Monday, September 11, 2017

Guerrilla Art in Bryan Park Gets a B

Image from Indecline
Please note: My background to do with street art, graffiti, guerrilla art, etc., is a little different from most folks who opine about it in periodicals and on social media. Some longtime Richmonders know what I mean with that assertion. For those who don't, let's just say my hands didn't stay clean in the day.

That admission isn't to say I'm endorsing vandalism today. Nor is it to brag about my outlaw handbiller times. It means I've considered the realm of unauthorized expression and prankdom from various perspectives. My mind is open to the notion that sometimes such urgent, do-it-yourself expressions can sometimes have a righteous nature. 

Anyway, here's what I've got to say about the Sept. 5, 2017, Ku Klux Klowns stunt/art installation in Richmond's Bryan Park, a beautiful urban park with lots of big old trees, executed by a group calling itself Indecline.

As far as commenting on this caper/piece goes, I'm doing it without having seen it firsthand. It didn't stay on display in the park for all that long, so like most people who know about it at all, I've only seen still and moving pictures. Plus, I've read at least 10 articles about it. I also watched the Indecline-produced video on the stunt

As far as I know, no one was injured and no property was damaged. In my book that's good and not always easy to manage. So, in some ways the caper was done with precision. While the image of eight lynched clowns Indecline created had its disturbing aspects – after all, it drew on horrific photographs of mass lynchings we've all seen – it was not over-the-top vulgar or gross.

The group said they were reacting to Charlottesville's violent scene on Aug. 12th. They said they chose Richmond for its history. All that made sense. Mocking the KKK always makes sense. 

It was a striking image. Still, by putting clown masks and big clown shoes on the KKK-garbed effigies levity was used to softened the nightmare angle, somewhat. Moreover, that's just where I think they began to create a little problem, in that they raised the bar.

It seems the clown masks and goofy shoes weren't enough, the political pranksters hung a placard on one of the effigies that said: "If attacked by a mob of clowns, go for the juggler."

Photo from Indecline
OK, I'm not sure how many meanings can be wrung out of that statement. It seems mostly like a superfluous last-second dollop of absurdity. Not knowing when to quit can hurt your grade. Were they hedging their bet? 

If you want to be spot-on, art-wise, politically and flawless with the caper … AND then you want to be funny, too, well, that's trying to play at the top level of social commentary. That's on Luis Buñuel's level. That's on J.D. Salinger's level.

So I give Indecline a B for its well-executed KKK stunt and I'm looking forward to what they do next.

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