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Interview: Artists join forces with Calle 13 to create an on-going social media project

Story & Interview by Alexandra Henry

‘The Multiviral Art Project’ video has been floating around the social media stratosphere in recent weeks with very recognizable artists making cameos. International talents INTI, Alexis Diaz, Ever, Fintan Magee, Dominique Falla, Liniers, Imarginal, Miguel Luciano, Yasmina Jacinto, MataRuda, L N Y, Decertor, Elliot Tupac, and Rabindranat Diaz Cardosa are seen in the video painting murals or creating art in their own distinctive styles. However while each artist is in a different part of the world throughout the video, they all have one thing in common. They have incorporated the word ‘multiviral’ into their pieces. What does this mean? What are we being told?

“Our wish is to encourage artists to create live installations that can pop up anywhere, any day, at any time, always in flux,
and inspire and stimulate the creation of new art experiences” – Calle 13

We had to get to the bottom of this so naturally we busted out our smartphones to become Inspector Gadget, looking up hashtags on Instagram, scanning Twitter for trending words, and checking our favorite artist’s Facebook page looking for clues. Maybe not in that order. Finally, we discovered an interesting connection. Turns out, Grammy award winning Puerto Rican rap duo, Calle 13, is behind the ‘multiviralyzing art project’ and this is just the beginning. Aside from being the name of their latest studio album, the band’s René Pérez Joglar (“Residente”) and Eduardo Cabra Martínez (“Visitante”), say “Multiviral’ is a word that raises issue with how we are fed and how we share information. While their songs have historically addressed many shortcomings in society and they are known for being politically outspoken, their artistic endeavors lay beyond music. Their connection to the street runs deep and by joining forces with other artist who work in different mediums Calle 13 is bringing attention to the transformative power of art, as can be seen by what’s been happening recently in San Juan and all around the world.

Along the back streets of Santurce (Puerto Rico) – a working class neighborhood on the rise just south of famous Old San Juan, art galleries have surfaced and festivals have bloomed over the past three years. Coffee shops have opened and inadvertently become meeting points for members of the creative community. Larger than life murals by Jaz, ROA, Axel Void, INTI, David Zayas, Vero Rivera, La Pandilla (Alexis Diaz & Juan Fernandez) speckle the sides of dated office buildings and walls throughout the area.

René a.k.a. Residente: Calle 13's lead signer and song writer

René a.k.a. Residente: Calle 13’s lead signer and song writer

Word of mouth, enhanced by Instagram, has likely played a role in bringing more awareness to the change going on and has helped build Santurce’s reputation as a place to be if you are a street artist. If you are like me, and see your favorite street artist or fellow street art documenter relaxing and hanging out in an area known to be dangerous or just not known at all, you instantly form new opinions about that area or city and want to go discover it yourself. If you then notice more artists flocking to the same area, you might call that a form of movement. This is exactly what is happening in Santurce and Calle 13 has noticed as well.

We caught up with René (a.k.a. Residente; lead signer and song writer) to talk more about their ‘Multiviralyzing Art’ project, the Puerto Rican street art scene and how art brings awareness to global movements that have been bolstered by various forms of social media, in essence making them viral.

Street Art Anarchy: What exactly is “Multiviral” and what does Calle 13 expect to achieve?
René: Well it started out with one or two artists that started out painting a wall using the word ‘Multiviral,’ which means the same in Spanish and English (something becoming viral across multiple platforms). And then I thought that maybe I can call another artist and that artist could call another artist and then it became viral in a way. And now we have 15 artists working using the same word but in different parts of the world.

SAA: So it’s already started spreading in a sense. How would you define ‘Multiviral’?
R: ‘Multiviral’ is about how things become viral. These days, for example, if you have something going on socially in Spain, the people in South America or even here in the US can understand what’s happening there and they can show their support by sharing the information. And I believe the same things happens in art. That’s the way Occupy Wall Street started out: influenced by the 15 M movement in Spain and then that became Occupy Wall Street in the US and then became 132 in Mexico. So we are living in a viral kind of environment now and information is spreading super fast. This is why I chose to work with that word and these artists as well.

