Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Writing on the Wall

The ability to use public art as a form of expression is quite rare. Installations are often visual or have a tacit (or expressed) 'do not touch' policy - creating the idea of public without the opportunity for real interation. A few installations try to break this boundary - offering a platform for expression.

One that came via email is the Natureza em Risco, an installation at the Festival Internacional de Jardins de Ponte de Lima by Architect Lara Plácido and sculptor Sara Bento Botelho - who were kind enough to send me some pics of their work and a short quote: " we walk past it, will grow a "diary" of the garden, superimposing spontaneous and arbitrary records, productively artistic through the action of the wind on the rods with markers attached to their ends which will operate like a wind printer of the intervention of viewers ready to interact with them, thus creating a drawing of their journey...."

:: images via Lara Placido & Sara Bento Botelho

Last week, at the panel discussion here in Portland for 'The Mayors' Institute on City Design', NEA Director of Design (and former Mayor of Charlottesville, Virginia) Maurice Cox, mentioned the process of public involvement that created the Charlottesville Community Chalkboard set up as a public forum for expression. The chalkboard is erased once a week - and some of the great work is compiled at this site.

:: images via Preservation in Pink

Finally, no discussion would be complete (at least for me, with many family members as alumni) without a reference to the Free Expression Tunnel at North Carolina State University... "
Clubs, fraternities, sororities, and other organizations often paint the tunnel to promote events and amateur artists paint to express themselves and to promote freedom of speech. A retaining wall just outside the tunnel's south entrance is also open for free expression. The tunnel was open to free expression in the 1960s and was the university's response to illegal graffiti."

:: image via Wikipedia

All of these sites have (or probably will have) issues with inappropriate content being scrawled in public - which is part of the point and some of the challenge of free expression. The limits of what is 'free' is on debate and will cross the lines of common decency - making it a visible dialogue for everyone to see - and censorship is always an issue. Whereas some other 'art' can cross visible and clear lines of appropriateness and require removal by society - there's always the ephemeral nature of chalk or the soothing ability to paint over walls - as an option for these public spaces. It's up to the public how to use them.


  1. It is always a pleasure to see postings or public art projects. Particularly when they come from design fields who share interests in the development of public spaces and often weigh in heavily on their physical manifestations.

    These examples are particularly intriguing as they revolve around interactive works that are only fully engaged and complete when used as a tool for individual expression by citizens not usually dubbed as artists. Is it the compounding of many small marks made by individuals in a public setting that affords them the title of public art? Is it the setting and its publicness? What is great is that in all of these examples the voice of individual community members is made public through the vehicle of the space and the tools available for creating a mark. All thanks to artists and designers coming together to recognize the need for more places that offer their infrastructure to the realm of public expression (weather individually and cumulative or collectively organized).

    Mark making is prevalent throughout social history and often indicates an act of territoriality. Marks like those seen here, compounded over and over by the actions of passing citizens, lay communal claim to spaces and surfaces. They reflect multiple temporal moments in which individuals express personal claims, "I was here" or "I exist in this space". They are testaments to the presence of a community, at times, communities that are relegated to substandard status. They are the youth, the children, the homeless, and unfortunates. While this is not always true, I would assume that there are marks on these wall made by all walk of life, these projects offer a legitimate place for expression that does not throw up an exclusionary wall and instead invites all to take part in the act of expression.

    While I am not always focused on public art and rarely active in singling out works that afford opportunities like those found in the images shared in this blog, I am pleased to see them. They exemplify certain areas of inquiry that I currently find interesting and very relevant to my current research.

    Timely posts Mr. King. Thanks for sharing. If you happen to have any other links to work like this or sites that I may find interesting please pass them along if you get a free minute. Though I am sure you stay fairly busy these days.

    Enjoying the new blog,


  2. First off, I really enjoy following your blog. I wanted to point you in the direction of the University of Florida's 34th St wall. Our school actually sponsors a chronicle of messages left on the wall and it is constantly being used by student organizations as well as local artists. You can check it out here:

    I also wanted to point out that I am currently writing my own blog, mainly for my classmates and I, but focused on landscape architecture. Feel free to check it out at

    Keep up the great work!

  3. As a painter, I've often considered the private nature of portable paintings, how they work on the inside of walls. When I see wall painting, outside, I see it as public and a political act, an act of work against the hegemony. In Williamsburg, Brooklyn and certainly many other cities, there are many outdoor wall paintings, some quite exceptional and often anonymous. I've never been a big fan of tagging. But if a community builds a wall such as these, I think thats incrediblly generous. I think there should be a place in every community for this. It can be a magnet, because writers and picture makers and whatelse will know that people in the community will go to the wall to see what's new.

  4. This is a really cool project! I feel even cooler because my friend worked on it... oh, how great it is to live vicariously through other people! : )


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