A&E

Digital DNA faces possible demise

City recommends deaccession of Lytton Plaza's iconic egg sculpture

Digital DNA, the 7-foot-tall, egg-shaped sculpture made partly of computer circuit boards currently installed in Lytton Plaza, has been recommended for deaccession (removal from the city's public art collection), leaving artist Adriana Varella scrambling for a way to save the work.

Digital DNA has suffered damange over the years. Due to the materials used and the sculpture's exposure to the elements, city staff have determined the costs of keeping the piece in good condition in Lytton Plaza are too high.

"We are faced with either undertaking another major overhaul of the piece, or deaccessioning it. If we do a major restoration (which we have done several before), we will likely see the piece in the same state of disrepair in a very short time," Palo Alto Public Art Program Director Elise DeMarzo wrote in an email to the Weekly.

Varella said she is preparing to launch a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the costs of restoration as well as a possible lawsuit against the city, "with the intention that the piece is preserved and a permanent solution for its existence is found," she wrote in a press release.

Digital DNA was designed to celebrate Palo Alto's role as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

"It is a piece about the ideology of technology and it was made collectively by dozens of people who helped me understand what were the ideologies behind the technology we use," Varella said.

The piece has a troubled history, as noted in the city's deaccession report. Originally commissioned in 2000, the materials for the sculpture were mistaken for junk by a neighbor and thrown away; the installation faced delays due to the redesign of Lytton Plaza; and the sculpture's first iteration was destroyed in a warehouse fire. The Public Art Commission funded a second version in 2004, which was installed in the plaza the following year, where it became a target of vandalism. Restoration work was carried out prior to the reopening of the redesigned plaza in 2009.

According to the report, the city originally commissioned the piece for $9,950 and estimated maintenance and repair costs of $20,752 since 2005. In 2011, the Public Art Commission created a subcommittee to seek a new, more protected location for Digital DNA but did not find a suitable locale. After a 2015 evaluation discovered instability in the piece's base and further deterioration of the sculpture's protective coating, deaccession was recommended.

The Public Art Commission will make its final deaccession decision at its Nov. 16 meeting (Go Mama, by artist Marta Thoma, and California Avenue, California Native by Susan Leibovitz Steinman, both on California Avenue, have also been recommended for deaccession evaluation). If deaccession goes ahead, the artwork may be returned to the artist at the artist's expense, sold or donated by the city, or destroyed. The public is invited to comment on the matter via email (send remarks to pac@cityofpaloalto.org) or at the meeting.

As noted in a letter from the Palo Alto Public Art Program to the Downtown Palo Alto community, "aesthetic taste is not a reason for deaccession."

Comments

16 people like this
Posted by Chris Moylan
a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Oct 6, 2017 at 8:06 am

I am grateful to those who have worked to maintain the piece over the years and who have advocated for the necessary expenditures. This is an important and perennially timely piece. Its reach extends well beyond the town and its continued presences and preservation add lustre to Palo Alto. Please continue to support the piece and allow necessary time for crowdfunding to supply a much needed boost to that end.


11 people like this
Posted by SeymoreArt
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 6, 2017 at 12:06 pm

I wonder how much lead and heavy metals are in that thing. In any
case it is ugly and certainly not uplifting or inspiring. It looks like it
too a whole 15 minutes to cobble together from the dumpsters behind HP.
Good riddance.

If you want a tribute to tech that actually does something, put an
old Cray 1 or XMP out there ... at least they have seats around it
them that people could sit on.

Seriously though, how about something inspiring and pleasant to
view?


10 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 6, 2017 at 1:01 pm

"I wonder how much lead and heavy metals are in that thing."

Likely a lot. I have raised that issue many times, including with city staff. Nobody knows for sure because, in this Brain of Silicon Valley, nobody has done the simple inexpensive test to find out. If you don't want the answer, don't ask the question.

Meantime, there it sits, leaching its metals onto the plaza where children play, and bristling with sharp points ready to inject lead, etc., from its solder directly under the skin.


9 people like this
Posted by Erika
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 6, 2017 at 2:23 pm

Thematically appreciate the simple harmonizing and juxtaposition of the organic yet perfect egg shape against the machine-perfect circuit boards.


7 people like this
Posted by K Schmidt
a resident of another community
on Oct 6, 2017 at 3:25 pm

That the residents of Palo Alto has been given the opportunity to enjoy and be challenged by contemporary art should be celebrated and supported. When art enters the public domain valuable discussions and reflections are initiated. People come together to touch, move around, examine and discuss this piece. The organic shape of the egg poses questions of birth, origin and nature as well as a celebration to the place of the outset of the tech revolution.


10 people like this
Posted by Patricia V
a resident of Stanford
on Oct 6, 2017 at 5:45 pm

It is certainly an iconic piece representing PA’s history. We deserve acces to contemporary art in our public spaces.

As an engineer I can appreciate the environmental concerns, but they lack any scientific basis, given that those are bare boards and the amount is negligible.


6 people like this
Posted by Alexandre C.
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Oct 7, 2017 at 11:18 am

The cost of forgetting where you come from is way higher than a few thousand maintenance dollars. Palo Alto was the egg of the future to come. One should never forget. It is typical of totalitarian societies to attempt to erase groundbreaking artwork, giving all possible excuses to carry out the deed.

