Various locations, New York
Beginning in 2010 and continuing into 2011, the New York City based street artist Gabriel Specter initiated a series he titled Unwanted Collaborations/ Sidebusts. Sidebusting – also known as spotjocking – is a term employed in the graffiti community to describe the act of knowingly placing one’s piece close to a piece by a more established writer. This is done so as to either give the impression the pieces were painted together or to ride someone else’s coattails, all in the name of fame. With graffiti being inherently territorial in nature, such ploys are generally frowned upon. Like most areas of human interaction, sidebusting is political in nature. It is a calculated gambit that plays off perceived notions of relative status with the reward being proximity to valuable real estate. But wait, you say – how can someone who is painting illegally make any claims of ownership? is is the paradox that Specter addressed with his series of sidebusts, in which he altered or restored existing pieces of street art without the permission of the original artists. As targets of his campaign, he set some of the biggest names in New York City street art in his sights: Swoon, Faile, Bäst, Skewville, and Shepard Fairey. Asked what motivated him, Specter replied, “I was inspired by a Swoon piece that was [left] defaced for over a year. One day I decided it needed updating and this made me think about all the issues and politics involved in sidebusting another artist. The action in itself incites dialogue within the community on issues like entitlement, vulnerability and ephemerality.” As side busts go, Specter’s alterations were executed with a tongue-in-cheek levity meant to remind us all that street art isn’t sacred. Street art aficionados – who are generally attuned to juxtapositions created by random interactions on the street – were met with deliberate interventions that were not only clever and subtle, but also done within the aesthetic of the original pieces. A Faile stencil of a horse in diving gear was bequeathed with a colourful blue bow and a stenciled label proclaiming it a ‘SHE HORSE’. Shepard Fairey’s portrait of Ice-T was extended to include his Law & Order: SVU partner, Richard Belzer. Skewville – no strangers to sidebusts, having embellished a Gaia piece several years before – saw their slab of Brooklyn beef bleed from a bullet hole, with the warning “May contain shell casings”. Bäst’s whimsical take on pop culture-influenced kitsch had its American roots underlined with the addition of the Stars & Stripes. All of these alterations were clearly created with a knowledgeable, street art savvy public in mind – who but street art fanatics would even recognize subtle alterations? The icing on the cake was Specter’s sidebust of Swoon’s Switchback Sisters piece, which had been dissed by someone who sprayed over only the embracing women’s hands and faces. Specter appended two new female faces, respectfully integrated them into the remnant of the Swoon piece with a colourful shawl, and immediately breathed new life into what had been a dormant piece. While the other sidebusts were more amusing, the Swoon restoration stands out for the emotional impact elicited by the collaboration: like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, a new and powerful piece was born.