Physical Graffiti

Physical Graffiti is a 1975 album by rock giants Led Zeppelin. Depending on your point of view it could be a band at the top of their game defining the pre-punk rock landscape or the overrated end product of an overpaid, over-indulgent guitar band with a screeching vocalist.

Subjectively, it could be art or it could be pap.

The famed album cover was shot in St Mark’s Place in New York and it is in the Big Apple that graffiti art has its origins around the same time when young people began to use spray paint and other materials to create images on buildings and on the sides of subway trains.

Since then proponents of graffiti art have fought to have it taken seriously but it is rarely seen in galleries and museums.

More recently, however, graffiti artists such as Barry McGee and Banksy have had their work exhibited in commercial spaces and there is evidence that perception is changing.

An interesting development is set to take place this Autumn when Italian architect Carlo Ratti initiates the first two installations of ‘paint by drone’ — which propose to use the façades of construction sites as giant canvases —in Berlin and Turin.

He is planning to paint empty urban surfaces across the world — not by hand, but by said drone. His studio has developed the ‘paint by drone’ system that can draw on building façades, turning any blank surface into an artistic space for urban data visualisation.

A fleet of one metre wide unmanned aerial vehicles carrying spray paint tanks are filled with CMYK paints and, equipped with sensors, the drones are programmed to draw content submitted digitally via an app, while a central management system regulates their operations in real-time.

Ratti justifies the experiment by saying our cities are filled with blank vertical surfaces and with ‘paint by drone’ he can unleash the potential of ‘phygital graffiti’.

He says that any façade can then ‘become a space where to showcase new forms of open-source, collaborative art or to visualise the heartbeat of a metropolis through real time data’.

The idea is that many people can contribute to the project to generate a result in which the final drawing is more than the sum of its parts.

The collaborative graffiti projects will allow either an artist to do an initial drawing on the canvas to be coloured in by users — with each person picking a favourite ‘spot’ for the drone to paint — or offer people the option to use the mobile app to draw their own designs.

It is an extremely interesting premise and the idea that artists – or even everyday citizens – can illuminate their city and transform, on the face of it, dull façades into vibrant objects has to be applauded.

Like the album, whether it is art or not is down to you.

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