Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


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You'd think that it would be a straightforward and popular thing to do: while renovating a park, use murals by local artists as an attractive alternative to the usual plain fences. But this is Wellington, so somehow we managed to turn it into a controversy.

One panel, by artist and concrete poet "Nia", showed a game of "I Spy". Suggested answers for "something beginning with d" included "drunks, drugs addicts, ... degeneration, ... dregs", among other references to the gloomy side of urban life, whereas the actual answer was the much more innocent "dog". After a few days, this panel was removed by the council, allegedly to avoid offending the homeless people who used to frequent the park.

This seemed a little strange, as the council had not previously seemed overly concerned about the feelings of street people, to the point where they tried to prosecute some for "trespassing" in the park, thus showing a strange attitude to the concept of "public space". Someone suggested that the phrase that spooked the council was none of the above, but "dastardly developers", given that certain councillors are known for being, ahem, friendly with property developers.

New artwork at Glover ParkPersonally, I read the mural not as an insult to any of those groups, but as a gentle play on some people's tendency to see the worst in everything. In any case, the panel was briefly replaced with blank plywood, which had only a couple of weeks to start accreting the usual Wellington graffiti and stencil art before this replacement mural arrived. This one seems to be free of any potentially offending references, and includes plenty of cutouts to allow the public a view of the work in progress (Nia's panel had been the only one with a cutout) as well as a rollcall of all the artists involved in the project.

New artwork at Glover Park - through a dog's eyesOn second look though, there's very much a "cloak and dagger" theme going on, with sinister silhouettes and trench-coated spies peering suspiciously out from behind trees. So perhaps this is a subtle allusion to hidden controversies and back-room dealings. One thing remains constant from Nia's work, though: the answer to "I spy with my little eye something beginning with d" is still... "dog".


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