July 7, 2013

"The fact is, not all performance pieces end in comedy," said the artist/gardener Henry Docter.

"The flowers have been uprooted, but the memory of the gift remains in our brain, and that’s something that no bureaucrat . . . can ever take away."

The "gift" purchased publicity, and would have required the city to spend money to keep the plants watered.

"It never occurred to me that Metro would think it was more efficient to rip out the plants than to let someone water them."

Well, why didn't it occur to him? And if he really believed it was such a gift, why didn't he request permission? I think we should infer that he knew he'd be refused.
Docter, 52, has engaged in stealth gardening in public places for more than three decades. He describes his work as performance art.
I loathe volunteer artwork on public property. Compare Christo, who makes seeking the approval of the authorities part of the art.

Ever get a gift you wouldn't have accepted if asked, then put up with a lot of work and expense taking care of it?

(And please, let's not talk about sperm again.)

ALSO: If one artist is permitted to appropriate public space to install his art project, and you keep it because people say they like it, how do you exclude the next artist, who wants to express a viewpoint that people don't like so much? You need neutral rules about expression in a public forum. You can't just approve the pretty things like flowers. And were the holes where the flowers were planted part of the design of the wall? That design choice is ruined, and the citizens who favored the empty holes are less likely to effuse about their austere preferences. So if you don't block the stealth flower-planter now, you're going to end up with junky flowers stuck into every open spot, until the eye has no rest from saccharine floral infill.


Chip S. said...

white elephant

rhhardin said...

Planting Indian arrowheads would be amusing.

YoungHegelian said...

Two thoughts from a local:

1) In spite of Docter's denials, the slope at the exit where he planted the flowers at the Dupont Circle metro makes it dangerous for both him to have planted the flowers & for anyone else to maintain them.

2) If Docter didn't realize that Metro's response would be something along the lines of "Damn, honky, don't you think we've got enough shit to do?", he needs to pay more attention to what goes on around him.

William said...

If you have any friends with a nine year old little girl, I recommend that you buy her a Shetland pony.

MadisonMan said...

Next time he should hire Union Workers to help.

edutcher said...

"stealth gardening"?

Back in the 60s, they would have called it "guerilla gardening", so it would have a cool tie-in with the VC and the anti-war creeps.

lemondog said...

& for anyone else to maintain them

Then why did the power that be accept and implement a 'flower pot' design?

Were they thinking 'plastic?'

YoungHegelian said...


Then why did the power that be accept and implement a 'flower pot' design?

Because I don't think at the beginning Metro knew what they were getting into. No other metro exit copied the Dupont Circle "garden exit" style. Leaving aside flower maintenance for the moment, the style leaves too much of the enormously long escalator exposed to the elements. Escalator maintenance has turned into a massive fiscal black hole for Metro, and the Q street Dupont Circle exit (the exit in the story) is among its chief offenders in terms of maintenance.

lemondog said...

A more comprehensive view of "it"

Rusty said...

rhhardin said...
Planting Indian arrowheads would be amusing.

No. That would be cruel.
I like looking for those things.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

OMG Morning Glorys!! The most invasive pieces of crap ever. They'll probably have to use round up to kill the nasty things.

Skyler said...

I look at all the leftist anarchist crap graffiti that goes up all over Austin and wonder why I shouldn't be allowed to paint over it. I'm guessing that if I put up graffiti extolling hearing arms or denouncing abortion that there would be a hue and cry to arrest me as a vandal.

Coketown said...

The use of "our brain" is unsettling. Collective conscious horseshit, no doubt.

But if there is only one brain--our brain--for all the masses to share--like a community garden, only it's a brain--it will make it easier for the bureaucrats to take memories of the gift away when the technology is developed.

I would have planted foreign and highly-invasive species.

ds said...

I've been reading althouse for years, with interest, enjoyment, and frustration, but have never commented before. I was moved to comment by this:

You need neutral rules about expression in a public forum. You can't just approve the pretty things like flowers.

Ann, maybe this is an opportunity for you to see why people got so frustrated on the earlier thread about men being forced by the state to give money to women they slept with. (Let's not say "child support" as if that's what the money is used for). Can you step out of your lawyer persona for a second and see why those two sentences describe a world that people don't want to live in? I know why you're saying that, and I understand the legal justification for it entirely, but really, if the law says that, then the law is a ass.

ds said...

Also: if you go look at the comments section on that page, the vast majority of commenters are sad to see the blank dirt spaces that were there before. They're also frustrated because workers were sent out ON SUNDAY -- i.e., on overtime -- to pull them out. Which brings me to your astonishing surprise at why it didn't occur to Docter that Metro would rather pull out the plants than let him water them. It wasn't about money -- sending those workers there on overtime on a Sunday was much more than whatever nonzero, but tiny, adminstrative cost it would have involved to get liability waivers from the volunteers who wanted to maintain those plants.

And again, referring to the comment section -- there's a handful of people over there defending the decision. All of them come from the perspective of what could happen to Metro legally if Docter or another volunteer were hurt installing or maintaining the plants. Fundamentally, the problem here is that an overaggressive legal system created an environment in which good works are harmful to everyone and a structure within which good works must be destroyed.

So this is really a profound issue for you, if you'd see it as such. I think this post, and the side you took in it, has led me to reposition you on my mental spectrum from being "part of the [libertarian] solution" to being "part of the [hyperlegalistic] problem".

raf said...

If planting flowers is performance art, then so is tearing them out, or replacing them with jimson weed, or paving the space. That would be a neutral policy.

If everybody owns it, nobody owns it, and nobody has the right to say what can be done with it.

ds said...

@Raf -- yes, that's legally correct. But can't we also say, based on our natural human desire to live in pleasant surroundings, that the guy that planted the flowers is good and the guys who wasted other people's money pulling them out are dicks?

ALP said...

AA: I loathe volunteer artwork on public property.
Be still my beating heart! I get livid when I see this type of stuff, especially when its crappy kids artwork AND it "sends a message".

A bus stop festooned with ugly kids art exhorting us to "recycle" or "think of the environment" does nothing but remind me I need to learn to make pipebombs or Molotov cocktails so I can wipe those damn eyesores off the face of the earth.

lemondog said...

Dear Metro Officials:

He offered to sign a waiver to hold Metro harmless.

Why not use him as an independent contractor or does that create a union issue?

Here is an attractive photo of going into the Belly of the Beast

Meade said...

from Suburbanbanshee:

In the position the Dupont Circle flowers were in, they could have been watered naturally by rain, or from above by a hose. And this summer, it would seem likely that rain would be more than enough.

So the question is why the Metro supervisors didn't just ignore them.

My answer is that their lack of sufficient security was embarrassing -- ie, it can't be fast or inconspicuous to haul fifty or sixty plats of flowers. So how are they protecting the Metro station against bombers and other threats? Obviously, they're not. DC commuters in the highest levels of government are in jeopardy. The flowers, alas, demonstrated that.

Meade said...

from JimT:

My son’s father-in-law died earlier this year. His children split the estate, his son taking the money, and his daughter taking the land. My son, the reluctant farmer, is hoping he survives the gift.

My late sister spent months convincing the New York City parks department to let the Garden People grow flowers in Riverside Park. It can be done, but it’s not easy. If you’ve seen You’ve Got Mail, you’ve seen Mary’s garden. The Garden People water it. The City provides the water.