Barrel of guerillas

Posted: April 21, 2017 at 9:08 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

A friend thinks John A. Macdonald looks much better with googly eyes.

This friend has been adding the crafty apparel to the statue on Picton’s main street sporadically, only to discover some anonymous vigilante, unimpressed with the guerilla-style artwork, has had them removed.

It’s too bad, really. They give J.A.M. a certain charm.

I’ve heard many folks discuss adding guerilla elements to the statue, from knitting Sir John a warm scarf in the winter to surrounding him with a mural in remembrance of his part in the fraught history of Canada’s relationship with First Nations people.

Some of these ideas are in protest, others just in fun, making commentary about a piece of art that can perhaps be taken a little too seriously.

Art, especially art in the public sphere, is always at risk of being appropriated by the public for protest, for comment or even just for fun.

In Glasgow, a 173-year-old three-storey-high statue of the Duke of Wellington atop a horse is often seen sporting an orange pylon as a hat. Despite the city and police discouraging and frequently removing this unusual bit of millinery, it always reappears, and has become a tradition in the city that has lasted four decades.

The artist (or, perhaps, artists) known as Banksy has become famous for creating protest graffiti—murals featuring stark anti-corporate social commentary—in strategic locations to send specific messages.

Even companies engage in altering public art. In 2007, Audi engaged BMW in a very public billboard war high above the streets of Los Angeles, one that eventually led to the use of a blimp.

The Charging Bull, a massive, expensive piece of art that began as guerilla art 40 years ago, has been in the news lately for having experienced its own guerilla treatment.

The sculpture was installed illegally at Bowling Green, in New York City’s financial district, after the 1987 stock market crash. After a fight between Wall Street stockbrokers, who decried the piece, and the sculptor, Sicilian immigrant Arturo Di Modica, Charging Bull was given reprieve. The city gave the piece a temporary and indefinite permit that allowed the now iconic figure, all 3.2 metric tonnes of it, to remain.

Although, according to the artist, it was meant to stand for the “strength of the American people”, it has come to stand for the strength of Wall Street itself, and following the 2008 crash, was used as a symbol of oppression by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Nearly 40 years after it first appeared, just before International Women’s Day of this year, Charging Bull was brought back to public attention, much to the chagrin of its creator, by the commissioned piece Fearless Girl, which stares down Charging Bull from across the square.

She is not guerilla art. Perhaps ironically, this statue was commissioned by a multi-billion dollar financial firm as a clever advertisement for their NASDAQ-traded fund for gender equity in business. The new statue’s existence is sanctioned, with an 11-month permit that has now been extended an extra year.

Her existence has made some, not least of whom is Di Modica, angry, and partially because of her commercial origin.

I fear they have missed the point.

Fearless Girl was created in the spirit of guerilla art, just as much as the German automobile companies’ billboard feud, just as much as the Duke of Wellington’s pylon hat or Sir John’s googly eyes. Her creation has changed our perspective and sparked a conversation. It’s surely what any artist would hope for.