Wishful thinking: Colored streets and pavements | Prague, Czech Republic

I just came across the work of Prague-based graffiti artist Jan Kalab (also known as Point or Cakes) and I particularly like two of his projects, through which he transforms ordinary streets and pavements in the Žižkov district of Prague, which he says is “is a sort of ghetto”.

In the first one – Cobbles, he painted loose cobblestones lying on the street in bright colors, to the delight of local children, making them “spontaneously happy.”

It’s such a simple, yet bright idea that takes a mundane, grey aspect of the city and makes it into an unusual sight.

The second project – Colored Pavements, is similar: in it, Kalab painted enormous patches of tarmac that stretched along Prague’s steepest street, named (perhaps aptly?) the Garden of Eden. The “cut up tarmac,” he writes, “has transformed into abstract paintings throughout the years of subterranean repairs. It’s so ugly that it’s almost nice. I just helped a bit.” He did indeed, by painting the patches bright turquoise and pink (for the full story, read here.)

The two projects are unfortunately from a few years ago – Cobbles was made in 2007 and Colored Pavements in 2005, so I imagine little, if anything at all, is left of them now. Like the dressed-up potholes in Paris, which I wrote about here, both of these projects would be ideal (and simple and easy to do) for Sofia’s grey, broken and patched-up streets and pavements. I’m just saying.

In the meantime, though, some of Jan Kalab’s paintings are exhibited at the Czech Cultural Center in Sofia. Go see it! (The exhibition opens today and will be up until March 3. More info about it [in Bulgarian]: here and here.)

All photographs: © Jan Kalab | www.onepoint.cz

À bout de souffle | Shishman Street, Sofia, Bulgaria

The Sofia Breathes initiative, which closed down the city’s most atmospheric street to cars and opened it to art, design and pedestrians for the day was a really good way to end Sofia Design Week, whose motto this year was “Design is All Around.” A good way to end any week, for that matter.

Besides the bars, restaurants and cafés spilling over onto the sidewalks, the children’s chalk drawings on the pavement, the tchotchke stalls and the intentional and spontaneous art installations, my most favorite part of the day was running into all kinds of friends.

In the span of the six-odd hours, I think I bumped into friends from all the distinct and seemingly unconnected periods of my conscious life – from my recently rediscovered first best friend from elementary school who was wearing the exact same outfit as me (Hi, Maia!), my partner in crime starting in middle school (Hi, Maria!), two lovely high school friends I studied with in the Middle East (Hi, Lika! Hi, Annie!), to my wingwoman ever since grad school in London (Hi, Krissy!) and many, many other cool, fun and exciting people I have met since. I think that at some point, I ended up standing together with most of them in one spot, which was a little uncanny.

Speaking of improbable gatherings of unlikely allies, I went to get a look at the nearby Monument to the Soviet Red Army. It usually looks like this, but – thanks to the brilliant recent work of an anonymous graffiti artist, now commemorates the unlikely get-together of Superman (gun in hand, rocking red boots and a cape), Santa Claus (toting binoculars and a Kalashnikov), Ronald McDonald (waving the American flag), the Joker (sporting a purple trench coat) and several other cartoon characters and superheroes I couldn’t exactly identify. If Sofia Design Week had anything to do with this, which I don’t think it did, then what a coup! Design is all around, indeed. The final touch to the monument’s transformation, which I especially appreciated, is the phrase scribbled underneath, roughly translating to “In step with the times.” No kidding.

*Update (Monday): In spite of reports that claimed the graffiti was washed off on Sunday, a friend of mine told me today that the superheroes were still around when she passed by the Soviet Monument in the afternoon – just in time to see a lone, apparently self-motivated older guy show up with some rags and a bucket and start scrubbing away the paint. The organized cleaning, reportedly initiated by the Sofia Municipality but financed by non-governmental organizations, is scheduled to take place early tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, over 1,700 people – in several groups on facebook, have said they are against the washing up of the monument, some of them making plans to create a human shield around it when the cleaners come.

**Update (Tuesday): In efforts to avoid the above-mentioned protests and human chains, “emergency” measures were taken and the monument was washed off in the wee hours of the morning, with only faint traces of colorful paint left as a reminder of what, briefly, was.

This is starting to be alarmingly reminiscent of this… talk about being out of step with the times.