Interview In viaVIA #59 DIY Urbanism
When we speak of graffiti, we speak of urban expressions of actors who have their own thoughts. Some use the city as a canvas and add a unique artistic edge to an area, making their own contribution to gentrification. Street art, however, has left the mentality of being illegal on many people’s mind, but what happens when a group of artists gather together to make a difference and what would the future of graffiti be? To answer these questions, we arranged an interview with the Tunnel Vision foundation in Boxtel which aims to reduce the negative effects and image of graffiti through their creative blowouts.
Mitch Koningstein, Paul Jongsma and Jan Pennings are the three enthusiastic graffiti artists who formed the foundation of Tunnel Vision in Boxtel. Paul and Mitch know each other from elementary school. Years later they both get into graffiti, and they accidentally see other’s names on the streets and find each other again. After some time, Jan joins them too and now they are three best friends making art together and forming a foundation called: Tunnel Vision. “I see them more than most of my friends or my parents or anyone, but it is good because we also connect. We have different styles and we learn from each other.” Jan mentions.
Tunnel Vision explains how they each have their own specific techniques. Jan is more skillful in comic style while Paul has more of a realistic style based on his academic background in graphics and Mitch is experienced with letters and calligraphy. This has turned them into a well-rounded team and has given them a great opportunity to contribute to all different aspects of graffiti in their projects.
“We always say to each other, let’s go to the tunnel!” said Mitch. “When people think about graffiti, they think of it as a negative thing, like we are gangsters and criminals.” He further explains that they want to improve this impression by creating a new perspective with which they expose the artsy aspect of graffiti into the public space. This is how the name “Tunnel Vision” was primarily formed.
The tunnel itself is located in Boxtel where the former German train line facilitated transportation and transmission of food, guns and other supplies during the Second World War. Ever since then and especially before the start of this foundation, the tunnel used to be a dark spot filled with trash and drugs users.
In September 2016, in collaboration with some members of the VDDDB (Vereniging De Dommel Door Boxtel), Mitch and Paul organized an experimental edition of graffiti jam in this area. During this partnership they learned a lot about the culture of graffiti as well as how to make connections, find sponsors, and deal with the financial challenges. This led to the next jam in June 2017 in which Jan also involved. This time they were largely responsible for the organization on their own which eventually turned out to be very successful and the eventually managed to create the desirable transformation in the former dark tunnel.
After these two successful graffiti jams, Tunnel Vision was officially established as a foundation and they decided to continue on their own. “That makes it easier to access funds and in addition you will also be taken more seriously,” Mitch mentions. Now they are finally getting the right connections to create their own projects. Nonetheless, they are nor making any profit out of it, at least not at the moment. Tunnel Vision describes their main goal as bringing graffiti to a positive light and making it accessible to everyone by organizing jams, murals, art in public spaces and workshops. They want to show Boxtel the coolest events and the love for art as well as respect to all the people who make graffiti.
During graffiti jams that Tunnel Vision organize, people can see between 50 and 60 graffiti artists in action and experience how a piece is originally constructed. “People ask a lot of questions, they are mostly very curious and enthusiastic about what we do. Especially in spots like this where there is a lot of need for color and new life.” Jan mentions. He further adds that they are starting to get recognized for their work and to receive a lot of attention from the people in the neighborhood. The jams are the ideal time to enjoy graffiti and experience what a beautiful art form it is. Everyone is welcome, young or old, whether you’re interested or skeptical. People bring food, they sometimes barbeque, break dancers or DJs join to perform on the site and this generally creates a fun atmosphere for all the visitors and the graffiti artists.
In addition to graffiti-jams, Tunnel Vision Boxtel does also offer the application of graffiti and street-art in public and private areas. They usually give a presentation and them assist the participants to create a work of art on canvas or wood or something permanent, for example on the wall of a cafeteria.
In many countries as well as the Netherlands, of you illegally spray graffiti on public or private assets, there are consequences; you need to pay a fee but also your personal record will be strongly affected. However, in the Netherlands there are more than 30 legal spots in different cities called “hall of fame” where you can come with a spray can and start painting anytime. The tunnel in Boxtel is also on of these hall of fames. Nevertheless, it used to be a grey area before where police could ask for your ID and it took a long time until the government decided to make it a legal spot for graffiti. This decision has ultimately created a great platform for all the graffiti artists in Boxtel but especially for Tunnel Vision team to express themselves but also to create a better image of graffiti.
The interview with Tunnel Vision gives us insight about how they have grown from such a small scale and how graffiti has managed to infiltrate society which is now seen as a gentrifying influence and a street art which can contribute to safer and more social cities. This is also visible in their last project where they had requests from residents of a few building to put the names of the their respective blocks on the walls positioned near the entrance of the area, which Tunnel Vision executed by painting each wall with a different style for every type of residents. In the end, Tunnel Vision, just like any other graffiti artist/foundation is planning to grow even more and be unlimited by the size of the city of Boxtel.
Text credits: Peyvand Taremi and Asal Ramezani