SAA: You are a trained fine artist who has made a career out of music. How do the two overlap? Have you ever worked in the street?
R: I used to study animation and I was more into drawing. I did 2D and then learned 3D. I studied a little bit of film and did a little mixed media. I used to do installations too in school – I studied sculpture for 8 years, so maybe I will start working on something new now … after the Calle 13 tour. But I‘ve never worked in the street.

Mural by Argentinian artist Ever for the Multiviral project

Mural by Argentinian artist Ever for the Multiviral project

SAA: Do you think the popularity of street art is helping transform the social media spectrum or that social media is helping promote art & the community?
R: Social media is transforming everything, not only art. Music as well, which is a type of art. It’s even changing the government. We saw what happened in Egypt because of the social media being used as a tool. And as an artists you can use it to make art and to connect with people. Like we did with artist Dominque Falla from Australia for example. She didn’t know anyone but was involved with the ‘multiviralyzing’ project and collaborated with everyone. So in a way social media is a great tool to unite people; but you have to know how to use it.

SAA: What’s happening in the neighborhood of Santurce right now with the resurgence of street art….it seems like it has become a street artist’s haven with the emergence of multiple art festivals?
R: There is a big movement of art going on right now in Puerto Rico. I am not sure if you know Alexis Bousquet, founder of Santurce Es Ley. He is a friend of ours and he was actually here for our concert in New York, working on some projects. There are things happening in Puerto Rico and I think the economic problems there, socially speaking, it’s bad for the people, but for art in a certain way it’s good. Like in Spain, the last time I was there I saw a lot of movements and the art scene growing bigger, at least socially. The students were more aware of things because of necessity (and lack of jobs). You need things so you start to invent them and create and find inspiration. So PR is passing through a lot of economic problems, there are no jobs, lots of unemployment. And also in school, there is a lot of need in the school system. But that’s helping art in a way. The artists are creating more in order to express their frustration. The past government was pretty bad with supporting the arts there but at least this current one is more open. And now you see events like Santurce Es Ley, more exhibitions, and even artists performing in the streets. It’s because the current mayor is a little more open. But I think the main problems (the economy, violence and lack of access to good education) in a way are inspiring a lot of artists to create. And this leads to transformation.

Mural by Chilean artist INTI in Spain for the Multiviral project

Mural by Chilean artist INTI in Spain for the Multiviral project

SAA: What is your goal with the Multiviral project? Is it something organic?
R: I see it as an organic project. But it also has a goal. Next year we’d like to have an exhibit to show all the artworks and sell it. The proceeds would go to the artists and a percentage for the art school we are building called ‘Todo Se Mueve.’ So that’s one of the goals. And the other goal is to have more artists participate in this show or the next one. So that’s the idea, to have an exhibit in New York, not necessarily in a gallery, perhaps in a warehouse setting.

SAA: ‘Todo Se Mueve’ sounds like a great initiative. Where is the school going to be?
R: It’s going to be an art school in La Perla, a barrio in Old San Juan, in front of the beach. It’s very beautiful place, but very dangerous. That school is a project that we are starting now. We have to build the whole thing and the reason that it’s taking me more time, is because I don’t want to use the help of the government in terms of money. I want to do it myself and I want it to be public and for free, but I have to pay the teachers so I am developing that strategy right now.

SAA: You mentioned that you want the ‘multiviralyzing art project’ to include more artists from around the world. Any in particular?
R: I know some artists who I’d like to collaborate with. They aren’t all muralist but they are super well known. I have a friend who knows Vik Muniz from Brazil… I think I can meet with Vik via a friend who told me about him. Maybe we can do something, because his art also has a social focus. I have another friend who is a musician and he told me about the photographer JR, so he said I can meet with him. When I am done touring in December I can start meeting with artists in January. But for now I have to perform!

Calle 13 finishes up their 2014 ‘Multiviral’ music tour this December. Then they will gear up for next year’s live art exposition in New York to feature artists from around the world who will either donate their pieces or a percentage of the price tag to ‘Todo Se Mueve.’ The band is open to any proposals by independent artists who are interested in joining the ‘Multiviral’ initiative and who strive to redefine originality through creative interaction.