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Davis, California

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Crafting Gemeinschaft: Death via the color grey

We have been told throughout our lives that graffiti is bad. It depresses home values, encourages gang activity and is destroying our youth. This notion makes it difficult for public art pieces to find their place in society, because they are wrongfully correlated with such vandalism. Do you remember around spring of last year when all of a sudden on the Death Star you saw the faces of your peers? Where did they come from? What was their purpose there? I bet it made your walk to statistics 10 times more enjoyable. Yet getting the installation, called “Davis Inside Out,” approved was considerable work. Part of the reason the Aggie Public Arts Committee had difficulty getting the project approved is because something like that had never been done before on campus, especially by students — people are uncomfortable with difference and the unknown. If projects such as “Davis Inside Out” are done more often, it won’t be as much of a hardship to get projects approved in the future, because the idea of seeing something that’s not expected will be more normal.

Using public art can also change our notions about certain things, such as the use of public transportation. When you go to the metro in Europe, you may confuse it for entry into a gallery. More transportation systems are starting to acknowledge art’s influence, which can be seen in the Federal Transit Administration’s guidelines to incorporate art into public transportation projects. The new Warm Springs / South Fremont BART station will feature an installation by the artist Catherine Widgery, called “Sky Cycles.” The installation will look different at different parts of the day, changing along with the way light passes through it. Is it necessary to the function of the BART stop? Probably not. But I know that my curiosity in regards to how this piece looks at all hours will encourage me to visit and use the station more often. Another example of creative design is a bus stop in Georgia that is designed like a love shack. It was voted one of the best Kickstarter projects of 2012, and the design, in my opinion, makes the inconvenience of using public transportation more insignificant. Come on, I’d wait in that. I’d do more than just wait in it too (obviously talking about Sudoku, guys).

Our interest with public art does not just end at the piece itself, but extends to the person behind the piece. The people behind these public art projects are glorified — one example being Banksy, who has made it into our everyday vocabulary and has a cult following of people trying to find him (gender unconfirmed), called “Banksy hunters.” Why would people be so interested in finding Banksy if they did not value his contribution to society? It’s almost as if Banksy is a superhero: The police want to find him and the masses look up him. The fact that Banksy’s work is considered vandalism reflects that there is some part of our society that needs to change their perceptions of public art. Banksy has served as a role model for artists and activists around the world; he has even inspired someone on the street I live on. One night while walking home I saw a refrigerator on the street where food had been left for people to take. The project, called “Share More, Save Less,” was started on that very property where the tenants had built the refrigerator themselves. When talking to them, they said they needed painters for their refrigerator and wanted “Banksy-style” art on the side. This is a clear example of how people who are pushing for social change are influenced by his art style.

Public art does not always have to be as large scale as a Banksy piece, however. Sometimes when I’m walking up the stairs to my class on the second-floor of Wellman I see stencils of Spongebob on the floor. I don’t know what the greater message behind this is, but all I know is that it makes me smile before sitting in lecture for two hours. Technically, it’s illegal — somebody defaced public property, but what’s the real harm done? Another stencil I saw around Davis was on my morning run when I found the stencil of the words “Follow your bliss” on the pavement. My morning was made and the “graffiti” did not have any effect on the beauty and perception of the neighborhood.

My point is that grey is boring. Let’s accept some color and vivacity into our lives.

If you want to stencil positive phrases on the sidewalk don’t not contact NICOLE NELSON at nsnelson@ucdavis.edu because that is illegal and she would never do anything illegal.

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