Are we heading for beautification overload in Finland?

“Dominant role of commissioned street art is dangerous”, said Swedish researcher Peter Bengtsen at the Street Art & Urban Creativity conference in Lisbon few weeks back. By commissioned street art he was referring to curated, sanctioned and paid street art.

At the moment Finland is having a huge boom of commissioned street art. Great number of works have risen rapidly all around the country. During the next two months international artists like Aryz, Ricky Lee Gordon, Mr. Woodland and TELMO MIEL will paint in Finland. Guido van Helten will make a 50-metre high mural in Hämeenlinna. It will the highest mural in all Scandinavia.

At the same time uncommissioned street art is rare and seldom encountered here. There are hardly any tags, throw ups, old-school graffitis or stencils. Stickers, because not considered illegal by the Finnish law, are the most popular ones in our city spaces.

Bengtsen (2017) sees commissioned street art in dominant role dangerous for three reasons. First, commissioned art is often linked with economic interests. These include revenue for street art festivals, curators and local economy by tourism. Second, street artists seem to be less and less keen on compromising their careers in museums or with commissioned murals by painting uncommissioned works in the streets. There are already internationally known street artists that have only painted paid murals or in studios, never in the streets. Thirdly, commissioned street art as beautification can result to gentrification of areas.

I have already stated my worry about street art’s role as a tool of beautification in Finland. Hendryk con Busse, another speaker in the Lisbon conference, stated: “Street art should be mirroring the society, not masking it.” The latest commissioned street art projects in Helsinki area, like painting the legendary Piritori (“Speed Market”, a square known for drug dealing) with naive illustrations of sea waves and balloons is an example of Busse’s term “masking the society”. I also have already seen photos of commissioned street art used in rental ads as a statement of the apartments’ attractiveness. Not to mention the rise of new artists that offer their services on street art production.

There should be more talk about what kind of public space we want to live in. There is a change we are about to have a public space just with commissioned murals. I have nothing against murals but I do not want my city to be monotonous in representing the wide scale of street art and graffiti. I think a city with both uncommissioned and commissioned street art would mirror more its inhabitants; their thoughts, ideas and opinions.

Just like for example in Lisbon: take a look at the diversity of works I photographed in the center of the city.

Lisbon street art and graffiti
  • alicepasquini, street art, lisbonstreetart, alice
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