When people ask me to explain what Urban Lives is, I try to to explain that it is much more than a publishing project – it is a collection of articles, reports, interviews and people’s vision about street art in Italy: well, actually, it is my everyday life. Here and there, between pages of the blog, you can capture this aspect that, perhaps, makes my project unique; I can’t and I cannot want to hide or keep in secret how living in contact with artists has improved my life and given me experience full of emotions. Urban Lives has been a source of knowledge, connections, travels and discussions for me, and not least, it gave me that opportunity to make my dreams come true. Today I want to tell you about one of the most beautiful and exciting experiences I’ve ever had: a week in my beloved city, Rome, together with two of my favorite artists, Vegan Flava from Stockholm and Ken Plotbot from Berlin. I’ve always loved and supported both of them.
Vegan Flava e Ken Plotbot: abandoned factories and collaborations
It’s been a year since I discovered on Instagram two extraordinary artists: Ken Plotbot and Vegan Flava. At that time I was exploring abandoned places in the North of Italy with Italian artists and posting photos on my accounts, and this has created the first connection with them. I was so impressed not only with their artistic skills but also with their passion and their attention to details, unusual care that is about composition and interaction with the abandoned place chosen and, not less with the whole production of professional photos and videos. Moreover, both artists are recognized and famous for their dark shades, predilection for abandoned places and social issues such as industrialization and environment.
I’ve chatted online with both of them separately, and we’ve found a lot of common interests. You can’t imagine my surprise when in May, I found out that they’d met in Berlin and painted together, working on what would have been their first and successful artistic collaboration, followed by another one in early October, also in Berlin. I didn’t even know that they were in contact with each other, get alone that they could paint together: and the result was incredible.
Since that moment I started considering to invite them to paint in Italy, an idea that would have required months of planning and implementation. At that time I’ve started sharing this hope with many artists and friends, showing them on my mobile photos of their pieces, receiving lots of positive feedbacks and also many proposals of location.
last inducement to organize their trip to Italy was my meeting with Ken Plotbot in Berlin, in early September.
A day with him in abandoned factories, with beers, chitchats and photos of his artworks, has allowed me to understand and appreciate him and his art even more. We also talked for a long time about his collaboration with Vegan Flava and I have rarely heard a story more exciting of a first meeting between artists. As both of them said repeatedly to me, “it was like a miracle, an amazing artistic connection“, and that is obvious if you look at quality of the final result.
It was also interesting for me to discover that they do not collaborate with other artists so often.
In short, it was unwittingly to witness something magical, that I’d contributed to.
After returning from Berlin, the project has finally taken a shape, with great enthusiasm of all of us. What was supposed to originally be a trip around Italy has turned to be a travel in a single city, Rome, curated by me. Now I can say that it was the best choice, because it allowed us to focus on a single experience, both as a group and from artistic point of view.
In the weeks before their arrival I did so many things: I explored abandoned places with friends (thanks again for your help!), I took photos of walls or examined photos of others, I bought all the material, I borrowed a stick and rollers, I asked artists for advice about which paint would be better, I postponed business appointments and, not least, I got vegan supplies for Vegan Flava.
I strongly wanted everything to go smoothly, without any unpleasant surprise or time-wasting.
The first who arrived in Rome was Vegan Flava, which gave us a chance to know each other, talk a lot about many subjects and also find out other things and opinions in common. The following morning Ken Plotbot arrived and we spent the first day together exploring an abandoned factory, which then became our second home.
After choosing one of the rooms, especially impressive one with the presence of flora, the yellowish color of the walls and the interesting light from holes in the ceiling and doorways, they began to plan and sketch. The artistic affinity between them was obvious from the first moment: I listened to them, wide-mouthed, while, with a few minutes of conversation, the common project came to life. It was like that every single day of that week.
The realization of their mural required four intense days and a significant effort of energy from both of them. Only a few times I’ve seen artists so dedicated to their work. They used to leave the factory later and later every evening and almost completely gave up on sightseeing. The only exception was a vegan dinner in Pigneto district on the first night and a night exploration of the beauties of the Eternal City. This was, perhaps, one of the most exciting moments of the week: mild climate and almost complete absence of people made the moment even more evocative. It was strange to move from the silent factory to the one of ancient Roman roads timeless urban visions that made us feel as suspended, out of time, far from the daily chaos, and even more connected to each of us.
Despite of hard work and the small daily problems and worries, it was a perfect week, from every point of view. Great teamwork between us, so many exchanges of opinions, many stories, confidences, beers, laughs and jokes. I can’t forget the walks back home after sunset, every day with a great desire to celebrate and cheer to life, friendship and the successful day, in a mix of strain, euphoria and adrenaline. About the artistic collaboration, Ken Plotbot and Vegan Flava proved tremendous harmony and amazing technical and compositional skills. It was great to see their ability to work in tandem, also how they carefully studied the spot and its peculiarities and interacting with it. Their two murals, painted on two adjacent walls of the room, mingle with real plants and painted branches of trees, embracing or blend with architectural elements and making their way on surface, finding also contact points and continuity.
Vegan Flava: a reflection on man and nature
The subject represented by Vegan Flava is his favorite one, a skeleton, this time lying on the ground and face down. The skull and bones are intertwined with branches, which leaves are carried away by the wind reaching distant points of the room and the subject of Ken Plotbot. The contrast between the man’s immobility, and the movement of natural elements persuade viewers to go into deeper reflections and careful observation.
As Vegan Flava told me, the intent of his artwork is to highlight the need to go beyond the genres, identities, social classes. No matter who we are, what we stand for, what we do, we are all equal and all share the same fate. The differences should be seen as a source of mutual enrichment, not obstructed, discriminated or hidden. The branches and leaves remind us of the importance to stay connected with nature and respect it. The artist, vegan since his eighteen years, spoke a lot about central role that veganism plays in his life, both in choice of food and in respecting animals and environment, and about his habit of spending some spare time hiking in forests and his trips to lake.
Ken Plotbot: chemical pollution of an apocalyptic future
As for Vegan Flava, also Ken Plotbot chose his favourite subject, a woman with gas mask, painted with dark shades. In a disturbing doomsday scenario the woman is a victim of air pollution and chemicals of which man has abused without reflecting on health and long-term environmental consequences. Toxic and harmful chemicals, also presented in the abandoned factory, that we live in close contact with daily without knowing. The artist, chatting about this during the week with me and Vegan, was proving to us to have a deep awareness and knowledge of this problem, by listing risky situations, bad habits and names of substances present in everyday objects/products or even in nature.
The chemical pollution victim painted in the factory in addition to wearing the gas mask seems to hide among the plants of the room, and is surrounded by toxic black drippings that expand like wildfire across the floor of the room, like infected veins or dead branches.
As Ken Plotbot told me after finishing the mural, the final result goes beyond the usual pictorial representation: in fact, the artwork of the artists is not only the two painted walls but the whole room, a set of elements and objects, some of which painted and accurately positioned. Their attention to details is at the same time a gift to a viewer, surrounded by what might be called a single representation or an art installation, and also a tribute to the place, which seems so revitalized.
Plans and hopes for the future
There are so many interests I have in common with Ken Plotbot and Vegan Flava that my will to work on new projects and explore more abandoned places together is only growing. Talking with them about so many topics and seeing them painting here in Rome realized something that seemed incredible to me. Especially, getting in touch with them from a human point of view and friendship, has made this experience unique and unforgettable. It was difficult to say goodbye to them, but I feel a strong connection between us after this intense week full of emotions and I’m already looking forward to meeting them again.
We are ready for the next adventure!
Italian version of the article