On a recent visit to Berlin I ventured to Bülowstraße in Schöneberg, with the sole purpose of getting a glimpse of URBAN NATION’s HQ street art. I’d caught sight of Super A and Collin van der Sluijs ‘Starling’ on Colossal, produced through the not-for-profit initiative, and I was keen to see what other murals UN had helped bring to Berlin's streets.
I’ve increasingly become fascinated by urban art, which is a hugely important and increasingly admired 21st century art form, capable of bringing cities to life and allowing people to find expression within the very fabric of places. Bülowstraße didn’t disappoint, but inspired a deeper curiosity about URBAN NATION and its mission, so I got in touch with director Yasha Young to find out more.
"The ability to impact far beyond the gallery walls is something that inspires me tremendously…
There is no ticket price to pay, no boundaries or hurdles to see a show or a piece of art."
Yasha young, urban nation
The creative vision of Yasha Young has always been to provide a platform for artists from around the world to show their work. A former gallery owner in NY, Berlin and on London’s Hanbury Street, Yasha closed her spaces in 2013 to become director and curator of URBAN NATION. She is deeply involved in the international urban arts sphere, and her drive to push young international talent, and give them new opportunities, is synonymous with the ethos of URBAN NATION. The international network creates exposure for artists, forging cross-industry connections between artists, creatives and the public through regular projects and exhibitions. It also facilitates striking art on the urban fabric of Berlin – from building façades, house walls and shop windows, including works by the likes of Shepard Fairey, D*Face, Maya Hayuk and The London Police to name but a few.
Yasha, How does working for URBAN NATION compare with the previous gallery and art fair experiences you had? Is there something more liberating about working with the street as a canvas vs. the white cube/gallery environment?
It is different and yet the same. Basic rules apply, and basic logistical steps will never change if you work in a creative place dedicated to exhibitions and art, but now I am free of the commercial aspect. The trade portion of the art world which I do not enjoy for a great variety of reasons is no longer the core part of my work. The ability to impact far beyond the gallery walls is something that inspires me tremendously. I want to create opportunities for artists all over the world at the same time as establishing a solid platform and ‘home’ base with our upcoming museum, which will also be a place for education and research. That’s my goal!
Do you think urban art has a role to play in creating or elevating the identity of places?
A message in the streets of a city will always have an impact. This can be elevating, quiet violent or controversial…always UN-predictable. Whatever the outcome art is a universal language that anyone can understand.
How do you feel about the increasing relationship between street art and gentrification?
Movements will always get picked up by commercial entities. Something underground will always become mainstream and so on… I think it is up to the individual artist and the curator or organiser to make an educated choice on what, where, and how they get involved. It’s important to see beyond an initial offer….what is the goal, what is the result, or even better what is my true motive - why am I doing this?
What would your message be to young aspiring artists today (urban or not)?
Don’t get too stuck or sucked into the world of social media and self-promotion. Focus on your work. Focus on becoming the best at what it is that you like to do. The ones that stand out to me are the ones that truly have developed a unique style and put a lot of thought into concept and execution. You can feel it in the work. An artist should create for the sake of creating not for the sake of achieving more ‘likes’ than yesterday, for example. Enjoy the process of learning, approving and experimenting. Remember it does not all always have to happen fast and instant. It will happen if you have something to show, to say, to discuss…and have FUN!!
Why is urban art important to you?
It is important to me because of the aspect of the experience, and the free access to it for everybody. There is no ticket price to pay, no boundaries or hurdles to see a show or a piece of art. There is no expectation of education and master student and certificates. There is space for you if you are solid and dedicated. There is support worldwide from an ever growing community. Cultures don't clash, they collaborate.
You mentioned the museum earlier – the URBAN NATION MUSEUM FOR URBAN CONTEMPORARY ART will be opening next year, and aims to be ‘a globally unique new centre for exhibitions, research and exchange’, all based around Urban Art. When does it open and why should people visit?
It is scheduled to open mid-2017 and is set to be a magnet for artists, art lovers, Berlin residents and tourists. As well as exhibitions, there will also be space for workshops and educational programmes for children and students. Watch out for the Opening show announcements - it will be fun, a true bloc party!