You don’t need an especially expansive definition of art to include graffiti somewhere in the mix. To consider it a “hack” takes a bit more imagination. But in the simple act of using spray paint to transform someone else’s property, artist Evan Roth saw a very visceral form of the creative repurposing that often defines hacker culture. His Propulsion Paintings celebrate that transformative power by removing the aerosol can from its familiar context–putting paint on a wall–and giving it a much more immediate job to do.
The pieces themselves are actually a series of jerry-rigged contraptions in which spray paint cans propel, power, deface, or otherwise transform other objects directly attached to them. In one piece, the paint unfurls a birthday party noise maker. In another, it plays the harmonica. In another, a can laid on its back momentarily keeps a ping pong ball afloat in mid-air.
Each act lasts only a few minutes–Roth says he thinks of them “more as performance pieces (documented in video) rather than paintings or sculptures”–but they succeed in focusing the viewer’s attention intently on the momentary process of the paint leaving the can. As Roth explains it, “Using spray paint to paint on other people’s property was a hack that has changed the face of most cities in the world.” And while city dwellers pass by street art every day, we usually don’t spend much time thinking about how it got there. Roth’s Propulsion Paintings force us consider the process of transformation as opposed to the final product.
Over the last few years, Roth has been responsible for several graffiti-related projects, most notably the Eyewriter, a visual tracking system that allows paralyzed users to tag simply by moving their eyes. That and other projects led to the artist teaching a one-off course on art and hacking at Eastern Michigan University earlier this year. It was there, in fact, that he first started working on the Propulsion Paintings; for their first homework assignment, Roth’s students had to use a spray paint can to do something other than paint. From the video overview of their work, it looks like more than one elected to use their compressed air to inflate a condom. I’d say that’s about C+ level provocation.
[Hat tip: Today and Tomorrow]