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Street Art

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Ecosex goddess with a bullhorn

“Lick the ground! Lick it!” called Annie Sprinkle to the small group clustered under an enormous sequoia. She’d already directed us onto our knees and had us press our foreheads to the earth. Now our little yoga class was getting weirder.

“Taste Mother Earth, or maybe just caress her. Run your hands across her curves,” said Sprinkle, her voice wavering excitedly. “But only if you feel comfortable.”

I suppose I should have expected this from an “Ecosexy Walking Tour” run by a former porn star, but I didn’t have much time to prepare myself. Just a few minutes before, I’d bumped into a graduate teaching fellow from my art history class.

“Are you going on the ecosexywalkingtourwithanniesprinkle?” she said, looking at me like I was a delicious tofu patty.

“The… wait, what?” I said.

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Ceremonials

Now, as I pretended to French kiss a patch of pine needles, I was getting a bit worried. Ever wonder if you could have resisted the Kool-Aid? I had my answer, and it wasn’t good.

Sprinkle was a porn star in the 70’s, a porn director in the 80’s, has been in a monogamous relationship since the 90’s, and is now an environmental crusader. Or should I say dominator? Only with the tree’s consent, of course.

None of this interested me very much, at least past an initial vulgar curiosity about Sprinkle’s self-proclaimed “ecosexuality.” What really held my attention was that my GTF had described Sprinkle (with utmost seriousness) as a performance artist. The fact that she’d been invited by the UO Department of Art upped her cred even more. Having just studied the Fluxus movement, I had to bite.

Fluxus was a disparate group of 1960’s artists that saw no boundary between art and life. To them, every mundane moment was a work of art. Their pieces had less to do with producing a final product (like, say, a painting) than experiencing an event. They called these events “happenings,” which could be anything from building an ice palace on a blazing hot day to licking jam off the hood of a car. You know, everyday stuff.

Sprinkle’s eco-neo-Fluxual performance, clearly organized into a series of happenings, felt like strange serendipity. Actually, it felt rough, like the bark of a tree.

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The Sprinkle-Stephens Scale of ecosexuality

The first few happenings had been orientations. We’d picked earth names (my new brothers and sisters: Damp Soil, Caves, Mowed Grass, Jellyfish), looked over the Ecosex Manifesto (“I promise to love, honor and cherish you Earth, until death brings us closer together forever”), and reviewed the Sprinkle-Stephens scale (based on Kinsey’s, but greener). Now we were taking the relationship to the next level.

“You really want it to be a full-body hug,” explained Sprinkle’s co-host, Portland eco-sex shop owner Kim Marks. Sprinkle nodded, keeping an eye on us as we approached the tree. You’d better not be giving Mother Earth no side hug, child.

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Hugging the sequoia was what you might call my transcendent moment. It was warm and comfy, and there was a spectacular view of the canopy. For a second, I stopped wanting to giggle or roll my eyes and existed within the happening. This is the whole point, I think. Or it would be the point if there was one, but that’s not the point.

I had class, so I cut out early while Sprinkle lead her followers off to find their “e-spots.” My departure was probably a good thing, as everyone had started complaining about last month’s “treeicide” and my earth name happened to be Snow.

As a gimmicky performer, Sprinkle was pretty good. She can spin out ecosex jokes like only a porn veteran could, and she slipped in some good messages about environmental stewardship and safe sex.

As a performance artist, at least in the Fluxus sense, Sprinkle left something to be desired. The Fluxus folks definitely had a sense of humor, but they fiercely believed in their art. Sprinkle’s happenings were all gags- bizarre, yes, but far from the brink of true Fluxus absurdity. Her imagined ecocult with its rituals, charts and chants was ludicrously intricate, but seemed a bit flat and overdone when dropped in the hippie hotbed of Eugene.

On the other hand, famous Fluxian Yoko Ono has probably been an ecosexual at some point in the last eight decades.

