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Nuart Festival 2017 - Production Week!

This years Nuart Festival is exploring the theme of 'Power' with the title 'Rise Up!' a kind of call to arms but guns are relaced with spray paint and wallpaper paste! A big part of Nuarts success is the pairing of murals with a 3 day academic conference, Nuart Plus which takes in panel debates, artist talks and presentations from key figures in the street art world both academics and creatives, on the ground out making work. The artist line up for this year is a mixture of both familiar and new names to me including Ampparito (ES), Bahia Shehab (EG), Carrie Reichardt (UK), flyingleaps presents Derek Mawudoku (UK), Ian Strange (AU), John Fekner (US), Know Hope (IL), ±maismenos± (PT), Igor Ponosov (RU), Ricky Lee Gordon (ZA), Slava Ptrk (RU) and Vermibus (DE).

After some gut wrenching passport stress we finally got to Stavanger and were greeted by some friendly faces from the Nuart Aberdeen production crew and production manager Calum. Over dinner we caught up on the intervening months and told them about the positive impact of Nuart Aberdeen along with the Look Again Festival. The others were full of tales of their own adventures which I've been following through social media. Saz, a cultural producer from Nottingham has been leading some great projects like The Anti Gallery and the SheAfriq initiative. After dinner we walked around the harbour and explored some of the rustic lanes and alleys, Simen explaining a bit about the history of the area and how its changed. We even walked past the latest Martin Whatson x Sandra Chevier mural which ill post about later. After a little more wandering we made our way back to the Best Western Havly, home for the next 10 days!

The host venue for the indoor gallery show Tou Scene was only a mile or so walk from the hotel but as Calum and Simen explained the route was littered with artworks both big and small from previous iterations of the festival. Entire houses covered by Ela & Pitir, a huge Herakut mural, OG Dotmaster pieces, you name it we spotted it. It was pretty mind blowing to see prominent figures from the street art movement dotted along a slightly run down street, like the Stavanger equivalent of George Street. Before long we came to the infamous Tou Scene, a former brewery turned art squat and now a legitimate council run arts and music studio space with music venue and café to boot! When I think about the type of art space I'd build in Aberdeen, Tou Scene is pretty close to the mark.

Nuart is pretty unique in many ways with one aspect being the people. Over the past 17 years (the festival has been running in one form or another) they've built up and cultivated great relationships and friendships, pulling together an international crew from all corners of the globe. From chefs to IT specialists, painters and builders, all skill sets are represented and put to good use. Having both volunteered our services to the team we quickly learned that the next 7 days would be anything but an easy ride. And that suited me just fine! The Tunnels as everyone called them are 6 large warehouse areas which would have housed fermentation tanks and storage for the brewing supplies but now formed an integral part of Nuart, providing the indoor space where the invited artists create a site specific installation along with creating street based works. I have watched numerous videos of artists like Futura, Niels Shoe Meulman, Sickboy and Tilt create stunning indoor works as part of previous festivals so to be standing in the same spaces felt quite special. Until the real work started!

Having a bit of experience on the AV side I soon found myself shimmying up a scaffold to work out the best position for 2 floor to ceiling projections for John Fekner, famed NYC street artist and cultural provocateur. Despite being scared of heights I quickly got accustomed to ferrying cables, shelves, projectors and more cables up and down as we rigged up each room. As the artists began to fly in the requirements for each space grew and grew, some arriving with pre planned arrangements and ideas, others riffing off the environment and the endless possibilities. I had a great vantage point for watching Russian artist Igor Ponsov who's floating eye chart piece was laid out for sizing up and cutting, all done by hand with the help of Kritsina and Nazar, a Ukranian couple I had the pleasure of meeting at Nuart Aberdeen. It felt like every time you stepped out to get some fresh air another space had been spurred into action, a wall had been painted, a new stand for holding up 5 tonnes of sand had been built by Dan or a JCDecaux lightbox (a 5 man job no less) had been attached to the wall!

A real personal highlight for myself was meeting Ian Strange, an Australian artist who grew to prominence through painting entire houses and deconstructing them to form new structures. The sheer scale of Ian's work resonates, the home a universal symbol for many of family but now the perfect canvas for his ambitious ideas with a huge number of homes being reppossed or abandoned. Ian has been working on  new body of work exploring some of his existing themes of painting houses but scaled down, instead painting onto vintage photos of houses picked up at flea markets. The new images have been turned into a book which is available as part of the Nuart show but was also turned into billboard size paste ups which we quickly learned to apply. The first mission took place in the tunnels with Ian giving us a quick schooling in the process before we set off to put the works out on the street.

Of course coming under the public gaze as you try to remove a few years worth of adverts was a little daunting but with each rip I cared less about the onlookers. The scraper broke with in the first 5 minutes but we persevered and managed to get the first billboard cleared and pasted in good time. Another 3 followed, each presenting their own challenges but by the end we were like a well oiled machine, Teddy prepping the sheets, Mary handing them up while I applied and quickly pushed out the air bubbles. We each had a turn at each job and finally stood back to admire our efforts and the huge pile of scrap paper we'd amassed on the street. Luckily the friendliest bin man in Stavanger, Frodo (look at his happy face below) came along and within ten minutes had loaded all the scraps into the back of his van ready for the disposal. Almost before we finished people were taking photos and selfies with the work, all in all a successful mission!

The next few days consisted of more of the same, tile cutting, more painting, more pasting, the pool was filled with water, projectors were aligned and finally scaffold were deconstructed and smart clothes were put on ready for the big opening. Having called it quits the day before I made a conscious effort not to step into the tunnels, I wanted to see it with fresh eyes knowing that a lot had changed in the last 24 hours. When we met up with Calum the production manager before heading to the grand opening he was almost giddy with exhaustion having pulled a few 20 hour shifts to make sure the show would be ready on time. I found my self wondering what would make someone put in that kind of effort, beyond the obvious pay day benefits but many of us were there working for free? And its the simple fact that everyone involved, from the production crew, the volunteer group, the academics, the media personnel and the admin staff, we all love what Nuart stands for. And that is simply putting art on the streets, into the every day for everyone. A simple thing but it has such a huge impact as we've seen with the Aberdeen murals.

This years festival theme of 'Power' brought up many questions, who has it, how do they wield it and how can we get some. Each of the artists had a different take and they all produced incredible works which ill go into in the next blog post but for me, the real power is in the people. Everyone who took part in the production of the works, the countless man hours put in by Teddy, Chris, Mary, Simen, Liz, Saz, Anne, James, Alex, Jeanie, Maria, all the artists and everyone else involved, the literal blood, sweat and tears of 40 odd individuals made it happen. We often see these types of festivals or murals and think its so far beyond our own capabilities but these things can be done and are achievable. Its was bloody hard work but its not impossible. Working together led to friendships and hopefully some inspiring and meaningful interactions, over sawdust covered tables and dinner tables alike. So instead of rise up ill finish with "Raise Up" a glass to everyone who helped make our trip so special, I thank you all and can't wait to do it all again next year!

Now to try and sum up the art and the people who created it...

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