Stones convey a sense of immobility, which could be the reason for the human tendency to quietly endure the evolution of our urban environments. Even today, as the Grand Paris replaces the Haussmannian revolution in our minds, we participate in debates where the city appears more as a statistical field than the theatre of our lives. We mindlessly observe the irreversible destruction of our everyday environments while projecting the challenge of understanding the evolution of the urban environment onto the past. We content ourselves with a stereotypical vision of Parisian bohème, ideal for selling Paris on the international tourism market, without grasping its beauty as a creative phenomenon, one closely linked to the Haussmannian revolution. What can you do with the painters, printmakers, photographers, writers, and musicians shaken by the overwriting of vieux Paris in favour of boulevards cluttered with bourgeois buildings and their stone façades? All too often, we forget that their refusal to frequent certain spaces and to reflect the lifestyles beginning to emerge was a reaction to the radical mutation of their urban environment.

Ensconced in their ateliers, the artists of the bohème were the precursors of the growing urban understanding that characterizes 20th century art. The point of no return, which transformed the street from the subject of art to art itself, was the excursion organized by Dada at the church of Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre in Paris, in April 1921: the artists finally stepped into the street. Surrealism, Situationism, and Fluxus followed in this revolution’s footsteps, which the disaffected kids of New York’s boroughs then democratized with aerosol cans.

Let’s leave behind the idea that today’s graffiti writing is the same as back in the seventies. Of course, the DNA remains the same, but the palette of artistic possibilities on offer to graffiti writers today is much more abundant. The work by ETNIK is an example of this, as his study of lettering carries a reading of the urban space which extends beyond the simple framework of reality. His more recent works—like those created for the exhibition FUN da MENTAL—confirm this impression, but the roots of this research trace back to 2003, when ETNIK became interested in representing the volume of cities, abandoning the faithful representation of urban panoramas which German street artist Evol was beginning to create in stencil.

Fantasy, colour and abstraction aren’t a recent inclination, but the result of long-developed pictorial research, liberating the urban view from the rigid approach to the city defended by 20th century urbanists. Consider ETNIK’s work, with its artificial colours and surreally toned lighting. Take advantage of his voluntarily skewed perspectives, which remind us of the beauty of imperfection. Listen to the silence which saturates his pieces and question the absence of a human presence. All of these elements open to a parallel path, which pushes past the simple pictorial frame alongside the famous metaphysical landscapes painted by Giorgio De Chirico from 1910 on. ETNIK and De Chirico’s shared rejection of the faithful representation of the urban landscape effectively hides their shared quest to find a dimension of reality which leaves place for a dreamscape, an enigma, the unforseen, or rather, the human.

ETNIK’s city is very different from De Chirico’s. The urbanism of the 1990s and 2000s has long since assimilated the Haussmannian project. At the same time, as geographer David Harvey recently reminded us in Rebel Cities, our conception of the urban is still largely reliant on the connections between the city and financial capital, which was one of the Haussmannian project’s primary developments. It is in this environment, where the situation of inhabitants often depends on economic stakes that are mostly out of our hands, that graffiti came to be. Forty years after Taki 183 tagged New York, graffiti writing has moved beyond the simple act of marking a territory. It’s a prism through which to see the city, to take back the city, and to dream up a dimension of reality more welcoming to the citizens of these urban lands

Christian Omodeo