MTO @ Memorie Urbane 2015

The mural and billboard created by French artist MTO for Memorie Urbane 2015 Street Art Festival in Gaeta, Italy, represent a direct reference to Google’s recent involvement regarding street art. Highlighting the fact that “we live on Google earth”, with our experiences shifted from the live interactions in the physical, real world, including art in the public space (how many murals have you actually seen lately?), the artist imagines a headline story in a future edition of The SUN dated Friday, May 22nd, 2020 and entitled “FIRST CASE OF ARTISTICAL CENSORSHIP BY GOOGLE CORP”.

Among stories such as water reaching high prices for people to afford, the eradication of Palestine, France withdrawing from the European Union and Justin Bieber unable to deal with depression after his career coming to an end, the main story focuses on issues of censorship as a forecast of a fictive yet possible fate of street art:

“In the small city of GAETA, Italy, a giant 125m (471 ft) wide mural by French street-artist MTO has been silently censored by Google CORP. Is this the first case of artistic censorship on our good old Google Earth? One thing is for certain, it’s sure to open a huge can of worms, as governments around the world consult their top legal minds and grapple with the implications for freedom of artistic expression. The censorship happens against a backdrop of growing international revolt against Google’s global supremacy in information control. NATO is now thought to be looking at all options to overturn the decision and thereby prevent a massive worldwide protest in the artistic and journalistic worlds.”

MTO’s mural is visible at the crossing of Via deli’Agricoltura and Via Mariano Mandolesi, 04024 Gaeta LT, “and soon on Google Earth or Google street view”.

UPDATE: The artist announced that the piece is completed: “The dormant virus was unintentionally activated by Google in July 2015. A bug is now active and visible in Google Earth and Street View.” Click to see the work.

MTO @ Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: MTO

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: Flavia Fiengo

Memorie Urbane 2015

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photos: MTO

MTO @ Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: MTO

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: Flavia Fiengo

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: MTO

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: MTO

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: Flavia Fiengo

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: Flavia Fiengo

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: Flavia Fiengo

Memorie Urbane 2015

Photo: Flavia Fiengo

Censorship of graffiti and street art

Unfortunately, censorship is not new to MTO nor to street art in general, as we recently wrote. Besides the examples we give in our article, including MTO’s experience at Sarasota Chalk Festival, which resulted in his documentary ‘FL: unpremeditated movie’, there have been other cases of censorship in recent months. In Lima, “Mayor Luis Castañeda, who took office in January and had previously held the position between 2003 and 2010, ordered that all the murals painted during his immediate predecessor’s reign be covered over with yellow paint — the color of his conservative political party” (full story on Hyperallergic). The recent MANIFESTO project of FIFTY24MX Gallery also faced censorship, as we read on Vandalog: “On the morning of February 22nd, we went to photograph Ericailcane’s mural [one of the artists involved in the project], but we were surprised that instead of the tricolor band shown in FIFTY24MX’s photo, which was how the mural made clear reference to Enrique Peña Nieto, there was a thin black line around the monkey’s neck”. Also in February 2015, we learn from Hyperallergic that “Egyptian customs officials in Alexandria have reportedly seized a shipment of 400 copies of the art book Walls of Freedom: Street Art of the Egyptian Revolution, over fears that it might incite rebellion.” In Bristol people decide what stays and what goes, while “politicians in Detroit are trying to change the city’s reputation as the Wild West of graffiti. A city council member is working on new anti-graffiti regulations that would fine property owners for not cleaning the graffiti on their buildings” (via Vandalog).

With graffiti continuing to be perceived as vandalism and artists facing vandalism charges as in the case of COST, and street art being used as a tool contributing to the gentrification of areas such as Wynwood, censorship remains another major unsolved problem. If painting over a wall may not go unnoticed or remain a local issue thanks to the Internet, will a reverse situation be possible in the future, where censorship may start online?

About Google Street Art Project

In June 2014, Google announced the launch of a new project aiming to document and preserve street art for anyone to discover whenever and wherever, initially adding 5,000+ images and around 100 exhibitions in the Google Art Project, part of the Google Cultural Institute, to avoid the “here today, gone tomorrow” threat, often giving 5 Pointz as an example of the ephemeral nature of art interventions in public space.

At that time, The New York Times wrote: “In a sense, Google is formalizing what street art fans around the world already do: take pictures of city walls and distribute them on social media. Yet for Google to do so could raise concerns, given the criticism of its aggressive surveillance tactics, especially in Europe, where its Street View satellite mapping is widely seen as a violation of privacy. Google is taking pains to avoid offense by setting strict conditions. It will include only images provided by organizations that sign a contract attesting that they own the rights to them. (…) Google says it will not include images from groups seeking to sell the art or images of it. (…) Google also said it would remove images if artists complained to the groups that contributed them to the database. The company sees the platform as a way of making more art available to viewers. ‘I’m not treating street art as anything different from what I would do with the Impressionist collection I’m getting on Art Project,’ said Amit Sood, director of the Google Cultural Institute”.

In March 2015, Google doubled the number of public artworks to 10,000+ images, including animated “GIF-iti”, with 85 art organizations from 34 countries sharing pieces in their database. The images have been made available with Chrome, Chromecast, Android Wear and mobile devices. A dedicated website includes guided audio tours, artist stories and curated online exhibitions, including major street art festivals.

“We are not the mural police, we are the mural conservancy,” Isabel Rojas-Williams of the non-profit Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, one of Google’s partners on the project, told The Guardian.

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More info about MTO on Facebook, Instagram and Vimeo.

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View photos from the 2015 edition and the 2014 edition on The re:art.