The Canals Project is a series of new, curated art commissions for East London’s canal system, commissioned by The Legacy List and supported by Canal and River Trust and Bloomberg LP. Internationally renowned street artists have been selected to participate in the project. The project curator, Cedar Lewisohn tells us more…

Right now I’m sitting in a hotel in Thessaloniki, Greece. I’m here to speak to some design students and help them plan a wall painting project. Before arriving in Thessaloniki, I spent the day in Athens, doing research into the work on the streets there. I was fairly blown away with all the political imagery and also the amount of graffiti in the city. I guess because of the financial situation, certain areas are being cleaned less often, which has led to this build up. The reason I mention all this in relation to The Canals Project is that this type of trip is one of my favourite ways to find artists for future projects. I was doing the same thing in Sao Paulo, Brazil around five years ago, when I first came across the work of Zezao. I remember seeing a couple of his works in the downtown area and learning about his working process. How he paints in tunnels and sewage systems under the city and so on. It made me love the work even more. Eventually I managed to track Zezao down and interview him. At the time Zezao didn’t speak much English and I didn’t speak any Brazilian. So most of the interview was done with a translator. These days Zezao speaks English pretty well, however my Brazilian has not improved.

Zezao / The Canals Project
Zezao / The Canals Project

When I first heard about a street art project for the canals of East London, Zezao was the first artist I thought of. I knew he’d love the idea and his work, with its strong links to waterways would be the perfect fit. I usually find artists in these unusual ways. I’d done a small project with Scottish artist Mark Lyken a couple of years ago, and found him really good and easy to work with. So when I saw the collaboration he did with Teo Moneyless, from Italy, I thought it would be amazing to bring both of them to London. I’m really excited about the new work these two will do. One of the most interesting trends in graffiti and street art over the last few years has been artists playing around with abstraction in public spaces. Mark and Teo do this with an amazing amount of flair and just a bit of sci-fi geekishness. Another artist duo in the project is Interesni Kazki (Interesting Tales), from Ukraine. Their work is already has a fairly big international following, so I’m hoping their UK debut will be popular with audiences. I’m also happy to be bringing some Eastern European vibes to the project. The last official artist is Remed, who is probably the most established of the group. Remed’s approach to image making is fairly fluid, and his works typically mix text with figuration. I’ve known his work for a while and have always been a fan. I like the way it often mixes sort of Cubist styling with a contemporary spin. But with Remed, every work is always different, so we’ll have to see what he comes up with. I’m sure it’s going to be brilliant. Added to this we have unofficial artist, Ekta Ekta, from Sweden, who we’ve managed to squeeze in. Ekta is actually going to do a residency at the Gainsbourgh School in Hackney Wick and collaborate with the kids to make some new work. He’s done similar things in Gothenburg and the results have been amazing, so I’m sure he’ll do something equally awesome with the kids in Hackney Wick.

Mark Lyken / Teo Moneyless / The Canals Project
Mark Lyken / Teo Moneyless / The Canals Project

Another trend that has grown in the last few years is the growth of the citywide mural project. I’ve probably helped with the growth of this trend in some small way with my previous project on Tate Modern’s façade in 2008. For The Canals Project however, we are working with spaces that are not so huge in scale, but more intimate and within a fairly contained public area all along the canals path around Hackney Wick course. Added to this, we have to think about the fact that works of street art already exist in the areas we are working in. For me, it is interesting to try and integrate the commissioned pieces with the uncommissioned.

I’m already way over word count and I haven’t even mentioned the film events we’re doing with Hackney Picturehouse cinemas or our street art and politics research day at the White Building in June!

Interesni Kazki / The Canals Project
Interesni Kazki / The Canals Project

Street Art Film Festival
The Canals Project (Street Art for the Waterways) and Hackney Picturehouse have teamed up to present a mini-series of films which explore the past, present and future of street art and graffiti. Selected by curator Cedar Lewisohn who has picked films which have influenced the history of street art and graffiti or which comment on its future direction. A selection of short films will accompany the features. With thanks to Moniker Projects for helping with the selection of the short films.

4 May
Downtown 81
preceded by short films Dreams (Jo Peel) (with intro by the artist) & Chile Estyle (Pablo Aravena)

5 May
preceded by short film Your Eyes are Dead (Alexis Milne) with intro by Alexis Milne

11 May
They Live
preceded by short film Dots: Before Cameras

12 May
This Space Available
preceded by short film Open Air (Lou J Auguste) plus intro and Q&A with Lou Auguste

8 June
Seminar Day with Walking tour & discussion
The White Building, Hackney

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