Visiting the street art extravaganza that is Nuart Festival in Aberdeen has become something of a tradition in recent years. During the dark days of Covid 2021 UNCLE supported Nuart’s ‘Stuck Up’ initiative that saw a world-wide collaborative paste-up covering thousands of square feet in the Granite City centre.
This year we partnered with Nuart again to help bring more paper-based magic to Scottish streets. Printing posters for artists ranging from campaigning creative firebrand Aida Wilde to Stanley Donwood whose dark and beautiful arboreal imagery appeared, it seemed, in every corner of the city. In the weeks running up to the festival Wilde joined together with over 90 local school pupils – including Afghan and Ukrainian refugees – making works that were later put up on Crooked Lane creating a huge collage expressing the young peoples’ hope and fears.
The overarching topic for 2023 is ‘rewilding’. Festival founder and creative director Martyn Reed mused about a ‘rewilded’ city, “Where the roots from art on the streets are entwined around the granite columns of our illustrious art institutions, and the carefully curated and cultivated flowers of the institution are flooding through the double doors out into the high-street, we attempt to provoke reflections on what a city where art is truly free might look, sound, smell and feel like.”
Bang on theme Brazilian artist Thiago Mazza spent days in Aberdeen Uni.’s Cruickshank Botanic Garden to inform the production of a magnificent new piece. His three-storey floral offering on Frederick Street is now one of many Nuart inspired murals that criss-cross the city. The latest of so many visual treats adorning the streets since Nuart’s first Scot outing in 2017.
Other takes on ‘rewilding’ abounded. Exploring the idea that creative interventions on urban space can reorientate how we feel and think about our environments. Jamie Reid – renowned for his Sex Pistols graphic art – was interviewed by John Marchant about a literal rewilding project called The Power of the Ova but the veteran punk artist was also responsible for a rough-hewn paste-up featuring a hare that cropped up all over the city.
Reid explained this was a reference to Joseph Beuys’ 1965 performance ‘How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare’. The hare being an animal with centuries-old symbolic meanings across cultures and who for Beuys connotes incarnation. The performance is also interpreted as a socio-politically charged critique of post WWII Germany divided by a wall with the Soviet model of society on one side and the process of Americanisation and rampant clamour of consumer culture influencing the other.
More new work for 2023 work came about courtesy of Polish artist Nespoon. She installs porcelain objects on the street and paints murals that resemble lace designs. The incongruity of seeing the giant gable end of a council block embellished with a breathtakingly intricate painting of lace is magical. Lace, for Nespoon, represents “harmony, balance and a sense of natural order. Isn’t that just what we are all searching for instinctively?”
Another series of visual gems arrived in the city courtesy of the artist Caledonia Curry (aka Swoon) who made her Nuart Aberdeen debut this year. Brooklyn-based Swoon is widely known as the first woman to gain extensive recognition in the one-time male dominated world of street art. Her work ‘carries with it an earnestness, treating the beautiful as sublime even as she explores darker sides of her subjects, […] marrying the whimsical to the grounded, often weaving in slivers of fairy tales, snippets of myth, and a recurring motif of the sacred feminine.’ Swoon’s multiple paste-ups ‘hidden’ across the city: on non-descript estate and seaport walls, out of the way alcoves and medieval alleys. She’s seeded the environment with pattern, colour and fabulous figuration to create a city-wide treasure hunt that affords multiple moments of wonder and enchantment.
In short, Nuart Aberdeen with its year-on-year accumulation of spectacular and thoughtful street artworks in tandem with their intensive Nuart Plus program of interviews, talks and presentations that promote debate, and offer context and fresh perspectives is a remarkable achievement and one that UNCLE is extremely proud to be associated with.