Brad Downey and Akay’s videos

Although performance is typically more important when it comes to graffiti than street art, there are some cases where the most effective presentation of street art is the one that highlights the performance over or in addition to the finished piece.

Akay and Brad Downey might resist the term street art to describe what they do, but I think they have made some videos that fall squarely into this category of street art performed for video.

On his own, Akay is best known for the device captured in the film robo-rainbow. The film shows Akay assembling a contraption of a remote controlled arm fitted with spray cans and attached to the back of a bike. Only about two minutes into the 2 and a half minute long video does it become clear just what the device does: It allows Akay to paint a 6-color rainbows about 10 feet high in a matter of a few seconds by pressing a button. As Akay describes it, the device is a “complicated technical solution to aide in simple acts of vandalism.” I can’t imagine too many people noticed the rainbow that Akay painted with his device in real life and a photo of the rainbow would be of only minor interest without knowledge of the device, but the video has over 1 million hits on Vimeo. It is the build-up, the understated performance and the joy of finally seeing Akay’s device in action that make the video so much interesting than a photograph or seeing the piece in person. As Akay says, the actual finished rainbows he can make with his device are just “simple acts of vandalism.”

As collaborators, Downey and Akay have worked together in Vienna, Austria at the BLK River Festival and in Grottaglie, Italy at FAME Festival. At FAME, they have made a few video pieces together. My two favorites are tipping point 2 and Dripping Point. In both pieces, as in robo-rainbow, the end result is an improvement of sorts to the environment, but only a relatively minor one. Also like robo-rainbow, the most interesting thing in the videos is how the improvements are made. In tipping point 2, buckets full of paint are knocked off a ledge and spilled onto the street one by one in a domino effect thanks to gravity and a bit of rope. In Dripping Point, bottles filled with paint are made to pressurize and then explode in an empty building, spreading paint everywhere and making a drab gray space a bit more colorful. But hey, as nice as a bit more color on abandoned grey walls or the streets of Grottaglie can be, the joy and viral potential of the pieces comes from seeing stuff spill and blow up in cool ways. Its appeal is about how the color spreads, not what it looks like when it dries.

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