BONUS: Earth Day is comin’ up. Learn 25 ways to love the earth from Annie Sprinkle herself…

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Promenade, Anne Teigen

“This costs $4,000,” said my little brother. My jaw dropped. I’d been too busy trying to figure out what was on the other end of the Yellow Queen’s leashes (I’m going to say rabbits wearing winter jackets) to glance at the caption.

We had an hour to kill in downtown Eugene, so of course an art rumpus had started. Promenade hangs with several other Teigens on the ground floor of the Hilton. It caught my eye because I’d never seen a graffiti wall depicted in a painting, but the price tag instantly turned me off. The four thousand dollar lady was clearly turning up her little bourgeois nose at the democratic mentality of street art. Promenade indeed!

I decided that we’d have to exit through the gift shop and hit the streets. We would seek tags that weren’t trapped in oil. We would demand our art en plein air.

A couple steps into the shadowy downtown, I started to wonder whether this was the best thing to do with an 11-year-old. Then we took a detour through a parking garage and I realized just how prepared my little hooligan was:

Being a big brother is all about scuffing the line between lazy supervision and mischievous camaraderie, which is how we ended up behind Smith Family trying to climb up the side of a building using balcony railings as a ladder. Don’t worry, we only got a couple feet off the ground.

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We discovered the work of an amateur typographer in the same alleyway. Here, my little brother tries to pick a lock with a leaf stem. You might call him a debonair burglar in that he could hardly care whether he gets in. You couldn’t call him a debonaire burglar, though. He aces all his spelling tests.

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Next we swung through Park Blocks, site of the original Occupy Eugene camp. It turns out the movement is still organized enough to do angry sidewalk chalk scrawling, which is more than I expected of them. Along with all the usual Occupy slogans was this delightful message. We approved.

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Wind-Rain Song, Weltzin Blix <;;;–another fantastic name!

Between the Hult Center and the Hilton is this downed windmill of a sculpture. It’s always been a mystery to me, so I asked my little brother for his interpretation.

“What is it saying to us?” I said.

“It’s a place to sit,” said my bro, plopping himself down.

There you go.

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The last stop on our tour was the Hilton again, where we crashed a meeting and sipped (presumably) expensive water from crystal goblets. Mischief managed, I’d say.

BONUS: Click here for Anne Teigen on those mysterious leashes, graffiti and the costs of artmaking!

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The Stone Table

They say that Oregonians don’t use umbrellas, which is true in my case. Most of the time I don’t even have a hood. My winter days are spent rushing down the shiny sidewalks, my head bowed at an unnatural angle. This posture does not lend itself to street art hunting (unless it’s by Volvox)  or people watching, which are two of my favorite things.

The last two days have been a different story though, because it hasn’t been raining or pouring. The sky has been bawling. It’s been sobbing like a feverish infant, weeping like Kristen Bell when she’s near a sloth. The Eugenean firmament has been blubbering like it’s auditioning for a part in the Notebook.

The Notebook, cameo by Eugene’s sky 

All of this melodrama still hasn’t forced me into a mackintosh, but I also haven’t been studying the cement. When the sky gets this ridiculous I can’t help but laugh. I take leisurely strolls through the downpour, my upturned face sporting a goofy grin. Visiting Californians may see tempests like this as a sign that God has truly forsaken our small patch of Earth, but I slow down and enjoy the waterworks.

Today I’d barely gotten home before dashing out again for a jog through Hendricks Park. If the sky was going to provide Hollywood effects, I would be imagining some accompanying story lines. First I found Narnia’s Stone Table. The little altar has always puzzled me, though I’m not sure I want to know its true history. I’d rather imagine Aslan rising from it as Lucy and Susan look on in amazement.

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Fairies in the woods

A heavy rain is a temporary paint job for the world. It deepens the hue of nearly every surface it touches, and casts glistening highlights on rocks and roads. It greys and fuzzes the sky, slightly depresses the treeline and changes the texture of the lawns. It’s as though the heavens are setting the scene for a Brothers Grimm tale. I’m sure I saw fairies flitting through the rhododendron bushes.

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Even as I dipped back into the outskirts of suburbia, the rain remained an enchanted elixir. A surreal cavern appeared among the houses. The water thundered on the structure’s roof as its long tethers whipped in the wind.

