Monday, November 2, 2009

Alliteration of the Ghetto

As the light changes, my car climbs forward, past the run-down inner city school and on to the site of my friend Neil's recently opened public art installation. I can see the cold concrete letters jutting out over the temporary trailers in the school's parking lot, but still in the shadow of the freeway hastily assembled over this sad, shady neighborhood.

Slowly the sculpture comes into full view and Neil's joke becomes clear. The project, intended to give the participating artists a chance to represent their favorite musical acts, is easily the most prestigious offer he's had yet. But in a rare use of irony, Neil has opted to neglect his artistic skills and instead simply craft giant lifeless word sculptures - and stranger still, he has chosen even to ignore his personal taste and only represent singers with alliterative double M's. Mandy Moore, Marilyn Manson, Mindy McCready... I guess I can understand the joke, but this seems particularly abstract, even for him. 

His earlier claims that he had found the perfect location are bewildering as well - the piece is square in the center of St. Francesco's most crime riddled neighborhood, on a hill overlooking downtown, but on the opposite side of the freeway from the exit, and invisible from all major roads. I wonder if, as an Englishman, his instinctive sense of the streets is backwards - and if, when looking on a map, he had erroneously marked this road as the site of the offramp.

Whatever his mistake, poor Neil's artistic practical joke is now paying the price. Already, several of the letters have been marked with graffiti - and while the code of their neon red language is alien to me, I can't help but recognize one particular pattern. Each of the words begins with the same character - presumably an "M" in reference to the piece. But as I circle again, and look closer, it becomes clear that these aren't simply "M" words chosen at random - they flow with a surprising structure, and seem to be divided into verse-like blocks. As I focus more closely, the overwhelming mathematics connecting the work become clear, and I realize that I am looking at one of the great literary works of the century, written in a tongue that most of us will never be able to understand.

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