Interview with Napoli System: graffiti benching and documentation online

Interview with the creators and curators of Napoli System, an online project which started in 2018 with documenting the graffiti writing scene in Naples and Campania region, and then extended its contents to the international one

I’m so happy I got the chance to interview the creators of Napoli System, a very interesting project on graffiti writing, both Italian and international. Since one year I’ve been following their graffiti photography Instagram account and their interviews with Italian writers on YouTube channel, and I couldn’t wait to talk with them about their work and their plans for the future, but also about “the art of documenting graffiti“, graffiti benching, the influence of social media on writing… and much more!

How and when did you start working on Napoli System’s project? And why did you choose to launch it on Instagram and YouTube?

I had the idea, together with an ex friend of mine, in 2018. We are both benchers* and back then we were taking together a lot of photographs of graffiti. In the beginning we were using our private accounts to share them but then we realized that they were too many, and so we got the idea to open a more professional account to document the local scene and call it “Napoli System”.
At first we opened an Instagram account, uploading mainly photographs of panels painted by friends in Naples and then day by day, as we were taking the project more and more seriously, we studied and started to use proper hashtags and we designed the first NS logo. Moreover, at some point, we started to use the Instagram account as it was a blog. After some months we also opened the YouTube channel, in order to share some interviews with writers. Unfortunately, after 5 interviews, we had some problems with video editing and we temporarily suspended this activity, but we’ll be back soon!

*(“An individual who takes photographs of graffiti. The term originated in New York when the graffiti writers and non-graffiti writers would sit on benches at train stations waiting for the trains to go by to take pictures and admire graffiti” – Source: Wikipedia)

What are you working on now?

We’d like to document both writing and street art not only through our social media accounts but also with a printed publication and, hopefully, with an exhibition. We also hope to go more and more international and to find other benchers around the world who want to collaborate and send us photographs of graffiti.

Your first love and focus is the graffiti scene in Naples, as your project’s name suggests. What do you think about it? And what do you suppose made it so famous and unique?

We grew up using public transportation and we clearly remember the development of the Neapolitan graffiti scene from the 1990s. Back then we were already obsessed with tags and graffiti and we used to try to recognize the crew and to understand from which area they came from. More recently we’ve had the chance to know some older writers and listening to their stories we were fascinated by the social aspects of painting. Graffiti writing, in Naples, used to be hardcore and innovative but also a “family affair”, a great way of bringing people together.

And what do you think of the current Italian graffiti scene?

It’s powerful! Abroad we are popular and well-known, even though sometimes the wide variety of styles of Italian graffiti (from trash graffiti to “clean” style) make it difficult to identify the nationality of writers. In general, I can say that there are several writers from all over Italy that are pretty known abroad.

What is, in your opinion, the most interesting thing about graffiti writing?

Surely, connections and networking. Even before Napoli System, we already had friends from all over Europe and Italy. But it’s also fascinating the constant existential research in graffiti. Writers keep wondering “Who am I? What am I able to do?”; this is what keeps us alive and makes us want to keep on travelling and painting, breaking down both mental and language barriers. So we are glad to be connected with many people and glad to receive messages and photographs from writers from different countries; it’s funny, sometimes they just text us to know how good pizza is in Naples! eheheh

What don’t you like, instead, about being a writer and about the graffiti world in general?

There’s too much competition. Writers always try to be better than someone else, more than just being focused on improving for themselves. It’s a constant challenge to hit more model trains and to reach more spots than the others; in this way they just forget the social and fun side of graffiti, and how magical is sharing this experience with someone else. I think, for example, of the importance of spending time with a friend on a bench, chatting and drinking a beer while waiting for your pieces to pass by in order to take a picture of them, or just enjoying watching other people’s graffiti. Honestly, I also blame the new generation of writers, since many of them are losing sight of the genuine side of graffiti. They are too obsessed with visibility, also on social media, and they even think that crossing someone else’s piece for no reason is a way to gain respect.

