discs and a sound system in the warehouses of the old arms factory. This work involves visitors in a unique experience through the modulation of scale, light, colour, and music. The different elements are conjugated through choreographies that shape a succession of hypnotic and immersive patterns.”
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And in what way have you evolved as an artist as your works are increasingly being picked up in many cities and by different cultures on different continents?
“Each project ends up being a learning journey because there is never a work like the previous one. It always involves new challenges where we seek to understand and connect new tools, propose different research processes, and surround ourselves with the best possible team to carry them out.
As I said, I seek through my works to raise important questions that we as a society should keep in mind. This search is formalised through conceptual contrasts between the aesthetics of my works and the difficult connotations of the objects with which they are built, often elements used to condition people’s behaviour.”
The work ‘Barrier Tape’ at the NDSM engages with the natural elements around it which creates a hypnotic (multi-sensory) experience for its spectators. Could you elaborate more on how your idea for this work came about and where this fascination of using everyday objects in your public art works come from?
“It is about creating new works from the ordinary. You start the process based on elements already known to most, but if you regroup them to form a new combination, you are already creating something new and memorable.
This is a sound sculpture made with recycled barrier tape that continues the line of kinetic works with hypnotic patterns that I have been exploring in my last projects.
Something fundamental in the work is the dialogue with the context and the performance of the wind that plays and dances with the tapes creating beautiful choreographies and undulating movements throughout the installation almost as if it were a sea wave.
As you can see, it is a living work that interacts with the public making it part of the experience in order to create a memorable moment for everyone.”
Your works are in dialogue with their urban environment. ‘Barrier Tape’ examines the urban context of the NDSM and recalls the ever-changing character of this place and the city of Amsterdam. How do you view or approach these changes as someone who is not from here and translate this into a work?
“I believe that as an artist your proposals should not seek the complacency and acceptance of the widest possible audience. You have to be faithful and coherent with what you want to express, and work within an artistic rigor even if that does not please everyone who receives it. However, you have to understand and dialogue with the contexts where you exhibit your works and work on them accordingly, because we have an important responsibility when we share our creations with neighbours and residents who cede their spaces, otherwise we will not be very different from the massive advertising noise imposed.”
Finally: you explore the urban environment as a “playing field full of untapped possibilities”. What kind of ‘playing field’ is the NDSM according to you?
“The urban environment is undoubtedly a framework that offers great possibilities to work and propose artistic projects. From the micro, as a small intervention on an urban element, to the macro with a large installation in an urban core of a city.
Cities can be quite rigid in general, yet the street behaves like a living entity through which blood circulates. It is not an aseptic space like the gallery, the museum or the fair. It is constantly evolving and that is part of the process of creating the works.
In the case of ‘Barrier Tape’ at NDSM, the artistic proposal in this public space aims to make passers-by accomplices with their own city, thus leaving aside the monotony that generally absorbs their life in big cities.
Rarely do we find artistic representations that break into the everyday life of cities to generate reflection and dialogue between creators, cities, and citizens.”