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I got as close to the monster’s great mouth as I dared, and then I ran away. Maybe I’ll come back to meet it in the sunlight.

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“RED RUM”

Don’t tell my mom this, but sometimes I run on that narrow stretch of road leading to Hendricks Park. You know, the one where Steve Prefontaine drunkenly flipped his car and died. It’s not that I have a death wish, there are just some awesome old houses up there.

As I ran down the hill yesterday afternoon, I caught a glimpse of red paint on a pipe near the ledge. The pipe is blocked by a chain link fence, but I followed it until it emerged from behind the barrier. That’s where I found “RED RUM,” an intriguing hint at the art that awaited me on the other side of the fence. Challenge accepted.

My friend Jenna and I returned late that evening and inched along the pipe, ducking under prickly branches and trying not to look over the edge. What was I saying about a death wish?

“COP!” said Jenna. We ducked beneath the barrier as the patrol car went by. Things were getting real.

A little ways along the pipe was a grassy expanse with a straight drop to Franklin Boulevard. Adjusting for vertigo, it looked something like this:

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Feeling woozy

We stood for a moment, staring at the city lights to our right and left and a large black hole marking Alton Baker Park in the middle.

“We’re on top of the world!” yelled Jenna the daredevil. The taggers were apparently less impressed with the view:

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“Nice ‘city,'” I read with a laugh. The jab was so full of petty angst that I started to imagine Red Rum as a band of restless Eugene teenagers.

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“RED RUM GOOOO”

Another tag- the one I’d seen on my run- was classically territorial. Scrawled over illegible white text were the words “RED RUM GOOOO.”

Is that a ThunderCats reference? These must be teenage boys. Or perma-adolescent man-boys.

Jenna and I took one last look at the “city” of Eugene and hopped over the fence. The tags turned out to be kind of lame, but the adventure was good. I have a special place in my heart for the Red Rum rascals. I just want to tweak their cheeks and give their whirly hats an appreciative spin.

Seriously, don’t tell my mom about this though.

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Volvox, shadow tracing

Dear Volvox,

I’ve been thinking about you quite a bit lately, trying to get into your head. An intrepid street artist like you surely faces many obstacles- the illegality of your work, the rising costs of spray paint, your lack of night vision- but one thing keeps nagging at me. Does it get frustrating to never see your audience’s reaction? Is it hard to create something and just leave it there in the cold?

When I discovered this spray paint silhouette splayed across the sidewalk, I was on a run with my friend Jenna near Hayward Field. As we passed over it, I let out a long “Whoooooaaaa” and skidded to a halt. It was love at first tag, Volvox. What an intriguing piece: a skinny patch of shade frozen in a world of ever-shifting shadows.

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Later that night, my friend Julianna and I went out and snapped some shots. We closely inspected the color you’d chosen, which almost exactly matched that of our own shadows. You could have gone all Actor’s Cabaret and cut a black slice out of the concrete, but instead you created something for lookers. In a world of folks who stare resolutely at the sidewalk, this piece could still go unnoticed. It’s brilliant.

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VOLVOX on 18th and Harris

AND THEN the plot thickened. Up the hill and down the street, I bumped into this tag. The pieces are like night and day (which is when I found them, har har). Giant bubble letters explode from the wall, highlighted by a blue outline and a quaint little Zorro swoop.

The two tags’ proximity to each other is intriguing. Do you live around here, V? Perhaps you did see my reactions to your work.

Anyway, this is all leading up to my request to meet you. It must be cloak and dagger-style, of course. Let me know by leaving a tag somewhere in between the last two. It should preferably be something I have to decode.

I’ll keep my eyes open.

Jordan

BONUS PICS: Speaking of street art, the STREETS OF EUG Tumblr has fresh stuff! I had this realization that my runs are perfect tag collection times. Watch out, streets. Here comes a straight-up G…eek.

HILARIOUS: In my unfruitful google quest to find info on Volvox, I discovered this local government website for reporting “graffiti.” Here it is, if you want a laugh.

