Hollywood in Cambodia: Palermo’s Beautiful Chaos

Posted on February 8, 2016 by Britta Wilhelmsen in ARTS

On a particularly colorful block of Thames in Palermo, you will find a haven for some of the most well-known street artists in Buenos Aires.  You might not know it at first glance – as it happens to be perched right above a bar – but head through to the back, up the stairs, and you’ll find yourself admiring the rooms of Hollywood in Cambodia.  I remember being pleasantly surprised at the size of the gallery when I walked in.  It occupies only two small rooms indoors, with a larger terrace area that allows visitors to admire the art gracing the buildings on either side.  It was on this terrace that I sat down with Federico, one of the gallery’s six main artists, for some behind-the-scenes insight into the vibrant world of street art.

Federico (we’ll call him “Fede” from here on out), is a self-proclaimed hardcore punk fan.  Along with street culture and skateboarding, this genre of music is where he finds much of his artistic inspiration. I have to admit, I don’t know too much about punk music – I’m more of a hip hop person myself – but it’s not hard to see the clear influence the punk scene has had on the artwork displayed here. The colors are bold. The images are wild, risky, and insanely fascinating.  I took a walk around to take it all in, gazing into the eyes of distorted faces, neon skulls, cartoon animals, and paintings that resembled old war propaganda. How, exactly, did a gallery like this get started?

Hollywood in Cambodia, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Well, before there was Hollywood in Cambodia, there was Post Bar; the colorful, graffitied watering hole welcoming visitors at the front of the building.  Fede (along with Pablo and Fabio, two other artists that make up their six-person collective) rented the space in 2006 with the simple intention of starting this bar. The idea to incorporate art into their concept began after a few friends of theirs discovered a book about stencils in Buenos Aires, which intrigued them right away. They decided to contact several stencil artists from the book in hopes of adding a decorative flair to the walls. Shortly after, a deal was set, and the rest is history.  

Hollywood in Cambodia, Palermo, Buenos Aires

Fede describes how the group of artists felt very much “at home” in Palermo during these early days. After the painting work began, they realized that they wanted to be even more part of the space they were in. The artists themselves all had their roots in stenciling, having known each other from the streets for years before the opening of the bar. This was around the time when many stencils were beginning to appear in Buenos Aires. Fede tells me how communication between the various artists took place through the walls, through the stencils, but not in person. That is, until they created Hollywood in Cambodia and names slowly turned into faces.

Their very first show was a collective of sketches with 20 different artists involved. Since then, the gallery has grown immensely in popularity and breadth of work, which is not always an easy thing to achieve in a city known for its artistic influence. “We are still surprised that the gallery is quite successful; that people are still coming here and that it remains unique in Buenos Aires.  We’re very happy about the kind of exhibitions and the crowd that comes here,” says Fede.  Their biggest challenge? Working collectively. It takes a good deal of patience and cooperation to get six different artists, with different styles, to agree on something. However, this is exactly what makes Hollywood in Cambodia stand out from other galleries: it’s self managed. They have the luxury of doing exhibitions where they know nothing will sell.  “And that’s ok,” Fede says, “we live within the bar too. In a way, the bar and the gallery fit each other.”

Hollywood in Cambodia, Palermo, Buenos Aires

To check out some of Fede’s work outside Hollywood in Cambodia, look no further than the Pichincha station, off the Subte E line. Here, you will find his unique stencil designs garnishing the otherwise barren walls; a perfect embodiment of his style and the punk scene from which he hails.  

As I like to do with these interviews, I asked Fede to pick one word to describe his gallery. Instead, he gave me two words: “Beautiful chaos”. I have to say, it fit perfectly. To experience some of the beautiful chaos for yourself, visit Hollywood in Cambodia – and don’t forget to stop in at Post Bar for a beer after your visit.

Hollywood in Cambodia

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