Spontaneous Acts of Art: Concrete City Ruins
*(All photos are my own unless another photographer is credited. If the photo is from another person, you can click on the photo itself to see more of their work. All photos were shot at Concrete City)
I love to explore the ruins of Concrete City, an honest to goodness ghost town in Northeastern Pennsylvania that has morphed from a long forgotten hopeless abandonment, into a frequently changing urban art gallery. There is something amazing about a place that is left to disappear into history that creates a second life for itself. At Concrete City you can feel a faint heartbeat and bear witness to the stirring of a soul thru the expression of the street art that people feel compelled to create on its decaying & crumbling walls.
By “street art” I don’t mean misspelled racial slurs, poorly drawn genitalia, or swastikas (although you will run into plenty of that), I mean art that was clearly done by someone with talent or at least a statement with a deep thought behind it. The purpose of this kind of art is to question the existing environment with its own language. It is art that is unsanctioned and not sponsored by community or government initiatives. “Street art” is art in its truest form—art for art’s sake brought to life in a public space.
I don’t just mean old skool graffiti in which traditional artists have primarily used free-hand aerosol paints to produce their work. Today’s resurgence in street art encompasses many other techniques such as stencil art, sticker art, and installations. And in a phenomenon that I find most interesting, this art renaissance that is spontaneously occurring at Concrete City has attracted the attention of photographers who are actually bringing models there to shoot on location! At Concrete City! 😉
“I like to do photo shoots in this area because it’s the right amount of strange. It’s colorful, creepy and crazy, and there’s nothing better than having that combination with a mix of modern people.” —Corrine Klug
“I like doing out of the box fashion shoots, Concrete City is an amazing place, and pretty PRIVATE for the most part, it’s a place where you can clear your mind and just enjoy the art of it all.”– Sande Kaczkurkin
With a little luck, maybe this creative energy can find a way to infuse itself into some other areas of Luzerne County if community leaders would allow it. These are artists who clearly want to share their talents, why not give them some space somewhere to create community generated art? Wilkes-Barre is a small community without a lot of money; it needs all of the free inspiration that it can get!
The history of graffiti/street art includes Ancient Greece and the Roman Empire. Graffiti was found in the ruins of Pompeii, on the walls of ancient Jerusalem, and in ancient Egypt. It has always been used by mankind to express underlying social and political messages. One of the most famous and inspiring graffiti campaigns predating the modern street art movement began during World War II with the tag “Kilroy was here”. Kilroy was a little long-nosed character with a bald head that began popping up in unexpected places across the theaters of war visited by American troops. American soldiers engaged in competitions to inscribe the tag in obscure locations to help keep the battle-weary soldiers inspired. Soldiers became so engaged by the graffiti art competition, that the mysterious Kilroy character had Japanese Intelligence Officers and Hitler himself worried about the “message” being propagated by the little ubiquitous guy.
Today, graffiti has become a rapidly developing art form that is gaining legitimacy. The art world of curators, dealers and collectors are helping graffiti artists expand their audience on a worldwide scale, just as Luzerne County is gearing up to start its own War on Graffiti in the name of keeping our streets free from gang influence. Our community leaders and law enforcement officers are telling residents to protect our children and our streets from gangs by reporting all graffiti to the police department. Incidentally, there also happens to be a stream of funding available at this time for communities who can prove that they are plagued by the infiltration of gang-related activity.
Sadly art is historically a casualty in any community where leaders try to create solutions to avoid an impending economic apocalypse. I’d hate to see local Banksy wannabes get silenced during a campaign against little local gangsta wannabes just as graffiti art is sweeping the nation as a means to revitalize declining and blighted communities. Cities like Los Angeles and Chicago are publically recognizing the talent of their graffiti artists by providing the means for them to do legal graffiti, which helps to foster developing street artists while lessoning the amount of graffiti that appears in their cities as vandalism. One criticism often heard in Luzerne County is that we knock down our historic structures and do nothing with the newly created space, or worse yet, put up a parking lot— UNUSED parking lots.
Our leaders need to foster more progressive thinking in terms of turning our dying community around and breathing new life into our often empty streets. With price tags for the historic preservation and the economic development of our blighted structures reaching into the millions, as our community sits and waits for something to happen to reinvigorate the center city area of Wilkes-Barre, local graffiti artists have been creating a message (for free!) that is calling out to other creative individuals. Local street artists are drawing visitors and compelling them to document a broken and deserted town sitting in the middle of nowhere in Luzerne County. What can we do to get these people to travel less than ten miles down the road to breathe a little life and tourism into Wilkes-Barre using the same inexpensive method? Can the same medium be used to draw local residents in neighboring communities into the center of Wilkes-Barre again? Maybe, if given the opportunity, at least temporarily until the millions needed for community redevelopment and historical preservation can magically arrive……Just as the Kilroy Graffiti Campaign gave hope to American soldiers fighting a war, perhaps a Community Graffiti Campaign is what the city of Wilkes-Barre needs to give citizens a renewed sense of optimism as they prepare to fight their own war–a war against economic blight.
Beyond Concrete City, people in the area are currently talking about the red cat stencil tag artist. Who is this mysterious street artist and what is their message? Can anyone out there offer any insight?
And this keeps showing up in the most unusual places also….who is he?
Graffiti IS happening in Luzerne County and very little of it appears to be gang related…..
Visit Vimeo to watch my Concrete City mini-movie!
Cheri Sundra © 2012
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