Can you tell us about your We live on Google Earth project?
It is hacking without a computer. Only with a roller and tons of black paint. Which I did in 2015 in a small city of Italy named Gaeta. It was originally part of the Tagtical Media series but ended up being the opening of the Honest Glitches series.
I painted a 125m long message saying “Google ERROR 404 : MURAL NOT FOUND,” 50 meters after this was a “loading please wait” message on the bridge you pass before heading to the wall. Mimicking a system error implying that we would live on Google Earth. The work was associated with a billboard presenting The Sun magazine cover from 2020, explaining that our great leader Google Corp has censored a mural for the first time on our planet. It was my way of speaking about the recent (at the time) and unnecessary involvement of Google into street art archiving with their Google Art Street Art Project.
What is the meaning behind the From Russia with Love mural created in Kiev?
This piece is special to me and I think it was mostly misunderstood by many while it might be the most challenging piece I ever did. I wanted to speak about the very specific relation between Russia and Ukraine, which is a pretty sensitive topic. It’s also one of the pieces in the Honest Glitches series that’s meant to hack Google Earth’s Street View.
In 2016, an Ukrainian city got its whole electricity shut down for a few days because of a cyber attack believed to be conducted by Russia. I saw this as a modern Cold War act and found it very interesting. These two countries have a very linked past history and they now seem to love to hate each other, or maybe to hate to love each other. That’s why I thought about this giant heart shape digital cannonball which I wanted to crash in the building on an epic way. Like one of those Hollywood “end of world” blockbuster movies. So I tried a new challenge: use the “simulacrum” layer again, but this time I explore the architectural structure by increasing my scale. I recreated a whole building facade before destroying it.
Which I must have done well because it actually went pretty much unnoticed by everyone. The ideal outcome of a simulacrum is to be invisible and perfectly imitate. Even some of my closest friends, and most aware of the details in my work asked me, “So you covered the windows to paint the heart, right ?” I answered, “Look closer for a second!” Then you will notice that the entire facade is fake. Me and my buddy who assisted me have taken two weeks to paint something like 70 windows and 2000 tiles… one by one. Your brain actually believes the idea that there is a giant heart crashing into the building.
In this case, this is also the first time that I used what I call “democratic perspective,” which you can also find in one my last works, There’s no such thing as publicity in Berlin for my 10 year anniversary. The whole work is created as an anamorphosis image that can only be seen properly from the sidewalk, where everyone can shoot it the same way. Any official photographer with specific view point access or drone would only end up with a distorted image of the work.
You recently returned to Berlin for Berlin Mural Fest. What was it like to be back?
Very weird. Good weird and bad weird at the same time. I miss this city very much but the city I knew is already partially different. Money finally arrived for street art but it doesn’t look like much of Berlin artists have had the pleasure to enjoy it. Gentrification made its way in street art too. Local artists seem to be struggling to exist and a big part of the scene I knew seems to be gone or submerged. One of the first “street art museums” opened there and there is barely any Berlin street aficionados featured in it. I was thrilled to spend some time again in this great city but I’m also sad to see how it has changed.
You’ve recently created some awesome smaller works on canvas. What inspired you to change medium?
I still have no official home and no atelier, but I still had the urge to paint sometimes, so I started to do what I have always hated: use a brush! And it actually turned out pretty OK, as I didn’t entirely dislike it. I might even start to enjoy it. So we’ll see. Maybe I will do it again in the future.
Are you taking a break from large-scale murals?
No, not really, I’m just not to say yes to projects that exploit artists. However, your question in itself is interesting, probably explained by the fact that I’m also less present on the internet…which is consider kind of like death nowadays.
So I’m not dead ! The real answer is maybe that I’m just not so much on Instagram and that must be where you get your information.
I opened an account that I only use as a retrospective (@mtograff), so I prepare the previously mentioned “1mn-videos” for each projects and publish two years of retrospective every two years more or less. However I update the work regularly (kind of) on the MTO Facebook page and sometimes I use Instagram to let people know about a few specific “live” things. But I’ll try to get back at it a bit more soon.
Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
I’m too superstitious to speak about the future yet.