Smile Politely

When Art Attacks: Examining The Fireswallow Project

Well, there’s a new unexpected art project in town — shrouded in secrecy with only a website and manifesto to reveal itself. The collective is called The Fireswallow Project and they “are for art.” They tell us that in the coming weeks, art is going to happen, all around us, unexpectedly, and that they will be the ones providing us with the details.

The Fireswallow Project has declined an interview with me, so all the information you read here is coming from the website and those few I know who have had contact with the first art project listed on it. The website itself, is one of the nicest I’ve seen: no gratuitous flash splash screens; quick to navigate, no long pages of text. They have a manifesto that states that they “are for art” that is cheap and expensive, professional and amateur, on a stage and in backyards, “expressive, explosive and mute,” and the manifesto even spells “it’s” right.

When I first heard about Marcel Duchamp’s urinal becoming one of the most influential works of art ever, as voted by 500 Art Experts I got really excited, because to me, it sounded like art could be all around us. Growing up listening to (and playing) punk rock also instills this idea in you; you are one of the couple of thousand people who bought the Velvet Underground’s first record and are inspired to start a band; you saw The Minutemen playing on a stage, having driven themselves 3000 miles away from their home, and you decide you have to go on tour.

So I’m excited to see what type of art The Fireswallow Project might make happen around here, or at least might promote. All they have on their website now is a video of a guy wearing an LED suit, and having spoken to an art professor who happened to be sitting downtown when the guy was hanging around, the art professor noted that he did not know anything about the Fireswallow project, but he did see the guy with the light suit. But then again the Fireswallow Project wants to be covert!

Art on the streets goes back further than the forefathers of the punk movement, the Situationists, who wanted to wake people up out of their daily stupor — and these sentiments are found over and over again nowadays in movies like Fight Club and The Matrix — and there are groups like “rtmark”:; corporations who promote art-making, opportunities like Burning Man, a giant art/technology festival in the southwestern U.S. desert, and collectives like Improv Everywhere, the group who staged the Frozen Grand Central where over 200 “agents” froze in place at the exact same second, for 5 minutes (watch the youtube video, it’s fascinating). And my personal favorite, Knitta Please, a gang of knitters, with crews all over the U.S., tagging (as in grafitti) outdoor signposts, door handles, with knitted works of art. The gang members all have great names, and bios on the webpage, from PolyCotN (ageless) to the 70-year old GrannySQ.

One of my favorite Art Professors states, in response to this, “Wow. That’s crazy that even people here are catching on to the ‘free art for all means cheap promotion for landlords and bar owners’ tip. Very metropolitan of them. In Europe, this stuff happens and the city actually pays for it — artists can make a living. Not here. It all adds up to one of the the ugly sides of the “creative city.”

It’s an interesting thought. I do remember driving through France and seeing art all over the roads — paid for by their government — in fact I was on tour, making music, and the government was paying for a lot of that, too.

As I bike around our town now, I think about the man wearing the red LED suit. If that is art, then maybe the balloon man at the market is art? What about the chipped paint on the wall on the buildings in downtown Champaign? Did someone do that on purpose? The garden of satellite dishes outside WCIA, across from the library? The clouds in the sky today? The tree in front of my house? Although I learned in Art School, art doesn’t have to be beautiful or aesthetically pleasing — in fact it better not be, unless it has a damn good reason, but here in the gorgeous late Champaign-Urbana summer, perhaps it does have a damn good reason.

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