NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

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Neshan 39


The Spring Festival; The Experience of Urban Art in Mashhad

Ehsan Mahdavi

The Welcome Spring Festival of Mashhad is an event that began in 2008 with the support of Mashhad Municipality and the Artists’ Forum. Self-taught and progressive, the Spring Festival moved ahead and reached its peak in 2012 and 2013. Now, urban art centered on spring is acknowledged in all the cities of Iran. The festival is called Baharestan in Tehran.

Urban art
The first call for works officially appeared for the Spring Festival in 2012. No similar event had occurred in any other country; urban art then turned into a native tradition. One of the main features of the Spring Festival was that it was self-taught. This was how the festival became entirely consistent with its society and local conditions. Therefore, the originality and exclusiveness of the event were maintained, and it was set as a model for Nowrouz festivals (in terms of volume and scope, or being decorative and original, or anything we call it). It is its ambiguity that creates wonder. The process of the festival began with ambiguity: Where should we begin? And how? Like a misty air, ambiguity encourages people to search and leads to awareness.

Social intelligence
The inhabitants of a city are bewildered by machine life and sometimes forget that they are primarily human beings. Urban art encourages citizens to be human beings and challenges the intelligence of society.
    The festival’s constant concern was to involve the audience with the works so that they refer to it many times as if they are solving a problem. However, many believed that people should simply enjoy and take pleasure in the moment. This different attitude brought about the issue of “entertainment” which was introduced as the people’s demand. Viewing urban art as a means for entertainment could push the society miles backwards. Works of urban art deepen the intelligence and understanding of society. All the people, from all classes, and all parts of Iran were the visitors of this great museum of urban art, whether they wanted or not. 

Call for works
The concept defined in the call for any event has a significant influence on the way it is formed. The call for the Spring Festival had a poetic language, which encouraged intimacy among the artists, unleashed their creativity, and earned their trust.
    In the early years, we as the Festival directors, formulated the call in a way that directed the artists towards certain types of urban art, based on a mental image; but in the last years we tried to be taken by surprise by watching what would happen in the city, such as magnification and shrink, 3D and 2D, objective and figurative. A good work is one that is liked by people and makes them feel rewarded, content, surprised, and aware. A good work is a downpour of creativity with a correct structure and construct. It is unique and it respects people.

The Festival’s approach
At first, it was believed that urban art must live through the years. Hence, the sculpture of Nader Shah was referred to as an example. However, we knew that “transience” is one of the characteristics of the new art; because the visual shock haunts the society’s mind and persists via the media. We are talking about temporary artworks –works that allow the artists to express themselves with a loud voice works that cost less with nondurable material and can change the city once they are multiplied. On the other hand, the amazement stimulated by transient works could awaken improvisation and, therefore, hope in people. The Spring Festival suddenly transformed the city and people opened eyes to a totally different place.
    This trend finally led to the introduction of approaches –i.e. temporary, permanent, and dateless- in the last year of the Festival. The city needed dateless works as much as it required short-term works.

When it comes to the city, artists play an important role -just like the people. The excessive participation of all the artists was one of the influential factors in the advancement of the Festival. The artist trusts in an event when he/she feels that its directors are his/her type and feels that there is enough freedom of speech. According to Milton Glaser, “Art is work.” Art is valuable when it is presented as a work. The subject of the end of the semester projects of the art students in those years was the Welcome Spring Festival. They both experienced and performed their work in the city. In the meanwhile, the Spring Festival had become so pervasive that many professions had also become involved.

Presence in the city
Positioning is the most important point in urban art. Perhaps, the best solution is to precisely define the position and design for that particular place. In their works, the artists paid attention to the viewing angle, distance from the work, the time when it was viewed, its size in relation to people, passing, turning, distance, night- or day-time, visual density or tranquility in relation to the city.

Organizational identity
In 2012, the event was recognized as a festival. Next, a slogan, logo, and visual identity were designed for it. In those years, directors and judges were officially selected for the Welcome Spring Festival and some awards were dedicated.
    The first day of the spring, a museum of urban artworks opened in Mashhad to which all the Iranians were invited. The museum was not held in a gallery or exhibition; it was held in the streets where people had passed many times every day: a museum to the honor of spring and as big as a city.
    Like all the big cities in the world, Mashhad has a special character that forms its identity structure. Naturally, we took the religious atmosphere of Mashhad into consideration in the festival; but having a “contemporary look” was more important. Due to this viewpoint, we were constantly criticized by the religious people. Urban art has no identity and is nothing but stones and cement as long as it is not linked to the present.
    The Spring Festival made people more cheerful, calm, and good-tempered. People who had previously seen nothing but artificial flowers hung from lighting poles in festivals, now analyzed objective sculptures. The festival gained wider renown as it reached its last years. The last year of the festival with more than five thousand works received was the end of its five-year period.

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