The Art of Walls (and Citizenship)

In the urban spaces of the valley, walls are vital. These very public spaces are used to enclose very private ones. It is a relationship that doesn’t come without its stresses, as the following photograph makes clear:

Wall Doubling as Art Gallery, Vernon

The wall that separates this hotel from an auto wrecking yard, has been graced with a language of rectangles, seemingly inherited from the hotel.

It makes for an arresting display. Now, these rectangles are serving a vital social purpose. They are there to cover up this kind of thing:

Graffiti in Vernon

The private signing of the public faces of private buildings by people in interpersonal turmoil with little respect for private/public nuance, before being reconstructed as a rectangle.

In Okanagan public space, walls are usually quickly returned to their original function as blank canvasses, kind of like the green screens on movie sets, that are used to place a desirable environment behind an actor.

Wall at Work Next to Highway 97 in Vernon…

…as a projection space for a woman and a stop light.

Once a wall has been tagged, as this example from one of Vernon’s capital cities, Edmonton, shows, it is not possible for any other citizen (or the sun) to use it for their own projections. The effect is eerie. There is, however, an effective method for combatting this form of theft, and it is used widely throughout Vernon:

A Little Military Imagery Helps

A soldier goes into the heat of battle, leaving gas behind.

Once a wall has been vaccinated in this way, the taggers of Vernon leave it alone. It’s not just military imagery, either:

Indigenous Woman Wrapping an Electrical Service Box, 30th Avenue, Vernon

 Taggers also leave history alone. Note the lovely correlation between a kerchief (and hidden hair) and the window behind her, advertising wigs. Oh dear.

It seems that taggers and graffitistes of various kinds understand that historical gestures have already stolen privacy from wall space. There’s nothing left of value to steal. History, it seems, they do not want to own. Here’s a further use of Okanagan wall space:

Wall as a Neutral Frame for the Big Floor Show of the Trees

University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus, Kelowna. Frost seems to have stopped this little strip tease partway through.

Of course, that’s what it all looks like when very clever, artistically trained big city architects get into the game, but, still, it is intriguing. Cities are canvasses. Citizens write on these canvasses, all the time, projecting upon them what they hope to see there. It works, as long as the canvasses are blank. Then everyone can own them: the building owner and people on the street. It is this ownership that taggers steal. To see how remarkable this all his, here is a version of tagging from Europe, in which ownership is not the issue:

The Anarchists Have Arrived. Erfurt, Germany

These guys have gone so past the idea of private and public space that they ignore it, and make art instead.

But then, they have proportional representation. What they have on the street reflects that. Canadians and Americans have a first past the post system. It is a kind of horse racing, lovingly described by the Canadian government here. If voting was done through art, maybe it would look less like this…

University of British Columbia Landscaping

Eastern Canadian oak leaves for citizens, and grasses with a military haircut for buildings, arranged in  a perfect street grid.

… and more like this:

 Two Trees On Stage, UBC Okanagan Campus

I love this architect.

What a beautiful idea: include the trees as our brothers and sisters and make it all about them for a bit and let them take their bow. After all, the environments people build for their children determine for a large part how they are going to act. Less attention to neutrality and more attention to individualizing space should return great dividends.

2 thoughts on “The Art of Walls (and Citizenship)

  1. The transient art on the sides of railcars that travel through our town is very enlightening. We learn that most taggers lack the energy to carry ladders and that their ideas are no more profound than those of the local exterior decorators. Rectangles are strangely missing on these rolling canvases

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