The Davis Needle: downtown’s monumental mark

The Davis Needle: downtown’s monumental mark

Photo Credits: JUSTIN HAN / AGGIE

Ribbon-cutting event to celebrate installed sculpture, completion of Third Street Improvements Project

Downtown Davis recently welcomed “The Davis Needle” to its repertoire of public artworks. Created by artists Mark Grieve and Ilana Spector, the 25-foot tall sculpture sits on Third Street, marking the transition from the edge of downtown to UC Davis.

The sculpture was commissioned back in 2011 in conjunction with the Third Street Improvements Project, which was intended to promote safer pedestrian travel and overall beautification. The project was delayed, which subsequently delayed the installation of the obelisk.

“There was interest in putting something there that created a gateway feeling, that marked the specific location,” said Rachel Hartsough, the arts and culture manager for the city of Davis. “It’s for creating this really lovely pedestrian-bicycle promenade between the city and the university.”

Grieve and Spector were working on a series of works relating to repurposed bike parts when they were chosen by the city of Davis. In particular, the obelisk is composed of around 110 unwanted children’s bikes, taken apart, cleaned and rebuilt into the Needle.

“There’s a sea of material going through the junkyard, especially children’s bikes,” Grieve said. “The original reason why we got into this series was because the material was cheap, that was really it. We sort of grew it from there.”

Spector echoed that cost-efficiency and sustainability factored into their unconventional use of bike parts in their artwork.

“It’s both,” Spector said. “I used to own a solar electric company, and we recognized that if we can reuse something and transform it into something beautiful, there’s an alchemy that goes on. So that is appealing to us, the sustainability aspect definitely.”

The sculpture’s name originated from “Cleopatra’s Needle,” a notable ancient Egyptian obelisk. Other worldly inspirations came from a trip to Paris, resulting in the installation of LED lights throughout the entirety of the sculpture to mimic the lighting of the Eiffel Tower.

“For one minute at the top of the hour, it’s going to sparkle like the Eiffel Tower, and there’s going to be slight anomalies going through it,” Grieve said. “The city’s going to be able to program it for daily occasions for yearly occasions.”

While the artists are from Petaluma, roughly an hour and a half away, they found Davis to be a fitting environment for their art due to the city’s prevalent bike and art culture. Transporting the giant sculpture to its new home, however, proved to be a challenge.

“When you work in artwork, it’s always a question of how you get it from where you build it to where it’s going to live,” Spector said. “A lot of times, we’re dealing with an inch on either side that [it] wants to fit in, and how we get it into the truck.”

The artist’s hard work and the completion of the Improvements Project will be celebrated at a ribbon-cutting event on June 1. The ceremony is set to begin at 11:15 a.m. and will feature remarks from city staff, among other activities near “The Davis Needle.” Booths will include the city’s “Art Bike,” a UC Davis design team working on a bicycle scavenger hunt, The Cali Rice Festival and free bike lights.

“We will have a selfie station to take photos at The Davis Needle,” said Barbara Archer, the communications and customer service manager for the city of Davis, via email. “All the restaurant owners who have put up with the construction will help to cut the ribbon. We really want to ask people to come eat at the Third Street establishments.”

Grieve and Spector hope for the “The Davis Needle” to leave a lasting impression on the City of Davis and for residents to adopt it into their community.

“People call it an artwork, but it’s really a working piece of artwork — something that keeps giving back to the community,” Grieve said. “Rather than making a piece of artwork, we [feel] that we’re making a landmark and hopefully, a monument.”

Written by: Renee Hoh — city@theaggie.org