Chicago Sun-Times
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Chicago and the river: A meditation on illegal art

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One side of me is an English major/arty-farty sort; another, a husband/dad/taxpayer/homeowner, and, finally, a guy who disappears in the outdoors.

chicagolaunch6-18-08bestview

Most of the time, those sides live in a sort of restless harmony. But there are those times when things go bang, bump, boo.

The photo above is one of my favorites I have ever taken in the outdoors. It is a shot of the Richard J. Daley Boat Launch at 3120 S. Western Avenue on the south bank of the Sanitary and Ship Canal from June of 2008, just before it officially opened.

One of the reasons I loved it is the stark image of the dark railroad structures and the stark white artiness left by a tagger. It was there for years.

It's gone now. About a week before Mayor Daley officially dedicated the launch on Saturday, a couple friends called and said, ``Your graffiti is gone.''

No, I am not a tagger, but they knew how much I loved that image of the launch and the tagged raillroad bridge. But it was rubbed out and covered by teams of graffiti removers from a couple departments of the city.

chicagoriverlaunch07-18-09

This is how it looked Saturday before the Mayor and other dignitaries spoke.

As a taxpayer/responsible adult, I understand that if you stay on top of graffiti and taggers, you can win the battle against the illegal art form.

Yet, there's the part of me that loves the whole twisted experience of fishing in the city, often an illegal art form in itself, and valued that image on the railroad bridge at the launch.

And the arty-farty side of me, well, it reminded me of a long-ago adventure in illegal art.

The husband of a friend was doing graduate work in sculpture. And he decided he wanted to video his sculpture being taken into the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Uninvited and unasked, I might add.

We lugged the heavy thing through the doors and it took the stunned security guards some time, but pretty soon they swarmed on us, then herded and hustled us out of there.

To this day, I don't know what the video of the experience meant or signified, maybe something about the establishment and art. Or maybe it signified and meant nothing.

That is what I remembered Saturday morning looking at the cleaned up bridge.

But, with several days to mull it over, I think I am sorry to see the bridge and the launch lose some of their character. Even though, taking the graffiti away may eventually make it a safer area.

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3 Comments

Dale- Nice photo. I'm dedicated to the documentation of graffiti across all of Chicago. I too have shot this and would like to share it, posted below is a link:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/allday/2272841335/

Just for argument sake, I take issue with one statement in your article. It's a belief many people hold and in consequence millions of tax dollars are spent with no avail.

"I understand if you stay on top of graffiti and taggers, you can win the battle against the illegal art form."

Thats a fallacy, contrary to some peoples belief; graffiti is not an illness, nor a plague, or disease; there is no cure, it is that which is most human, it is forever and has been since forever. There is no possibility for winning, this "buffing" or graffiti-removal are but the infinite attempts of the ruling class installing an aesthetic of authority over the public rendering the masses into an obedient dominate culture.

I neglect to see graffiti as a crime of vandalism, it's seems more like a mild case of insubordination.

Very interesting. Glad you commented from your perspective.

Insubordination may have been the exact word I was trying to find the other day.

And I do think there is a parallel between tagging and hard-core urban fishing, and maybe an act of insubordination is that link.

I will have to think about this for a bit.

Dale, I too see the parallel. Areas which once were familiar and free to roam are now blanketed with strip malls and condos all to promote consumption and control. As free range area decrease we are becoming increasingly fenced in, in which rebellion is a natural reaction.

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This page contains a single entry by Dale Bowman published on July 20, 2009 2:27 PM.

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