History of Tape Art Globablly
In the city of Providence, Rhode Island in 1989 tape became art. A small crew of nocturnal artists started a campaign to make a new image nightly on the streets, buildings and unmonitored spaces throughout the city, inadvertently giving birth to a new art medium that has grown into an international phenomena. The history of Tape Art is short, but full of an ever-expanding catalog of this new medium’s application and meaning, from forms of protest art to numerous shades of tomfoolery; from beautification and stewardship of public spaces to coopted association as advertising. We’ve been with it from the beginning and are excited to share with you a quick survey of the global Tape Art scene as of 2016.
In the vacuum of there being no other artists dedicated to the medium in the early nineties, newspapers and television labelled our crew “Tape Art.” We were joined by Erica Duthie from New Zealand in 1992 and by 1995 we were touring nationally drawing anywhere that caught our interest, covering skyscrapers, historic structures, State Capitols and abandoned buildings with massive Tape Art pieces made out of low-adhesive tape. By 1996 we launched a rudimentary version of tapeart.com as a way to share the results of our tour and increase the reach of the medium. Two years later film maker Struan Ashby from New Zealand joined us and together we used tape to produce stop motion films, large three-dimensional installations, and a 52,000 square foot (4,830 square meter) drawing wrapping a museum the size of an entire city block.
To this day our small, rotating crew has been industriously working as educators and artists in the United States and this decade we passed the 500 mark for large-scale Tape Art pieces. To date, I have personally been involved with the instruction of over 40,000 first time tape artists.
As Tape Artists for the last 25 years our philosophy and process have remained grounded in clear guiding principles: the work is primarily done as a performance piece, the work’s production can be influenced not only by the maker but also the viewer, the work responds directly to the space it is being made in, and the tape is never just a compliment to an existing artwork. Tape Art works stand by themselves, are intentionally temporary and removed shortly after they are no longer being actively worked on. Content-wise we almost always incorporate life-sized representational imagery to ground the scale of the work, and we never use words or letters. For over two decades that has defined for us what Tape Art is and we continue to use these principles in our work today.
The first evidence of other tape artists emerging in the nineties comes in 1993. A community artist and muralist named De La Vega, based in Harlem in New York City, added tape to his arsenal of mediums for producing spontaneous messages on sidewalks. De La Vega’s work incorporated inspirational text, occasionally complimented by bare bones graphics made primarily out of straight lines.
In Russia, we saw Valery Koshlyakov using packing tape as a means to create painterly images of architectural structures. She layered this tape to create tone, as well as to adhere additional materials – like cardboard – to her finished products. Her tape works were primarily in gallery settings and some even went on to be collectibles.
In Japan Ryo Sehata started to develop a process of meticulously balling cellotape to render rigid three-dimensional forms. These labors of love resulted in solid sculpture pieces that ran the gamut from realistic representations to fanciful objects. He continues to produce work today.
From Germany two artists of note pop up on the radar. Monika Gryzymala used a variety of tapes to consume interior spaces with criss-crossed lines that resulted in an interesting crossbreeding of Mondrian's color palette and love of thin lines with the playful explosive execution of one of Pollack’s splatter paintings. She continues her study of line today with artworks that come off the wall and envelope objects within the room. Simultaneously on the streets of Berlin, an artist by the name of El Bocho began producing his famously large portraits of female faces out of tape. The tape line fit brilliantly into his established approach to image making while allowing him to expand beyond the scale of traditional wheat pasting. In 2009, he produced a massive portrait in a colorfield of red duct tape that was 11,840 square feet (1,100 square meters) on the side of the Stattbad nightclub in downtown Berlin.
On the west coast of the United States, Megan Geckler began a study of line and color through site-specific architectural installations using a colorful range of plastic ribbon. She set about building, wrapping and consuming spaces with a masterful understanding and love of color; a bombastic display of straight lines; and the occasional encased object. North of her, Mona Superhero became a persistent forerunner in using colorful duct tapes to translate a painterly aesthetic onto canvas. Her pop-oriented canvases were some of the earliest to have a potent web presence in the late nineties and she has recently started producing work again.
