Like any big city, Moscow faces many challenges in terms of quality of life. Here, we have the world’s worst traffic jams and one of the highest costs of living, but also some ingenious everyday solutions. People are increasingly taking matters into their own hands – with street artists offering the most visible examples.

On my return to Moscow, I joined a group of artists promoting a new form of urban ‘activism’ called ‘Partizaning,’ a method and movement that splices online resources and creative DIY with acts of collective grassroots resistance to the city’s top-down structure and set-up.

The result is an interdisciplinary project (Partizaning) that uses the language of art as a tool for participatory urban re-engineering. Here, we work at the intersection of active and accessible street art, less tangible research, and hands-on social practice in the city.

Through Partizaning, we try to push the definitions of street and community art, urban activism, and social practice by promoting an ethic of process-oriented participation and urban interventions. To this end, we have come up with games to disseminate urban tactics – or organized workshops and discussions to spread the word on DIY urbanism throughout Russia and abroad.

Past interventions have included painting guerrilla crosswalks, installing unsanctioned bicycle navigation, and creating street signs that reflect alternative realities. In 2012, we collaborated on an experimental project called ‘Cooperative Urbanism’ to involve citizens, authorities, architects, and urbanists in a dialogue to transform their districts. In Amsterdam, we installed leftist street signs and instigated a public dialogue on a historic school in the city. This year, Partizaning created a mobile discussion platform for Dusseldorf’s Petites Resistances, to name just a few.

Like most unsanctioned public art, street art tends to be considered vandalism by the state (and some of the public). Fortunately, this attitude is starting to change with the advent and evolution of constructive, socially-oriented urban art – a discipline that combines aspects of public, community, and street art.

In Russia, the most active ‘urban warriors’ tend to be street artists who are using subversive works and approaches to assert their right to comment and kick-start conversations to improve the city. Among them: Pasha 183 whose recent demise was a huge loss to our community. His unique combination of performance and technology, like the space invader car shooter, challenged established boundaries of performative but activist street art. Tima Radya from Ekaterinburg, who recently won New York’s Cut Log Prize, triggered a sharp response from municipal authorities to his work ‘Your Move’ where he painted a collapsing bridge to resemble domino pieces. Misha Most might be best-known for his apocalyptic urban scapes and wooden CCTV camera installations in trees, but his most striking work involves writing the statutes of the federal constitution on public walls.

With their finely tuned sensibilities, all these artists practice a form of street art that might be described as civic activism, even if it amounts to no more than free expression. With this rich mélange of urban approaches, Russian street art is clearly coming into its own as a strong means of expression and tool of socially-oriented practice.

header image: Tima Radya