Graffiti writing and documentation. What do you think about it?

I remember that in a documentary I watched, they said “every form of art is supposed to last for thousands of years, while urban art is ephemeral and should be documented”. Graffiti pieces shouldn’t be buffed or cancelled, they should fade away over time. I believe that every kind of street art and writing should be documented, from a tag to a throw-up, from an hand-made sticker to a stencil, from a paste up on a wall to a piece on a train… literally everything.
For me photographic archives are very important, and I mean not only our personal ones but also the ones of other writers, nowadays and in the past. They are pieces of history and what we have now (a scene, graffiti styles etc.) would have never happened if someone hadn’t documented graffiti since the very beginning of the movement.

How and how much do you think Instagram affected the graffiti world?

So many things have been changing in the last 40 years; about media and photography, writers passed from analog photos to the first blogs till Fotolog and social networks. Instagram, as every kind of social media, can be used both in a good or in a bad way. While some writers just use it to share some photographs with friends and followers and to get to know new people, some others use it to show off, to attack or copy someone else; also, many people use it as their only source of information concerning the graffiti scene. It’s so sad that nowadays many writers don’t even read or travel anymore and they think that only by scrolling the Instagram feed and by checking some graffiti accounts out, they can keep updated and know who is active and who is not… while there is a world outside of Instagram, which is hidden or just not documented.

Do you think there’s a big gap between the old and the new generations of writers?

I see that the new generation lacks creativity and originality and they are afraid, or just uninterested, in experimenting. They often follow trends and fashions and they expect to achieve results as soon as possible and without a great effort and a great practise; this means that they don’t sketch so much, and they rarely accept criticism and advice. Also, everything now is technically easier; just think of the wide variety of caps that exist now, while in the past you barely had 2-3, and to find and try new ones you had to wait for your friends to bring them from somewhere else. Once to be a writer was somehow harder and a slower process but at the same time it was also a deeper experience. You were forced to fight for what you loved, you had to be more patient and you probably enjoyed everything more, from pieces published on graffiti magazines to the adventure of finding spots.  

So, you think that the Italian graffiti scene in the 90’s and the current one are completely different?

First of all not only the attitude used to be different but the purpose too. Once a graffiti action was carefully planned in every detail, as if writers were organizing a trekking day and a barbecue to the mountains on Sunday. To go for painting, in fact, was like a ritual. Writers used to hang out together in a square before the action, planning which colours to use and getting ready. After the action we stayed again all together in a square or in a park, buying a brioche in a coffee shop or a bakery at 5 a.m. while waiting for the train to pass in order to take a picture. So, graffiti in the past wasn’t only actions, it was also fun and good times together. Nowadays people don’t care so much about socializing and everything is faster. Many writers just text other writers on social media and then, without even getting to know each other, chat or eating together, they just think of “hitting a model”; this makes me think of one-night stands, two strangers who simply don’t care about socializing.

What helped us understand how different used to be graffiti writing and how much genuine and spontaneous it was, have been the interviews and talks we had with some pioneers of Neapolitan and national graffiti (such as the one with Filthy from Dias Uht crew, that you can check out on our YouTube channel).

Graffiti VS street art: what do you think about it?

We think that they are all forms of creative expression and we respect them all. There was a period when we were broke and we couldn’t effort to paint panels or walls, but we found other ways to leave our tag or just a sign around, such us with sticker bombing, tag bombings with markers or just using some paint and a broom to write huge letters around. We disagree with artists or writers who attack those who do different things and use different techniques. There shouldn’t be prejudice, but only respect and freedom of expression. That’s why, apart from Napoli System’s account, we also have another one called Bettercallwall (the name is inspired by the Netflix TV Series “Better Call Saul”), to document and collect photos of graffiti on walls but also tags, stickers, posters, stencils and murals. Unfortunately some months ago we had to stop both this project and another one called The Sopraction (from “The Soprano’s), but we hope to be back soon, and to get back to work also on interviews and printed publications.

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