The DIY Art Movement Reshaping Russia's Streets

© Alex Petelin. Park(ing) Day 2011 in Moscow.

Urban art projects can help change the way we see our cities, but can they actually improve the way cities work? A group of Moscow-based artists/activists think they can.

Anton Polsky (a.k.a. Make), the creator of a DIY bicycle map of Moscow, is one of the founders behind Partizaning, a new website and movement focused on "the role of art in reshaping public spaces, cities, and human interactions." (Its physical base is an old shipping container that serves as a mobile art gallery and activism studio.)

Public Art As Political Protest
In Russia, artists have been at the forefront of a recent upswell in public protest, and many of the first projects featured on Partizaning have a strong political or social message.

© Partizaning. Make's 'Drunk Pedestrians" sign outside a Moscow nightclub.

As his alter ego "Make," Polsky last year installed a series of unsanctioned and alternative street signs in Moscow and St. Petersburg, including ones designating a "Zone for Free Political Protest" in a square where opposition supporters were planning to gather; one warning of "Drunk Pedestrians" outside of a popular nightclub; and one designating a cycling lane on a busy road for bike traffic.

Challenging The Automobile's Reign
Traffic's reign of terror and the extreme bad behavior of some elite drivers has been another popular target of Partizaning actions.

© Partizaning. Citizen 'ticketing' of a car parked in a pedestrian crossing.

A recent initiative saw pedestrians "ticketing" parked cars that "unabashedly block pedestrian crossings, trolley ways and bus paths" by slapping on stickers designed to emulate official traffic and parking-violation notices over the vehicles' doors and gas tanks.

Though some of the "interventions" featured on the site may seem frivolous, or even dangerous, they represent a serious effort to re-engage people with their environment and give them a sense of ownership. As Shriya Malhotra writes about the project for the Pattern Cities blog: "They demonstrate a pattern of local, urban activism, and strategic DIYism among citizens who are trying to make better cities and taking the responsibility onto themselves."

Tags: Activism | Artists | Cities | Russia | Urban Life | Urban Planning