Buff Diss is an Australian-born street artist that’s been based in Berlin for the past four years. IDT, which stands for Industry Definition Transfer, is the Hong Kong/ Shenzhen-based graffiti crew that’s considered a pioneering group of Chinese urban artists. Both were part of Converse’s Wall to Wall, a project that sends artists to create a visual public spectacle on the wall of a city street. The differences between Buff Diss and the IDT crew are as many and significant as their similarities. Buff lives and works in a city that has a thriving graffiti culture, while IDT is used to being one of the few (but growing) street art practitioners. Still, they share a passion for creatively exploring and pushing the boundaries of the form.
Berlin has a vibrant graffiti scene, but suffers from the same criminalization of street art that many urban areas experience. Buff Diss, who resides and works there, mentioned a sort of back-and-forth between encouragement and penalization, with a public that desires out-in-the-open aesthetics but with few people willing to give sanctioned space for the graffiti. Like many graffers, Buff first witnessed the intriguing tags and pieces while riding public transport in his native Melbourne: "It was a fairly typical introduction I guess, taking the train to school and being transfixed by the characters/colours/text that weren’t supposed to be there."
For his Wall to Wall piece, Buff crafted an image of a sinking ship made completely out of black tape on a wall in Pier #7 on the ferry docks of Hong Kong. Laying out long lines of tape in unbelievable shapes and figures has been a hallmark of Buff’s artistic practice. About this particular work, he said that he “wanted to make a piece that graphically suited the location, but also had historical relevance. The cruise ship is based on the RMS Queen Elizabeth that sunk in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour. The piece is titled ‘Queenwise,’ and it measures around 2.5m x 6m, and took about 4 hours to complete.” This masterful work was created without a formal art or design education – only with a know-how gained from the streets.
Whereas Berlin has a legacy of street art, China – even in the urban heart of Hong Kong – is a place with a relatively young and small graffiti culture. The IDT crew, composed of artists WHYYY, NAN and SINIC, started doing street works “about 10 years ago, when there were only 20-30 writers in all of China.” SINIC also pointed out that, while its growing, Hong Kong still only has “20-30 active writers itself, within a population of 7 million.”
Supported by Converse, the IDT crew was sent to Sheung Wan, a cultural hub of Hong Kong with art galleries, small boutique shops, and antique shops lining Hollywood Road. Still, most of the visual culture is bound up in these private venues (especially since graffiti is still mostly forbidden in Hong Kong), so IDT decided to create a surreal and unconventional experience. They thus created a wild three-dimensional work depicting a giant bird that seemed to pop out of the wall, with text written in a traditional Chinese-lettering style that said “Think out of the box.” NAN, a member of IDT, said that a primary concept of the work was to create a piece that “broke the prison and released the ego.” The work also contains IDT’s signature nod to Western modernist painters – which are inspirations for each of them – with a melting, Dali-style clock.
This edition of Wall to Wall showcased some of the finest street artists from around the globe, each of them bringing their unique flair to the streets of Hong Kong and furthering Converse’s goal of commissioning public creativity. Most importantly, this Wall to Wall contributed to the small but much-desired graffiti culture in HK – an urban center with plenty of art and culture – but the type that is without much visibility.
Project Co Produced with Philip Rodgers
Photography by Jonathan Leijonhufvud