Street art is part of San Francisco's landscape, but one local artist recently installed hundreds of pieces of his work to spark a conversation about using public spaces as a canvas for self-expression.
Over the weekend, fnnch, best known for his depictions of honey bears, ladybugs, seashells, flamingos and turtles, fastened 450 pieces to utility poles between Market and Harrison and the Embarcadero and 5th Street. To comply with city rules for posting signs, he mounted the artwork using zip ties.
The installation, which features an array of honey bears and was billed as "sign bombing," aims to bring attention to what the artist deems "an excessive and absurd amount of [legal] signage." According to fnnch, adhering a "simple sticker" to public property could result in possible felony or misdemeanor charges.
The artist hopes to sway future legislation with the work and has teamed up with Care2 to start a petition urging members of the Board of Supervisors to decriminalize certain types of street art. As of this writing, the petition has garnered 10,816 signatures of support out of a goal of obtaining 11,000.
In particular, fnnch wants the city to decriminalize the application of stickers and wheatpaste—a removable adhesive that's commonly used by street artists.
“What I want to do is show the absurdity of our laws," he said in a statement. "Had these signs been affixed with adhesive to the poles, I could go to jail, but if they are put up with tape or a zip-tie, then it not only becomes legal to hang them up, but illegal for anyone to take them down.”
At first glance, city officials look to laws already already in place to determine how an art installation of this magnitude is viewed.
Rachel Gordon, a Department of Public Works spokesperson told Hoodline via email that "until someone has the consent of the property owner (public or private), these honey bears, no matter how cute they may be, may be considered blight under Public Works code."
"There also is a graffiti law on the books that addresses stencils, paint and the like," Gordon added. "One person’s art may be another person’s blight and vandalism."
But fnnch maintains that street art is special because it's accessible to everyone, regardless of background or socioeconomic status.
"Many people who live in or visit San Francisco can’t afford the [SFMOMA]," said fnnch. "So [I] bring the art to where they are—the streets. Seeing a honey bear on the street or in BART may be the only art someone sees in their day."
As for the legality of fnnch's installations, Gordon said this will likely be a policy call for the Board of Supervisors.
If the Board moves to change the laws, Gordon said her agency believes "that the public would be best served" by a process that creates "set guidelines and criteria for determining what would be acceptable and what wouldn’t be, and where, and not let an individual or individuals make the call unilaterally to use other people’s property as their canvas."
Gordon added that SF Public Works has been battling "the proliferation of illegal advertising by corporate interests who want to turn our sidewalks into billboards," like a guerrilla-style ad campaign for a Justin Bieber album a few years back and a veterinary start-up's illegal posters in the Castro.
“I'm trying to bring art to people in a way that engages them," said fnnch. "Art should be inviting, not alienating, and not criminalized.”