I Spent A Night Out With Wellington's Most Elusive Street Artist

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I Spent A Night Out With Wellington's Most Elusive Street Artist

If you live in Wellington, you know BENT. His massive pigeon paste-ups and their beady eyes are all over the city.
August 12, 2016, 12:00am

All photos by the author

It's midnight and I'm standing on the corner waiting for the elusive street artist BENT to pick me up when his friend called to say he's late because, of course, he's "currently up a ladder." When he arrives it is—almost—straight to business, or in his words "let's grab a cup of water or a blaze first." And then our night begins. Usually working alone at around 5 AM, BENT has kindly arranged a 12 AM slot for me, the street art first-timer.

If you live in Wellington, you know BENT's work. His massive pigeon paste-ups and their beady eyes are all over the city. No-one knows BENT. TV news crews have tried to hunt him down with no luck. Tonight I get to see first-hand that his pigeons are just a small part of what he's been doing in the capital.

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Hiding in plain site, he approaches the streets with a "no worries" attitude and the swagger of fake permission. There's no running, no balaclavas, nor any sneaking around. Just a guy doing his art in paint-stained overalls and a low ponytail. His night shift ranges from cutting netting from scaffolding, throwing shoes with flowers in them, and extending car-parking lines. Interested in using art to treat private spaces publically, BENT took me through some public (and some not-so-public) areas and let me watch.

VICE: Hi BENT, who would you say you are as an artist?
BENT: I like making, viewing and collecting arts. I also like my mates, my family, my girlfriend, my pets Orby and Castaña, heated discussions, constructive arguments, recreationally relaxing and being productive.

What's the main purpose of your artwork?
Purpose is an ongoing question. I am currently interested in the law, public space and all its members, inanimate and animate, private and public.

How long have you been into street art?
For about four years, but I've always tried to put my hands where my ideas are, art-related or not.Any art that involves you leaving your house and climbing on a roof at night is good fun, gets you high, and keeps one's understanding of the city interesting.

So the pigeons, where did they come from?
I call the pigeon project All of Us. It could be read by the viewer as about identity of our feral races, both pigeons and humans, or how we share public spaces with other species.

Right, but what's your own take on the pigeons?
They're really just a justification to use and access private space that lies so blatantly in the public. If there is trespassing involved I try and place the poster where a real pigeon might be, in attempt to legitimise the use of that space by placing something that may otherwise belong there. If there isn't trespassing involved, I just look for architecture that makes for good framing devices or for walls with interesting textures to expose through the paste-up.

The pigeons have kind of become a Wellington icon. Have you ever tried getting permission for them from the council?
No, it's easier to go without permission; I rather do it for cheap and on my own accord then be writing some lame as emails that explain the social/historical/contextual/logistical/ financial, blah blah blah and wider context of the project just so you get a thumbs up. All that you can find out by doing the work.

Is All of Us your favourite project?
Not necessarily. I like art making in general, any medium, any topic that interests me. My mate once said something quoting someone else, so I will vaguely paraphrase: "the point of making art or being an artist is to live an interesting life." I have to agree with that. The more projects I take on board, the more interesting and entertaining things get.

Fill us in on some of your other latest projects then?
Some of my latest begun out of searching for forms away from wheat pasting. A typical night for me currently consists of tossing shoes with flowers in them over power lines, stealing the netting from construction sites to make patterns on other construction sites and extending car parking lines so that they are having a conversation with each other

You work anonymously. Would you ever reconsider this?
I am willing to let go of the anonymous thing on some occasions, but I just feel like when people know your name, your name reveals personal info so people can begin to associate your work with you. When you are anonymous your work is open to all judgment. Is this a joke? Is this an artwork? Is this vandalism? I'm trying to be like "this is something happening in the public." Also, people stay anonymous because they are doing illegal stuff, you know, not to get caught or incriminated.

How do you find the spots for your work?
I'll usually see a spot I like and then I'll make work for it. I don't really need credit for actually getting it up in certain spots, for me that's kind of secondary. I want to go to a spot because I think "that will look good there" not because "fuck, I want to have that spot."

Have you ever run into any trouble?
I usually try to run away from it, or stay out of it all together. I guess I've been lucky but also real careful. I have only met a few officers once, nice guys, who just told me I couldn't go around 2 AM thinking I was Spider Man. Fair enough.

What's been your closest call?
I haven't had many close calls, Wellington is small so it's really not that hard to get away with things, also I have a car. I get in and out and make no fuss, always nervous but never hesitate. If I'm caught I just remind myself that I'm not necessarily doing something bad, even if it does piss one or two people off.

If you're feeling intrigued check out more of BENT's stuff on Instagram