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Gold face + ALESTINE

The thing I most love about graffiti is the layers. To create something new, you’re forced to cover and destroy the old. I suppose it’s been done forever- Greek bronzes were melted down to create Roman statues- but never with such a graphic, cluttered punch to it.

These are reflections that bubbled up as I peered through the non-haze of my candy cigarette on a trip to the Skinner’s Butte (legal) graffiti walls. In other words, anything written before or after (or between) this should be taken with the most least seriousness, in that hipster kind of way.

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Haze

Anyway, back to layers. Whenever I tag, I always wonder what might be under the surface of the ever-shifting canvas. All of the pictures ever painted on these walls exist within a multicolored millimeter of paint. What if I could peel it all back one layer at a time?

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The Living Banksies

It turns out no one looks very good in a straight-on shot late at night while tagging, which makes that creeptastic photo of Banksy (?) more understandable.

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Viking

I’m starting to, like, totally not care about this post. What does it even mean, you know?

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Did I mention I was wearing a tutu at the time?

I was.

Finite.

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Emil Vlenkov, Vladimir Lenin (decked out for Hannukah and Christmas, with my sister Becca)

I’m sitting in my dad’s co-worker’s car right now, and we’re lurching through Seattle on our way to the tow truck lot. Yes, dear readers. I have once again done something very foolish in Seattle involving my dad’s car.

Last time, I was conned out of my parking money and then ticketed for not paying. This time, I didn’t see a little sign that said, “No parking between 4 and 6.” 4 and 6?? Really!?

Of course, neither of these things would have happened if I had read the art omens right. My sister and I have been receiving messages all day.

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Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead; Fremont Troll 

First, we searched out the famous Fremont Troll, which has a hubcap for an eye and a VW Beetle in its clutches. Look at this creeper eye and tell me it’s not some sort of crystal ball. “Watch your bumper,” it says. Why couldn’t I see my future in it?

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The troll hides in the crook of a bridge that is currently under construction, which put it in an even more interesting context. It was as though the workers were building a giant cage around the fantastic beast.

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My sister Becca being kidnapped by the Fremont Troll

After a stop at nearby Theo Chocolate Factory (Tip: DON’T take the tour, you can get all of the free samples in the gift shop anyway), we discovered the largest Lenin statue in the United States, which is also in Fremont.

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Yes, you read that right. Not only is this the largest Lenin statue in the country, but there are apparently other ones too. I wonder where the second and third-largest Lenins reside. Possibly around the corner?

I should have realized that I had some dark hours ahead of me as Lenin pointed his massive finger at me, but I was too busy reading about how the copper hulk got there in the first place:

“Lewis Carpenter, an American veteran teaching in Poprad (Slovakia), found the sculpture lying face down after it was toppled in the 1989 Revolution. Carpenter recognized Venkov’s skill and craftsmanship and the boldness of his portrayal, and was determined that the statue be preserved. Carpenter mortgaged his house to acquire the scultpure…”

The inscription explains that this is possibly the “only representation of Lenin surrounded by guns and flames instead of holding a book or waving his hat.” In other words, artist Emil Vankov was injecting his own ideas into the commissioned work. Awesome.

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My dad and I were starting a run when I realized that the car, parked near his office building, was missing. The moments after your car has been towed are full of frustration and denial. You hope yourself into believing that you parked in a different space, that you’re just incredibly absent-minded.

Then it turns out that you’re incredibly absent-minded, but not in the way you were hoping to be. We went back into the office building and my dad called the towing company. There was this abstract painting in the hall that modtastically represented my emotional state. You can see it behind my sister’s disapproving face. I was especially drawn to the pointless blue maze and painful red splotches.

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And so we ended up at this lot, where my dad’s little Camry sits sadly in row number 64.

I’m realizing that maybe I need to pull my head a little ways out of the clouds sometimes…………….. but that spray-painted “64” sign is kind of sweet. Wouldn’t it be hilarious if the towing guy was a street artist by night?

P.S. Check out my new STREETS OF EUG Tumblr, which will shortly be chock-full of street art pics from my Seattle field trip!