An Architectural Bike Ride: Part 2

31 Aug

I will try to explain The Big Dig in the simplest of terms.  Officially beginning in 1982, the Big Dig buried the six-lane, elevated portion of  I-93 that ran directly through downtown Boston and replaced it with a park system. There was once a tangle of steel, cars and smoke and now there are flowers and merry-go-rounds . . . seriously.

A discussion about The Big Dig and the resulting Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway is for another day, but what is important to note is that with the construction of tunnels came the construction of several vent buildings throughout the city designed to provide the tunnels with fresh air intake and exhaust capacities; one of these vent buildings is located in Dewey Square and became the canvas for Os Gemeos mural.

Every day, walking from work to the bus, I pass through Dewey square and see the aforementioned vent building which is quite nice for a completely utilitarian structure. It is clear to see that somebody took a reasonable amount of time designing the form and façade of the building in an effort to contribute something positive to the built environment in light of the fact that it was necessary some sort of vent structure be constructed (making lemonade out of lemons). In this context I greatly appreciated the efforts of the designer. So, when I saw somebody had spray-painted a web of black lines all over the façade I was UPSET!

These were my initial impressions of the mural: I did not understand what was happening and though it was quite clear this was some sort of sanctioned piece, I was still angry that someone had allowed another person’s hard work and effort to be destroyed. On top of that, in the beginning I though the mural was infantile.  I walked to the bus that Friday thinking a major mistake had been made.

The next Monday as I walked toward my bus stop I looked up and saw the progress that had been made on the mural over the weekend and immediately hung my head in shame. I had doubted the artistic process. The mural though not yet completed now had greater depth. It was no longer a web of black lines and paint-by-numbers primary colors; there was shading and nuanced layering of colors. It was looking pretty good. It was then that I started to do some research about what this was all about and made plans to swing by when it was finished to check it out. I found out the piece was by two Brazilian street artist’s (twin brothers), Os Gemeos, being completed in conjunction with an exhibition of there work at the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art) located just down the road. I could see now that this was not a mistake at all, but a brilliant decision.

As I began on the second leg of my journey toward Dewey Square from Wentworth I knew that I had made a mistake wearing a long sleeve shirt, but was thankful the route I was taking was relatively flat, even a slight downhill. I arrived and quickly found a place to lock up my bike. It was still relatively early in the morning and so I got to stand across from Dewey Square with hardly anybody else around (I’m usually walking through during rush hour).

While doing my research I found that Os Gemeos concept behind this particular piece was of a man – a giant huddled in the steel canyon that is The Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, surrounded by massive buildings. Though the result is quite literal, it worked well within the context of the site and within the context of what Os Gemeos do: brightly dressed, bright skinned characters. It was an obviously choice but sometimes the obvious choices work out the best.

Being that I had only seen the mural from afar I took the opportunity to walk right up to the wall. This was pretty fantastic for two reasons. The first was realizing that I was actually able to walk right up to the piece. I touched it. I took a bunch of pictures and nobody bothered me. There wasn’t some dude in a suit jacket and earpiece hovering over me; I could do what I wanted. I think this is an important aspect of street art: its blue-collar nature and its temporality. (“The Giant of Boston,” as the piece has been called, is supposed to be temporary. Though I wouldn’t mind if stayed around for a while, and I have no idea how the city expects to remove all of the paint. It is really caked on). So often art is put on a pedestal when in reality art is simply an expression of personal creativity. Art is universally possible and should not be presented as unobtainable.

The second fantastic thing about being able to view the mural at such close range was being able to see the detail of the mural and depth of the wall itself. I was totally captivated when I realized that the mural was not painted on a flat plain as it appeared from a distance but rather the “wall” itself was actually recessed in places. There were doors, exhaust hoods and alarms, all three dimensional elements painted in such a way to flatten the image. Beyond this it was interesting to see the detailed nuances incorporated into the mural (not actually small, but small in scale when compared to context of the mural). Shirt buttons were actually faces, the shirt pattern itself was made up of a complex pattern of shapes and colors. There was a great amount of detail for such a large piece.

I definitely enjoyed my up-close visit with the new mural, but more important is that its presence in Dewey Square makes my week more enjoyable on a daily basis. This is probably the mural’s greatest success. Ultimately, the positive social and emotional affect that the “The Giant of Boston” achieves is arresting to behold.

At this point my architectural exploration was complete but I now had a long trip back home to Brighton. Exhausted as I was, I stopped in at CVS to grab an Arnold Palmer with the idea of stopping somewhere along Commonwealth Avenue in the Back Bay. I actually ended up stopping farther up Commonwealth Ave. on the BU campus where I chugged my Arnold Palmer in under a minute. From there I biked up Common Ave., onto Brighton Ave. and eventually Washington St. I was moist from head to toe but felt satisfied, though next time I will check the weather.

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