Stephanie Bleier is a project manager and strategist from Stockholm, Sweden. Her successful Instagram account, All You See is Crime In the City documents the public art scenes of cities around the world.
Hi Stephanie! Thanks for talking to us. Do you remember the first piece of street art that you saw?
I’m guessing that it was in Stockholm – it was so many years ago! But the first piece I really remember standing out was definitely in my hometown, Stockholm. Here, the government had a zero tolerance policy, which means that every type of public anything – posters, graffiti, murals, stickers, wheate paste- was removed within 24 hours. If someone posted a band poster for a concert, it got taken down.
I remember seeing the head of a deer. It was black and white, and it stuck out because it wasn’t supposed to be there. And it was so obvious that it wasn’t supposed to be there! I was probably in highschool when I saw it, and then I saw the same deer all over the neighborhood near my school.
When did your interest in public art begin?
Even though we didn’t have much of it in Stockholm, I’ve always noticed public art. When I was young, we traveled a lot with my mom. She made it a point of taking us someplace each year, even though she was a single mom, she still made it a point to show us the world. We would go to visit my dad in Uruguay, and we would go to Spain, Greece and other places nearby. To me, seeing street art was a normal thing because of my travels. Especially in South America, there are so many murals, it’s so normal to see murals, political art, etc in many public spaces.
How did you start documenting the art?
The first time I had a phone with a camera I just snapped a photo of something small like a sticker or something in Stockholm. When I was spending a lot of time in London, I really started documenting what I was seeing with my camera phone. It escalated with time, the more I traveled and the more I snapped, the more I noticed. Many years later, when I started photographing with a SLR camera, is when it escalated to the point of how it is now. I use a Canon EOS 6D, it’s quite heavy to carry around but it’s a really good all round camera and very easy to use. I always try to photograph the public art in their surroundings, I rarely do closeups and I love it when people walk by. Sometimes I have to ask people to carry on with business as usual as many are nice enough to stop when they see me with my huge camera. But the whole purpose of me documenting this giant public art gallery is showing how the art contributes to the city and how any form of public space take over is evidence of the people who reside in it.
When did you realize the social impact of public art?
I’ve always thought of public art as important to society, since I was very young. But when I graduated high school I left Sweden for 6 months. I went to South America. I guess that’s the first time I realized the huge impact that public art in whichever way it is, or as I like call it, the public space take over, that’s something you do to make yourself heard. That it can be something that shapes politics, it shapes people’s opinions, and I think that was probably the first time that I started to really think about it. When I really started to photograph more extensively, that’s when I started to be more vocal about the importance of public art and now I’m working toward having more public art here in Stockholm.
What differences do you see between the art in South America and Europe?
It’s an interesting question, because it is definitely different on every continent that I’ve visited. In the U.S I think the whole foundation is in graffiti and graffiti culture. In South America, the foundation is not graffiti, it is muralism. Both in South and Central America, there is such a huge culture of muralism that began at least a 100 years ago. It’s not uncommon to have murals in schools, in markets, or other public spaces. In public art, graffiti, etc in South America, the inspiration comes from someplace else. Even those who do graffiti, they do it in a different way than someone from New York would.
European public art and graffiti is much more influenced by the US culture, but it’s still different and has it’s own style.
And in my experience, Asia is just a completely different thing. I’ve been to Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. It’s mostly visitors who are leaving a mark, which is the biggest difference there. In any other place, you will always find the locals. But in those parts of Asia that I’ve been, it’s so common for it to be expats or backpackers. Especially in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur, I would find tags from people who are not local artists, mostly international visitors. It makes it an interesting mix, to see a piece from an American artist next to a European one. Since public artists and graffiti writers depend on recognition, their pieces look similar all over the world, so it’s cool to see them next to each other.
I’ve noticed you are differentiating between the different terminology. How did you learn the different classifications of public art?
From traveling and photographing so much, I learned the difference. I think the artists define themselves so you don’t have to. There are some graffiti writers who think that “street art” is crap, or that it’s not legitimate because it’s not illegal – and there are the train painters who risk their lives and are really hard core. I get that, it’s inspired by a certain history, it’s a genre of its own and I love that as well.
Then you have people who do murals, who work legally, and probably never painted a train in their life, that’s okay too. Many cross over and do both.
For me, the important thing that I always try to pay attention to is if it’s legal work or not.
I, of course, can appreciate a legal mural. I think it’s beautiful when a city allows and makes space for art available to everyone. If you don’t have the $20 to go to the MoMa, you can still see those public murals. In my opinion, that’s just as important as someone doing an illegal piece on a door.
Still, for me the political part is the most important, which is when people put up wheat pastes or art or tags or posters, or a stencil spray on the ground or whatever people put up. It’s a way of taking back the space that belongs to people. It’s not legal, it’s a statement. It’s democratizing the public space, and that’s the difference to acknowledge.
Why is that difference so integral to Public Art?
The interesting part of the movement, which has grown insanely in the past 5 years that I’ve been photographing it, is that most people feel oppressed by advertising and grey walls in our cities. Most people feel like we are run over with all the commercial information that comes our way. We just take it in and can’t escape it. But there’s a lot of people who think: “this is what I want to put out. This is the space that belongs to the people, so I’m going to take back.” And that’s important.
When planning a trip, do you choose a destination based on the art you will see there?
