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Sculpture Loved by Folks from Anarchists to Art Lovers On Chopping Block
by Susan Smith
Saturday Nov 18th, 2017 3:49 AM
On November 16 the Public Art Commission of Palo Alto voted unanimously to remove the artwork of Adriana Varella from the city’s public art collection. "Digital DNA", a seven foot tall egg shaped sculpture made of recycled circuit boards, imparts a political message—that technology generated by Silicon Valley has a far-reaching impact. It conveys that modern technology can enslave us, and reminds the viewer that technology is also used for warfare. In protest of the commission's decision, the artist has created a more than 5 foot wide collage titled "Censorship Committee of Palo Alto" that is currently on display at an art show about censorship in New York City.
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Political Censorship of Public Art in Palo Alto
Sculpture Loved by Folks from Anarchists to Art Lovers On Chopping Block

The scene of anti-war demonstrations during the Vietnam era, today Lytton Plaza in Palo Alto is a gathering place for local youth and a stage for street performers. It is at a busy intersection on University Avenue where downtown shoppers can’t miss seeing the action; protesters regularly stage rallies against the death penalty and for saving the environment. Business developers, being who they are, have had a keen interest in “cleaning up” the plaza for at least two decades.

Specifically there has been an underlying movement to get rid of an egg-shaped sculpture made of recycled computer boards called Digital DNA that stands 7 foot tall in the plaza. The sculpture imparts a political message—that technology generated by Silicon Valley has a far-reaching impact. It conveys that modern technology can enslave us, and that it is used for warfare.

In 2005 when the sculpture was dedicated, a group of two or three dozen anarchists gathered in the plaza to highlight the importance of retaining a gathering place for the people in Palo Alto. Performing rap songs that railed against the capitalist machine and the war in Iraq, they took the spotlight away from the official city dedication by showing up ahead of time and holding an alternative ceremony.

Developers and business people saw a chance to remove the sculpture when the plaza was rebuilt in 2008, but they were thwarted, thanks to public appeal.

And now, just days ago, on November 16, 2017, the Palo Alto Public Art Commission voted unanimously to remove the artwork of Adriana Varella from the city’s public art collection. The commissioners claim that the piece is damaged, is constructed of materials unsuitable for outdoor installation, and that it is too costly to keep restoring. They are leaning on a new policy established last February that makes it easier for them to remove acquired works. This will be the first time they have invoked the new policy in deaccessioning a piece of public art in Palo Alto.

At Thursday's commission meeting in City Hall, two members of the Raging Grannies were given a strict three minutes each to speak on behalf of saving Digital DNA. Before they were allowed to address the commissioners, they were told there was to be absolutely zero cross-talk between the commissioners and themselves. The Assistant Director for Community Services was adamant in cutting off any communication between the parties, even though one young commissioner attempted to express interest in a Granny's statement that art reflects history.

Among the points the Grannies made in their limited time were the following. The state of the artwork is in dispute and the artist, who has repaired it on more than one occasion, proposes several ways it can be made more sturdy. The artist was not given enough notice to raise funds or find a benefactor who can help with a complete restoration of the piece. And the Grannies, along with the artist and others, believe that in this case deaccessioning is an act of political censorship.

One of the Grannies read a letter written in the voice of the sculpture itself asking why it must be killed, and pointing out that one of the commissioners is employed by Palantir, a downtown Palo Alto based company in the business of supplying ICE with data tools for surveillance. The other Granny, herself an artist, appealed to the commission saying that the wear and tear on a piece of art can be, in itself, a natural form of recycling. (Digital DNA is built almost entirely out of recycled material).

In protest of the commissioners’ intent on removing Digital DNA, the artist has created a more than 5-foot-wide collage of photos of the circuit boards with photos and biographies of the public art committee members pulled from the city website. Covered by the words “CENSORSHIP COMMITTEE OF PALO ALTO”, the collage is on display at Varella’s current art show in New York City.
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very cool responselocalWednesday Nov 22nd, 2017 11:19 PM