'In the Dark", a member of DMV paints in Beit Ha'Ir .
(photo credit: BEN KAUFMAN NOMAD PRODUCTIONS)
Da Mental Vaporz [DMV] is a French street-art collective that began in the suburbs of Paris roughly 20 years ago. “The thing you need to understand,” says Bom K., “is that graffiti is basically illegal. At the time when we did tags [writing your name in the streets] or throw up [writing letters in public space] it was dangerous and somewhat shameful. It wasn’t anything to be proud of. If you had a family member who did it you were usually embarrassed by him.”
“This is why we all had our ‘I’m Batman’ moment when we came out to each other so to speak,” says Kan, another member of the collective. “You would meet someone and they’d say, ‘I really like so and so,’ and after a while when you felt there’s a connection you would say: ‘Oh, that’s actually me.’”
The secretiveness evokes the cultural legacy of early Christianity. “They were the first graffiti artists in a way because they drew fish as a symbol of Christ,” as well as a tightly-knit community, Kan adds, where one produces art and gets feedback from, and only from, other peers.
To some extent the secrecy continued even in this interview. While all DMV members have real names and don’t mind sharing them with me, they prefer to be mentioned in The Jerusalem Post by their street names, in French-slang the term is “blaze.”
“It’s important to have a blaze
that really represents who you are as an artist,” Brusk, explains. “Brusk means very fast for example. Lek chose his Blaze because of his Polish heritage; some of us simply compose a Blaze from letters we feel close to.”
The evolution of graffiti from an act of vandalism to a street culture inspired by skate-boarding and hip-hop also happened to the various group members. Brusk was invited to join a humanitarian mission to Bosnia. “It was a unique pleasure to paint in a broken city because at the time they hadn’t removed all the land-mines so there was a feeling of real risk,” he says. “In addition, the night was totally controlled by mobsters. You could feel that danger as well.”
Drawing led some of the 10 members of DMV [three could not make it to Tel-Aviv] to art schools, others simply kept doing something they loved and discovered new grounds to cover. “We are not teenagers anymore,” laughs Brusk, “so it would be odd if we did the same thing in our 30s and 40s we did when we were 16.True, we still find great street art in Tel Aviv or New York City, but we also discovered [German-French] painter Hans Hartung. He did, 100 years ago, things we find very inspiring today. So we all grow and keep evolving.”
“AS A CURATOR, I’m interested in artists who still have adrenaline in their art, who are still worried about being caught by the police,” says Beit Ha’ir Museum curator and manager Ayelet Bitan Shlonsky. “This is the fifth group to come here as part of our ongoing interest in art collectives and how they work.
“Each collective that showcased here did things in their own way,” she says. “The German group Klub7 created their installations as a group but the paintings were individual. The Portuguese Double Trouble Crew brought the scope of the street, which is very large, into the museum. The French,” she smiles, “do it differently. They actually add to the paintings each other makes and, in that sense, it really is art produced by a collective.”
DMV also wanted to know if they could paint over the facade of Beit Ha’ir. Shlonsky refused, believing a historic building should not be altered in such a radical way. “We are now looking into various other options like hanging a large painted cloth,” she explains.
Beit Ha’ir actually has three functions. The first is as the historical museum of Tel Aviv. As such, visitors can enjoy a unique program that will show them the history of the first Hebrew city. “We are one of the few places in the city that have the old city symbol designed by Nachum Gutman [with seven stars and the motto ‘I will built thee, and you shall be built’] next to the 2009 one that marks 100 years from the establishment of the city,” she says, “which shows a circle composed of many colorful spots, representing the multicultural aspect of the city.”
The second function is that of a museum for urban culture, which encompasses everything from architecture and historical anniversaries to the history of the sewer system and street art.
The third function is not as widely known. The mayor of Tel-Aviv has an official office in Beit Ha’ir that he uses when signing a friendship agreement with another important city, such as Paris.
When asked about having been seen as an embarrassment to being invited to represent French culture as part of the French-Israeli Year of Friendship, the group members laugh and claim that in our day and age, nobody thinks that France has a unique cultural mission. However, says Brusk, “in France we, as artists, are free. This is not the situation all over the world, and in my work I always try to present the audience with a new way of looking at things, a new fact, so to speak.”
The ‘Alone in the Dark’ exhibition by DMV opens November 8 and will run until March 2019 at Beit Ha’ir Museum, 27 Bialik St. Tel Aviv.
The DMV website is damentalvaporz.com.
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