When I travel, I just go and see what’s there. I think part of the charm is just going without plans or much research. I’ve always loved to travel- my first “parent free” trip was to Sicily when I was 15. I don’t travel to find public art or graffiti, I just travel because I love it. Then I have what some people would say is an unhealthy interest in this kind of art, and that comes in handy on my travels. I just notice it more than others would!
When I get to a city I haven’t been to before, I have no idea where I am or where to go, I just have to explore. I walk a lot. It’s the best way to see anything. A comfort zone for me is seeing what’s up on the walls. Are there tags, are there stencils, are there murals? That’s the only comforting thing I have in a new place. So when I see that, I always feel safe.
What are some of your favorite cities for Public Art?
It’s hard for me to pick, because there are cities that I love and will go back and back and back to. New York is definitely one of those. It is definitely a city that I think belongs to the people that live there. And that is beautiful. It’s messy and chaotic. But Sao Paulo blew my mind! When I was there, I was terrified. I was completely alone, I didn’t know anybody. I remember getting off the plane and I was like, I don’t want to leave the airport! But of course, I left the airport. Everyone back home had scared me before I got there – telling me that it was dangerous, especially since I was a woman traveling alone. So I get there, and I’m so scared. I think it took me about 5 days before I felt at ease. But after that, I was blown away. I stayed for six weeks – I was only supposed to be there for two!
Wow! What made Sao Paulo so special?
The people are amazing – Brazilians are so open and warm, it’s just amazing. I loved the warmth – not only the heat, that too – but the warmth of the people, the warmth of the culture. It’s a huuuge city, there’s 20 million people there, but still there are little neighborhoods where you feel like you are in a small town. There’s this calmness in the chaos. It’s organized chaos. 20 million people moving around, getting someplace. And it’s always busy, but still, people are so calm. Everyone is so cool. And you can just be walking down the street and all of a sudden – a samba party!
Any other stand out cities?
Also Valparaiso, it’s just amazing! The contrast of the old houses, the colors, the hills and the ocean, it’s so insanely beautiful.
When I went to Valparaiso, I was young, but I struck by how the murals addressed what happened with Pinochet. It was shocking for me to see that in a public space.
[In many parts of South America] it’s so normal to talk about politics, to talk about what needs to be talked about, to remind people of what needs to be said.
In Chile, before Pinochet they had such a strong culture of muralism and public art. And now, they are getting it back. They are getting their groove back and it’s so much fun to see.
How do you manage to travel so much?
I do social media strategy and digital strategy freelance work, and I have always prioritized travel, and thank god for Swedish Labor laws! We have a privilege that we are well aware of. Since I started working, I’ve always had 6 weeks paid vacation each year, which makes it easy to travel. As soon as I started working, I just spent all my vacation time traveling. I went to at least two places a year.
I started my Instagram account 3 years ago, and after I started it, I felt like the vacation trips were not enough. I needed to travel more, and do more. So two years ago, I quit my job to travel for 6 months. I never had the chance to go backpacking when I was younger and I felt it was about time. So I went on my first trip alone. I did Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina and Chile. After I came back the plan was to get a full time job in the same line of work – I was a business manager – but I decided not to. I just couldn’t do it! I felt I wasn’t motivated to stay put in one place. Two years later, I still don’t. I didn’t have the freedom then that I have now.
How has starting All You See Is Crime In The City changed how you travel?
I don’t think having my account has changed the way I travel, it changed the way that I am able to travel. The last couple of years I haven’t been home in Stockholm more than 4 weeks at a time. It’s been two years and I don’t see myself stopping anytime soon. For now I’m gonna travel and keep on doing this.
Before AllYouSee I used to just get to a place, and I was clueless about what to see and do. I mean, I still travel like that, but I also sort of feel I have a purpose now. I have a responsibility to my followers to show that what I’m seeing. So I have a sort of “task” to do as soon as I get to a new place, I love that!
So it’s changed the capacity of my traveling. Because of the account, I got my first job in social media strategy, and I started to build a new career and way of gaining income. It gave me a platform, which was amazing. The instagram community is so good. Everyone is so- there’s a lot of hate, I know – but in this particular realm of travelers, artists and people like me, everyone is so friendly and eager to help. When I got to Sao Paulo, I reached out to some guys i knew from Instagram. I asked for some tips, and they were amazing. They put me up, they took me out, they showed me the city, and I am still in contact with them. I got to rio, and the same thing happened. Now, when people DM or send emails to meet up, i always say yes. You never know, who you are meeting. There is so much goodness out there. When I’m in a new city I’m like “hey I’m here!” and there’s always someone who asks if I want to get coffee and I say yes. I always say yes! I’ve met some friends for life and i’m super grateful for that.
What is up next for you?
i have no idea! honestly! I have a couple of projects in the works that are about spreading public art in Stockholm but that’s all later in spring. So who knows between now and then? Depending on work, I might be hanging out a little more in Stockholm. If not, I’m planning on Asia. I’m very lucky to be able to continue traveling, I don’t think I’ll ever want to stop!
Sounds like a win-win to me! Last question! Who are some of your favorite artists?
I have many favorite (graffiti) writers from all over the world, and there are of course hundreds of artists that I love, but I never go hunting for a particular artist in the cities I visit. If I have to chose I would say Os Gemeos, as far as street artists go. They are twin brothers from Sao Paulo, Brazil. They are so hardcore and I love everything they do. I’ve found pieces, murals, tags – everything – from them all over the world and the work is always on point and extremely well executed. They are true to their graffiti background but never afraid to push their art forward.