Martyn Reed – NUART founder – Interview

Martyn Reed is the founder of the Norwegian NUART Festival in Stavanger. We got a little insight into his background and the origins of the Scandinavian street art festival in this interview…


Can you tell us a little bit about your background?

I’m from a Northern underclass, mixed-race dysfunctional family of 5 brothers, 2 white, 3 Jamaican and a half Asian sister. Think of a trailer trash advert for Benetton, during the heydays of the National Front and you’ll be half way there. Teen years were the usual life of football gangs and petty crime sound-tracked by a postmodern mash-up of Yellowman, Afrika Bambaataa, Street Sounds Electro, Madchester, The Smiths and the Happy Mondays. A red thread through all of this was a genuine and, for my background, unorthodox, interest in art. This interest eventually led me South to pursue a degree in Fine Art at Middlesex Uni in lovely Wood Green, North London. I started DJing, knocking about at the Bass Clef in Shoreditch, which, shortly after, became the legendary Blue Note. The area was a mad mix of Metalheadz and Acid Jazz, Leigh Bowery and Tracy Emin, if you can imagine that. Josh Compton opened the Factual Nonsense gallery on Charlotte Road and the first Fete Worse than Death event kicked off Brit Art in a big way. The whole area and period was a really dynamic and creative place to be. This vibrant and massively inspiring environment of new music and art is something I’ve carried with me ever since.


How did NUART come about?

At some point a kindly Uncle or Social Worker praised my drawings and kick-started a lifetime of chasing validation, praise and love through art. This was in the days before Facebook “likes”. Nuart’s just a continuation of that and the previous answer really. I had a DJ residency in Norway and made the move permanent in the late 90’s, set up a small boutique electronic music festival in 2000 and in 2001 Nuart was born. We initially focused on new media and early digital art, it still had this aspect of an un-policed new frontier, was activist based and related to VJ and club culture. New Media started to become fat and lazy in the early 00’s and so we shifted focus to Street Art. It was something I’d been privately engaged with for a while but hadn’t really considered it as being ‘Art’. The vestiges of snobbery a fine art degree bestows upon you hadn’t yet fully worn off.


What’s the most exciting aspect of NUART for you?

The quietness of the curation in the early months, a mixture of reflection over what’s been and ambitions for the future is always an interesting time for me. In saying that, nothing can really compare to being right in the midst of the production once things kick off; intensely working with a tight team, often around the clock, to bring to life other peoples visions in such a short period of time is one of the most invigorating and intense experiences you can imagine. Finding and pushing the team’s, the artist’s and your own limits to create something that hopefully resonates for others is always exciting and rewarding.


How does Norway differ from other countries in its view of public art?

I’d imagine it’s the same as everywhere for public art, a mixture of skepticism and general indifference, leading to outright condemnation when related to tax payers money being spent on art instead of hospital beds. For Street Art and Muralism however, a completely different picture is emerging, certainly in this town. This has a lot to do with being outside of the whole Broken Window Theory debate that, for decades, through countless Hollywood blockbusters – think Charles Bronson’s ‘Deathwish’ – related graffiti writers to rapists and murderers, rather than the arts. This ‘fear’ of Graffiti doesn’t really exist in the same way here. Most people’s first exposure to the culture has been a Blu mural, a Faith 47 or Dal East wall. You walk downtown and there’s Logan Hicks, Swoon & David Choe dotted about the place. The huge Eine and Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman walls have become regional landmarks and the city has developed a certain pride in hosting these works. So in that sense, the public here have developed a more trusting attitude towards unsanctioned ‘public art’ than perhaps sanctioned works. In saying that, the city has a zero tolerance policy towards Graffiti, which all things considered, is a little ridiculous.


Why did you choose this years panelists and topics for discussion?

The last years have seen an exponential increase in so called ‘Street Art’ festivals who take the safe and already well defined ‘mural’ route. There’s almost a festival circuit developing where we see the same major name artists headlining ‘events’ supported by a few local muralists. A shift to quantity and scale over quality and relevance. In some cases it’s beginning to look like morphine for the masses. I wanted to bring some industry and academic heads together to discuss and reflect over these issues.


Do you still see graffiti and vandalism as valid forms of social discourse?

Absolutely, graffiti offers an opposition to political and corporate domination and control over public space, it’s still a powerful signifier. Even in Shoreditch & Williamsburg. Street Art, at it’s best, does the same, particularly on the personal scale. Generic large-scale muralism for the sake of it, however, I’m not too sure about. A stencil or a tag in the right place still holds tremendous power. Whether the same can be said about a Shepard Fairey mural on the side of a hotel, probably not.


Is there a larger message to the public that stands behind NUART?

If there is, they’re not saying. I think when people notice that the art is no longer there, when it is missing from their environments, rather than appearing, then you’ve succeeded in achieving something of value. Hopefully we reach a stage where it’s the norm that communities create their own public art rather than waiting for it to be handed down from upon high.


Where do you go from here with the festival?

We’re entering a period of post festival reflection (depression), we’ll sit down and review the year, start collecting walls and ideas and take it from there. We’ve always tried our best to try and reflect rather than attempt to define what’s happening on the streets, so in that respect, we’ll kick back a while and watch how things develop. It would be interesting to tackle another city at some point.


Photos courtesy Wallkandy