MTO Speaks out about his controversial artwork
MTO Speaks out regarding his controversial artwork in Sarasota
French Street Artist MTO, who's artwork was the cause of much controversy, has released an official statement. After many declined interview requests, he addressed his take on his murals, the controversy over them and why he'll be returning this year for 2012's Chalk Festival.
Read the official statement below:
1 - FAT LIE :
The series represents different graffiti practices and symbols :
The so-called piece “Fast Life” was the last one in the series and showed a caricatural hip-hop gesture. It was used here to signify the existence of an hypothetical “MTO graffiti crew” by forming the letter ‘M’ with the fingers. I expected some complaints concerning the graffiti or the hip-hop aspect of the work, but naively I did never imagine that this particular painting could be associa- ted with gang criminality. Hand signs might originally come from gangs, even if I personally doubt it, but today they are used by many social groups like surfers, skaters, scouts, heavy-metals, hip-hoppers etc.
The graffiti movement created within the hip-hop culture is indeed illegal but different levels of criminality need to be distinguished. Graffiti is not a synonym for gang criminality. In the same way tattoos are not a synonym for jail. I believe that this natural assimilation of “hip-hop = crime” and “tattoo = prisoner”, has to be questioned as it is the basis of the painting interpreta- tion and somehow also the roots of the whole story. This kind of prejudices automatically switched the idea of a graffiti crew into a criminal gang. This was reinforced by the “incidental” location. I call it incidental because at the time I painted the image, I was not informed about the characteristics of the neighborhood situated behind the mural which the image was later related to but focused on the direction the mural was facing at, because in reality, a hidden message, which was the purpose of the piece, was aimed at the city center.. This message was:
" FAT LIFE is a FAT LIE "
The original title of the piece was meant to be “Fast life, fat life, fat lie”. This visual wordplay is the reason why the words “Fast Life”, tattooed on Jeremy Cattanach’s fingers interested me so much.
Once the controversy had started, Denise added a banner “it’s a…let love express it” right after I had left. But it didn’t make any difference, the population of Sarasota already had appropriated the piece through its own cultural and moral references and the discussion around it. This debate wasn’t mine at all, therefore I did not consider myself legitimate to enter the discussion anymore. I realized that my intended message was not relevant to be revealed yet and remained undiscovered which I appreciated, given that at this point, the exposure of the real message would have most certainly signed the death warrant of the mural. I was no longer involved in the future of the mural. Despites the many false things that were said and written about me, I never tried to interfere in the debate, neither on my own nor with the help of Denise. I did never influence any of the “protagonist’s” actions. I just kept silence and waited to see what would happen.
When Mr. Scott “showman” Gerber announced the final decision, it was not pleasant to hear that the painting would be removed, of course. But I didn’t complain about it. On the other side I didn’t appreciate the process that led to the decision to paint over it nor the pressure the city hall was putting on Mr. Gerber. A biased-content survey with oriented questions done by some opponents of the painting was only conducted in the “safe part” of the concerned neighborhood and still resulted in approximate 50/50, slightly in favor for it to stay. Therefore, about 20 influential people (as fair as their arguments could have been) were able to take precedence over more than one thousand supporters and made the piece disappear. I started to think that the hidden content, as far as it may have been from the community’s interpretation and debate, was maybe somehow illustrated in this reaction. This situation seemed very interesting to me in different aspects.
The whole story got a sense by itself. The painting and its story until the death became another artistical piece which I would call here “Fat Lie”. This piece was born from an unpremeditated collaboration between the city of Sarasota and me. “Fast Life” was finally a good title for that mural as it perfectly describes the story of the mural.
With the fall of the mural “Fast Life”, Sarasota’s “Fat Life” had finalized the piece “Fat Lie“.
2 - ROBIN / HOOD :
But when “Fast Life” was effaced, I had already come back without anybody apart Denise to know it. My aim was not to answer the effacement but to make my own statement as well as an answer to the piece “Fat Lie” which was much more inte- resting than the «Fast Life» mural itself. Therefore I spent about a month anonymously in town to observe, listen, to try to better understand the piece “Fat Lie”, and to analyze it. Afterwards, I answered by creating a character with two faces:
Dr ROBIN :
(Specialist for leaders and haters bullshit crisis)
The above was a language mistake and should read
«Bullshit crisis specialist for leaders and haters»
Architectural salvage, north side, 11th street, facing bradenton. (performed in one week, during the day)
Mr HOOD :
(Haters out ! One chance ...)
540 Orange avenue. Downtown Burn Square, facing city center.
(performed at night in 4 hours)
“Dr. Robin & Mr. Hood” is a second try and a more contextualized reformulation of the message “Fat Life is a Fat Lie”. This schizophrenic character, who will be called “Robin Hood” here, is at the same time the illustration of the problem and, from my point of view, the solution. This illustration has got a diagnostic and prescriptive significance:
Diagnostic in the choice of subjects:
Robin is a doctor and gives the vision of the good and the politicaly correct, the “good Black”, good in every sense and reassuring for the conservatives. He is undoubtedly integrated and socially notable because of his professionnal rank. He signi- fies us that this city is sick. Sick because of its navel-gazing, its excess of money, its chloroformed moral, its avidity, its political correctness, its latent racism, its anti-youthism. Its desire that nothing never moves. Its relational superficiality which is only based on the appearances. I chose Kenneth Blake to be the model because he seemed symbolical to me for being nearly the only black person that I could see in the town center, except tramps.
Hood, his alter ego, a young and exuberant troublemaker. He wears an urban style, has tattoos and a hood. no external signs of wealth. He is representing a young, lively, and energetic culture which needs explosivity, rythm, and fun and which is mixing cultural references, rejecting communitarianism by approaching a globalization of codes, a mixture of genres. That which could be talking about clothes, behavior, race, sex, religion, etc…For the rich and influential conservatives in this city, Hood is the incarna- tion of the evil. He represents everything which is detested and rejected. Therefore I chose Roger J. Naughton. To use his tattoos graphically but also because for me he was the best example of non-gangster tattooed guy I could find. Just a nice young guy who accepted to be my model with lots of modesty and discretion.
Prescription in their position / action :
Dr. Robin during the day, listens to the residents of Bradenton and tries to solve their problems by calling the attention of citizens and leaders to the neighborhood. Mr. Hood at night, discretely sneaks into the city center to free the city from its haters by blowing arrows of love.
I left the country a few hours after having finished this painting intervention. No one else is responsible for the intended contents of my works. Nobody (included Denise) was neither aware of the hidden message in “Fast Life” until now nor of the com- plete explanation and details added at the end to Dr. Robin. Being confronted with the lack of “urban flavor”, this time, the critics only focused on the simple presence of the word “Bullshit” at the label of Dr. Robin until I covered it some days later to ensure that this simple word would not be used to find a legal way to erase the new piece. This still didn’t anticipate that my message had already passed.
Two months later, we can note that the second controversy quickly stopped and was only made on Dr. Robin. The owner of Architectural Salvage did not face any pressure and he did not try to use and abuse medias for his personal publicity benefit. This seems to confirm the diagnosis.
3 - Thank you !
The city of Sarasota, with creating the piece “Fat Lie” out of my «Fast Life» painting, on its own initiative and without my intervention became for me a sort of a really interesting conceptual laboratory. Therefore, I can never thank enough all the protago- nists of this story for giving me the chance to assist and to participate at an experience like this and for such a passion for one of my works. I am very flattered and I’ll see you again to the next edition of the festival because I just got officially reinvited ..... I’ll be back !
Translated with the great help of Katrin and Martin.