Cardboard City

Originally published in Modart

Your mum would love Part 2. Biodegradable graffiti? She’d probably call him a ‘thoughtful young man’ and bake him some ginger biscuits. But as usual, she’d be missing the point. His new breed of disposable urban art – the aptly named Part2ism – may be removable without the need for high powered hoses and industrial cleaning agents, but in a world where even the likes of Jamie Oliver are buying pieces by ‘underground’ writers like Banksy, this is the very essence of shock-art.

“It’s definitely jarring,” says Part 2. “Not necessarily in the sense of being offensive, but because it takes people by surprise. These days, there’s so much graffiti around that it’s become just another part of everyday life. Tags, pieces, even stencils – people are desensitised to it. It’s just wallpaper now – people writing on writing. We wanted to take things to the next level.”

You may know Part 2 as the producer of UK hip hop trio New Flesh. Then again, you may not: New Flesh have been recording since the early nineties, but their endless experimentalism and constant refusal to conform, while gaining them a huge amount of critical and counter-cultural acclaim, hasn’t exactly made them household names. The almost schizophrenic mash of hip hop, grime and dancehall on their latest LP, Universally Dirty, is a testament to the many levels on which Part 2 is operating – and the same is true of his graffiti.

“All my music and art comes from the same background of experimenting with unusual shapes and colours, but it’s difficult juggling the two. I had the inspiration for Part2ism a couple of years ago, but being busy with the music meant I never acted on it. I’d get these great ideas, but then a little voice in my head would say: ‘Right, enough. Back to the studio.’ I guess somewhere along the line something just snapped.”

The simplicity of Part2ism – based on cardboard cutouts that are painted and then put up in the least likely of urban environments – belies the huge amount of groundwork behind it. Okay, so there are no life-threatening rambles along twilight train tracks or inner city rooftops, but that doesn’t make it any less of a creative mission. “The main thing,” says Part 2, “is branding the pieces up with the existing public domain. Whatever we work on, we try to culturally map it so that it has some kind of relevance to its immediate environment.”

And whether that’s a 7ft tall cardboard man riding London’s Northern Line tube (“we just wanted to get him out for the day, give him a bit of fresh air”), or a massive mock-up Asteroids battle between two phone boxes (complete with wire-frame asteroids, retro shooters and a computerised score at the top), the temporary lifespan of the piece is all part of the process.

“Sometimes we’ll leave things there for a couple of hours, sometimes a couple of days. Sometimes it rains and pieces get ruined, other times they get nicked. Either way, the fact that it doesn’t damage its surroundings is interesting – it flips the script a little. Whereas with spray cans it was about keeping a low profile and not getting caught, for us it’s about doing our thing in the craziest places imaginable, because we know we can always take it down. It’s only cardboard, after all.”