Culture vulture

Publicly funded art: filtering the community soul
Summer before last, while biking home from work, Culture Vulture was dismayed to find that right in the middle of the intersection of 8th and Olive streets one of Chico’s loveliest inhabitants had been run down and killed by an automobile just moments before my arrival. The bushy gray tail was still twitching a tiny bit, and the blood was still bright scarlet where it spread across the pavement beside the little creature’s crushed skull.

Having seen countless other road-killed squirrels in my 20 years of biking around town, this one didn’t particularly shock me. The immediacy, brutality and finality of some bushy-tailed little tree-climber’s untimely death is, after all, of nearly zero consequence in the grand scheme of things. And yet this one quite literally stuck with me.

Each day on my way home I crossed that same intersection, and each day for probably about six weeks I would see that little road-ravaged carcass lying there. After the first few days it seemed sort of weird that no one in whichever department is responsible for keeping the roads clean had picked the thing up and properly disposed of it. After two weeks, I’d developed a morbidly fascinated bond with what was becoming a sort of scraggly-furred, leathery pancake that altered its position slightly each day but could be depended on to always be there at the intersection, slightly thinner and more stretched and worn looking, perhaps, but always there.

I got the idea that documenting the visual progression of each day’s further decay would make a worthy art project, with sociological, biological and perhaps even theological resonance that might be of interest to the community at large. But, in keeping with my tradition of always maintaining a vast store of unrealized art projects, I never got around to buying a disposable camera with which to record my fallen friend’s reabsorption by the universe.

The summer days kept rolling by like cars on a sun-baked street, each carrying away a few more random molecules of dried blood or tufts of fur or shreds of desiccated skin or tiny chips of pulverized bone, and finally one day I rode through the intersection and, scan though I might in every direction, I could see no trace of that little dead squirrel.

There are probably a few attentive readers who are by now wondering if the heading at the top of this column is a misprint, a ruse or and joke, and I would like to reassure those people that it is not. The point of this little narrative is that there are inumerable events transpiring constantly within the publicly funded infrastructure of our little community, and many of those events are ephemeral and visually fascinating and worthy of recognition. Not all publicly funded art is hanging on the walls of downtown buildings or beckoning to the sky from side-street plazas or abstractly plowing the median strip of Park Avenue.

Sometimes art can be found in what the brushes of the street sweeper miss.

Thanks to M. Spencer Teilmann for suggesting this topic.