Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Albany Bulb

From 1963-1984 the mudflats of Albany, California were used as a landfill for various construction projects. Then the city closed the landfill and two years later declared it a public trust. In 1990's a homeless population moved in and artists led by a team called "Sniff" began to transform the trash into art. Since then, the "Albany Bulb" has been filled with art and people walking their dogs.

The bulb brings up questions of what to do with public space. I feel it's of great benefit to the community to have a public place where anyone can express themselves and share it with the world, especially when doing so reclaims a dump. However, whenever people are given free reign to do what they like, there will inevitably be conflict and ideas expressed that others find offensive. In the picture below, you can see a giant mural created by the original Sniff team that has been painted over by what I see as graffiti. The same freedom that creates such beauty in the bulb is also what destroys it.
There's a fascinating documentary about the homeless population of the bulb that was made about a decade ago called, "Bum's Paradise." The homeless population has decreased considerably in the past few years, but one institution that was created three years ago still thrives: the Bulb Library.
You're free to take whatever book you like--no fees, no due dates, no rules at all.
Jimbow, one of the builders of the library. At night he lays out a mattress and sleeps here. He's also featured in the documentary (he hasn't lived here all ten years; he left for about six of them). Jimbow is a poet whose work, along with other bulb related material can be found at ipoet.com

There are way too many things to document. I've taken a bunch of photos, but there are plenty of sites on the internet that catalog the Bulb. This one includes a blog about the community that uses it.


Elana said...

I love this place. It's cool to see how it has evolved since I last went (what--6 months ago or something like that?). But that 5th picture (the mural that is basically unrecognizable from all of the graffiti) makes me so sad, because I remember how awesome it was just a few months ago. But, such is the transitory nature of public art, I suppose.

MF Connection said...

I'm happy to report that the skillfully done murals of natural scenes painted on the concrete support for bridges here in rural Oregon are still visible and unvandalized. In big urban areas, where there are many more disaffected people who want to strike out at whatever has gone before them, expressions of raw anger and powerlessness will frequently blot out luminous visions generated by more serene spirits.
If only there was a place where everyone could express themselves, and felt it was empowering to do so. But that would mean granting equal importance to others unlike us and to their needs. The lion would have to lie down with the lamb and restrain his pride and hunger. Artist and viewer, to appreciate each other, need to feel that they can co-exist to their mutual benefit.