Controversy has erupted recently over the overpainting of images made as part of the On the Wall festival last August. A few other works had been altered in various ways without much comment, but then David Dossett’s paintings of snow angels and a street scene were layered over with a large red S. He is angry about this and has taken the story to the CBC and to the Whig. The story hooked in with the Wellington Street Extension debate today when the Whig published a letter from George Dillon asserting that because of the “vandalism,”
The current council needs to place high-intensity lighting along the top of the cliff so that the retaining walls can be clearly seen throughout the evening and night. They should have already placed lighting along the waterfront pathway. Surveillance cameras also should be added to view the area. But most of all, this should be an awakening to city council and others who question the need of the Wellington Street extension — that a two-lane street should have been built close to the retaining wall from at least Bay Street through to Cataraqui Street. The city had the opportunity to build such a street shortly after it took possession of the property in the late 1960s. The fact that the road would have been in use might have helped prevent vandalism in the vicinity.
My mandate here is to talk about the WSE, but I think I have to back up a bit first. Let me start by fully acknowledging that Dossett’s work has made an important contribution to the festival and the landscape. But then let me also say that it is/was by its nature temporary art. The whole idea of the festival was to enliven a crumbling wall with street art — with the stated expectation that at next year’s festival at least, the art would be painted over. We just can’t expect street art to be permanent — partly because of the wind and the rain, but partly because of its status as a kind of surprise and a statement demanding response. So somebody or somebodies jumped the gun, and without permission. Is this a crisis? I would say no. Unauthorized street art may not to everybody’s taste, but it is a major aesthetic and political phenomenon of our times, reflecting the dynamism and dialogue of urban spaces. Its presence suggests that (wow!) Kingston really is a city, and has moved into the twenty first century.
Dossett feels that his work has been vandalized, and Dillon takes it further, saying the overpainting is as bad as burning down buildings. Because of the social disorder in the park, he says that we need Berlin-wall style of surveillance, and better yet, a lot of cars to keep people from painting. Dillon seeks the elimination of peace, quiet, and privacy in the park. And people too: he doesn’t want them, unless they’re in cars. Especially if they dare to leave any traces of their existence. Ergo, he wants the road as a mode of social control.
I suppose Dillon is quite right that the WSE might serve that function. I hope others will agree that it is yet another reason to resist the road.
Thursday night in Toronto, I walked alongside the train tracks in the Junction, by a long wooden construction hoarding covered with really beautiful street art — haunting faces, flamboyant stylized lettering, psychedelic twists and turns. It was dark and the snow was falling. Some of the first layer of art had been tagged or had other art superimposed on top of it. But to me, all that was a sign of life. It was a sign that people wanted to make their presence known in public. Nobody asked me to pay anything to see this art. Nobody else was there. But as I walked, I felt that delicious combination of solitude and sociability that cities are all about. Doug Fluhrer Park has a little bit of that too, and we’re lucky.
— Laura Murray