By the turn of the century, the number of artists actively using tape doubled to around 40. We saw the emergence of four remarkable new artists exploring tape in Australia, South Korea, the Ukraine, and the United States. Around 2005, Buff Diss from Australia fell in love with tape as a means to produce large graffiti-like imagery. He still produces work to this day, exploring abandoned structures, transforming urban landscapes in cities around the world, and having an ongoing conversation with every building he sees.
As Buff Diss was producing illustrative works in the grit of the street, South Korean based artist Sun K. Kwak made sprawling patterns of black vynyl tape across the intentionally bare white walls of galleries from Korea to Brooklyn. She treated her pattern-making marathons in galleries as not only a performance, but also an act of meditation resulting in a watery energy flow of tape running along walls, slipping around corners, and spilling out onto floors.
Meanwhile, an artist from the Ukraine named Mark Khaisman perfected the process of creating pictorial illusions through the interplay of transparencies by layering packing tape. The final products have the nostalgic sheen of an old film still, and his subject matter often borrows from classic movies and celebrities. This style has proven to be very popular and many artists have followed suit, including Max Zorn.
In the United States, prolific street artist Mark Jenkins used urban spaces as stages for his three-dimensional, clear packing tape sculptures interacting with objects and buildings. Teaching is an important part of his artistic practice and he actively runs workshops on using tape to cast objects and people.
Since 2010, the number of artists actively pursuing the potential of tape and sharing their work with the online community more than doubled again, to approximately 100 artists globally. Four great examples of this new medium's versatility can be found in artists evolving the tape as optical street art, meaningful protest art, politically-themed fine art, and monumental tape wonderlands so large you can climb inside of them.
Aakash Nihalani from NYC makes architecturally brilliant optical illusions using tape and a variety of other flat mediums. He bends reality through a playful use of geometric shapes placed strategically in public spaces.
Halfway around the world in Indonesia, we find Andi Rharharha using tape as an important tool for public protest. Every use of the tape is political: the location, the timing, the audience and the short concise messages written in a bold tape font. His work embodies the simple power of being able to swiftly impact the built environment to call attention to social needs.
Back in New York we see the politically charged work of Tirtzah Bassel, an artist who has struck a magnificent balance between transforming walls into canvases with life-sized figures and a deft painterly approach to molding colored duct tapes to replicate the textures of clothing. Subject matter includes issues of border control with Mexico and stop-and-frisk tactics by the police.
For the most joyous sculptural tape paradises being made, we turn our gaze to the Croatian collective Numen / For Use. They are furniture designers turned theatre scene makers turned sculptural playground makers, and they have brought us cocoon-esque tape installations large enough and strong enough that several people can crawl inside them at once. These profoundly beautiful designs are structural wonders suspended in space and truly find their purpose once humans climb inside of them.
As of 2015, the undisputed Tape Art capital of the world is Berlin, Germany. Over the past half century the city has grown into a haven for street art culture of all types and is currently an incubation site for artists who work with tape. Berlin finds itself home to collectives like Klebebande, Tape That, and Peach Beach, along with individuals including Slava Ostapchencko, Felix Rodewald, Eva Kupfer, Julian Vogel and many more. This is the first time so many tape artists have been in such close proximity to each other and we are optimistic that we will see great leaps forward for this medium as this tape mecca continues to thrive.
We have been watching Tape Art evolve steadily for over 25 years and it has been remarkable to witness the use of this simple medium ricochet around the globe. Collectively everyone using tape to make art is setting the stage for a new generation of prolific street artists, activists, and educators using this medium to empower ourselves and others to take back their cities as venues for sharing a public voice. We all need to get out there with our Tape Art. Be stewards of the public aesthetic. Draw. Transform walls. Transform people.
- Michael Townsend
(Written for the forward to "Kunst mit Klebebanda," a tape art 101 book by the German tape art collective, Klebeband.)