History or Litter?
Is removing history a crime? What if that history is a crime within itself? The gum wall in Seattle, Washington located by the famous Pike’s Place market has been a part of the city’s culture since 1993 and grew to be inches thick, fifteen feet tall, and went the length of the wall which was fifty feet. While technically the original creation of the wall is considered littering and vandalism the wall soon came to represent a united community and fun aspect of downtown Seattle’s culture. The reason why I am writing about this wall is because last summer I visited and contribute a piece myself and I was heartbroken to hear a few weeks ago that the wall was wiped clean by city officials. Over the past twenty years there have been attempts to take down the wall but eventually the efforts were given up and it was considered an official tourist attraction in 1999. I think that if a community comes around and joins to create something as large as a 750 square foot wall of gum that the city officials have no right to rip it down.
Vandalism is often times seen as an artistic outlet and expression and the gum wall is no different. The gum wall holds memories of young love, weddings, and statements about political unrest and movements. So is it a crime to remove something that so many people put effort into? People from all over the world traveled to add a piece of themselves to the wall. It wasn’t like the Space Needle where you can look at it and admire, it draws people to it because not only can you admire but you can add to the history yourself. My dad told me that as a kid he would go every year and put a piece of Big’s Red gum in the same place on the wall and every year his piece from the year before was still there. It holds sentiment and meaning to so many people; so in taking it down twenty years of memories and meaning is being torn down as well.
After 1.75 tons of gum and one hundred and thirty hours of work were put in to clean the gum wall the community’s negative reaction can be seen by the almost immediate retaliation. The gum wall was cleaned in the wake of the Paris attacks and one of the first symbols to be put on the wall again in gum was the peace sign with the Eiffel Tower in the middle signifying peace for France. The gum wall originally seen as something fun, now takes on a whole new meaning. Gum was used as a medium in a call for peace and tranquility in a world of chaos and hatred. The ironic part is that this call for peace is technically illegal because it is vandalism. After the wall was completely clean a flash mob stormed the wall in an effort to re-gum. The wall is a part of Seattle’s rich history and culture and in power hosing it away, a part of the culture is taken away. When a culture’s foundation is threatened it is up to the people to take a stand and rebuild their culture from the ground up. By storming the wall, they were saying you can try to take it away but we will always be here to put it back. In the 1990’s this happened twice and eventually the city gave up and that is how the gum wall grew to be as large as it is today. I hope that the city realizes this and stops cleaning the wall because I think that when a city is able to create beauty and history out of something as ugly as chewed up gum it fosters creativity and amusement.
It takes civil retaliation to create change. Graffiti and works of art like the gum wall began as crimes that people believed need to be covered up and hidden but over the years as people continued to recreate their covered up works of art again and again it begins to be taken more serious and seen as a beautiful art form. It helps the cities grow prettier and the amount of tagging actually goes down because people are able to take their negative energy and funnel it into a positive art form. Personally I love creative outlets like gum walls, graffiti and murals. I think that they give cities a unique twist in the mundane modern architecture that everyone seems to love so much. I was sad to see the gum wall removed but the quick pace in which it was rebuilt just shows the power of culture and creativity.
To see a time lapse of the gum wall being cleaned click the link below: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/11/17/seattle-gum-wall-cleaned-first-time-20-years/75915168/