It seems like myths and legends thrive in volcanic towns. Red-hot lava against ashen, black rock and billowing smoke evokes mysticism and the reminder that we are merely humans, that nature is a powerful force which we cannot control, which we did not create. It inspires us to think deeper and look higher.
This mysticism surrounds the city of Catania, home to Mount Etna and many myths of old. The very centrepiece of the city, the elephant, u liotru, is shrouded in myth, named after the ancient magician, Elidor and the Cyclopean islands, not far from Mount Etna, are the ones that inspired Homer’s ‘The Odyssey’. It is therefore no surprise that this volcanic city was chosen to host the “Street Art Silos” project from June 22nd-July 2nd, with the theme of myths and legends.
The project, organized by Emergence Festival, is one of the highlights of Festival I ART, a multidisciplinary festival which offers an overview of contemporary art in Sicily through art, theatre, music, dance literature, architecture, cinema and more. Diego Ronsisvalle, the filmmaker who documented the progression of this artistic said that it was without a doubt Catania’s proximity to “luoghi emblematici del mito” that inspired curator, Giuseppe Stagnitta’s choice.
The mission of “Street Art Silos” was to transform the port of Catania by commissioning eight artists to paint seven giant silos in ten days. Far from the beautiful baroque centre and Giovanni B. Vaccarini’s emblematic elephant, the silos are in the middle of Catania’s industrial port harbour, and are one of the first sights that ships see as they drop anchor. They used to be anonymous, metal structures for storing Italian grain, but since the completion of this project they are now bursting with over a ton of color, the use of 700 spray cans and the designs of eight brilliant minds.
VladyArt, one of the artists, spoke about what the project offers to people: “It’s a demonstration of what art can do, changing the perceptions of common structures like silos. It represents possibility because it shows what eight people can do in a matter of ten days.”
Vlady chose to paint three cans on his silo but remaining true to the theme of the project, he chose to can things that cannot be bought at the supermarket. His first can is ‘Mermaid chunks in olive oil.’ The middle can contains ‘Artist Ego’ and the top can is in the style of Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup but with the words, ‘Bonito Oliva’s Condensed Minotaur Spray Meat.’
The project has certainly had its challenges. To paint the silos, the artists were suspended in the air by cranes, working sometimes by hand, on surfaces and textures they had never come across before. Vlady spoke about how the silos were rusty, dusty and dirty and he compared painting his silo to painting his first canvas because it was an entirely new experience, an entirely new texture and medium to work with: “I’ve never had to face anything that is as tall as a seven-storey building and goes in a curved facet.”
Interestingly, it was canvasses that first propelled Vlady into street art. Having studied Fine Arts in Milan, he became discouraged painting canvasses that nobody would ever see or appreciate. “I was painting only for myself, and the canvasses…were just in a pile in my studio.” However then he discovered the pleasures of street art, and the joy cultivated in creating something for others; that others can share and that is visible to all - not just to a chosen few in a chosen art gallery. He described it thus:
“Doing something outdoor, even if it’s something that doesn’t really belong to you because you cannot take it away, is nicer. We do it for ourselves but it doesn’t actually belong to us. And since discovering that, now about 80% of what I do are things that I cannot take home with me. I can take pictures of my work, but it’s not mine. It belongs to the city. I might move one day, but my work will be here. Not with me.”
The first phase of Street Art Silos Catania has finished but it shall return to Catania in September when world-renowned street artist, Alexandra Farto aka Vhils, will sculpt the smaller silos that face out to the sea using a pneumatic drill for his work. What better way to welcome curious tourists to Catania, than a display of artwork that shouts beauty and possibility into a previously ugly, industrial environment.
The murals on the silos won’t last forever, but they should last for at least ten years. This is the nature of street art – the galleries are outside, so no roof or enclosure other than the sky is there to protect and frame the designs. The urban vernice of spray-paint shall mix with the salty spray of the Ionian Sea and the maritime wind, so the paintings will eventually fade and fall privy to the natural elements. However, the bold designs of these silos have made their mark and their designs will keep people thinking higher and deeper, for as long as they cover the steel surfaces upon which they are painted. This street art belongs to the city, to the people and to whoever has the good fortune of gazing up at them to admire their magnificence.