Shame on the "managers" (not true artists or true curators) who are putting this egregious censorship effort forward.


3 people like this
Posted by Cuemudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 7, 2017 at 12:43 pm

"As an engineer I can appreciate the environmental concerns, but they lack any scientific basis, given that those are bare boards and the amount is negligible."

What is your "scientific basis" for the claim that "the amount is negligible"?


8 people like this
Posted by Counterclockwise
a resident of University South
on Oct 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm

"We deserve acces to contemporary art in our public spaces. "

It's not contemporary art. It's been there over a decade. It's ancient by Valley standards.


12 people like this
Posted by Denise Carvalho
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 8, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Adriana Varella's public sculpture, Digital DNA, at Lytton Plaza in Palo Alto, is an important piece of contemporary art that should be maintained by the city, as it is part of its collection of public art. There is no question that the piece is property of the city and therefore it should be maintained by it, no matter how many times it needs to be restored. There are many examples of contemporary art pieces whose ephemeral materials had led to decay, yet collectors or foundations maintain the pieces since they are an important cultural patrimony. I saw the piece when visiting Palo Alto years before I met the artist. I remember stopping to show my son and my husband this intriguing and attractive piece. Later I met Adriana Varella and invited her to participate of various exhibitions I curated, including the Mediations Biennale in Poland in 2012. She has an important career as a contemporary artist and her work should be respected and enjoyed. Some people would say, whose's art is it anyway? Public art is for the public, yet it sustains the artist's ideas through the dialogue it makes with history, and as a cultural patrimony this kind of art should continue to prioritize the artist and his/her work.


5 people like this
Posted by Vincent Van Coghm
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2017 at 1:54 pm

LOL, what a lively debate. This piece is indeed contemporary ... meaning of the in our lifetime art production, not necessarily in the last week or year, but that doesn't necessarily make it good or important.

If some think this is some kind of important art piece, then by all means, put it in a museum. It doesn't look good where it is, and it takes up too much space for such a small plaza ... in my opinion.

As far as spending endless time and money on all public art, I guess some of us do not remember the big sculpture of the cartoonish couple on the bench in the park off Embarcadero that was vandalized and rebuilt a number of times and rebuilt until the City finally gave up and did something with it.

Put it where it doesn't take up walking space, like above the fountain that also seems to take up an inordinate amount of space in a tiny plaza. CoPA does not seem to be really great at commissioning sensible design projects.


5 people like this
Posted by steve
a resident of Palo Verde School
on Oct 8, 2017 at 5:19 pm

well i'll be damned...

back in my day we played around anywhere with our BARE HANDS

now you poor elite, pure, 'woe-is-me' new folks spew this nonsense about 'danger, danger' from damn computer boards!

ma'am, cold, hard solder doesn't 'leech' out of boards and attack your kids. if it did, all your crazy Chinese techno valley parenting crap you oh-so-easily shove at your kids would have killed them already.

do us a favor, and keep the statue. it represents the true heritage of palo alto, and more importantly, AMERICA!


7 people like this
Posted by Liv
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2017 at 6:15 am

This is a great piece. It connects art and the history of a Palo Alto. The city must allow the crowdfunding campaign to go on.


7 people like this
Posted by Angélica D
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 9, 2017 at 12:17 pm

I really don’t understand how it isn’t being fixed up and left in the city. It needs care. It’s a great sculpture that reflects the technological culture. Art isn’t trash. We need to appreciate it as it deserves.


11 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Marie is a registered user.

I like it. It is to my thinking way superior to a lot of other sculptures beloved by the Art Commission. I hope they can find another spot for it.


14 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2017 at 5:18 pm

" it represents the true heritage of palo alto, and more importantly, AMERICA!"

Can you please tell us how those ancient circuit boards made in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Japan represent the true heritage of AMERICA?


7 people like this
Posted by Rafael Bresciani
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2017 at 9:14 pm

Art is alive. Always. Preserving an art piece is as important as the art itself. It make us care about that feeling, that idea, that meaning. It make us remember, re-experience, replay the moment and the motivations which drove us there. The Egg in Palo Alto is one of those moments, frozen inside a sculpture, looking for the future but also suffering and collecting the impact of the unstoppable present. It's a mirror of that look and a society that doesn't look in the mirror once in a while is doomed to be lost forever.


8 people like this
Posted by David E
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2017 at 1:38 pm

Public Art is vital. I hope Digital DNA can be maintained, displayed and experienced one way or another (by the city, through crowdfunding, in another location, in a museum, etc.).

Regarding 2 issues raised in this discussion:

1) It's a well known fact that computer and electronic waste is toxic:

Web Link

2) The fact that the boards are made in places like, "China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, and Japan", highlights the heritage of "AMERICA" because we have always profited from the slave and sweatshop labor of others here and abroad and we've long outsourced/offshored the toxic nature of industrialism and "progress".

When you experience Digital DNA, think about the Foxconn Suicides:
Web Link

or

American Chipmakers Had a Toxic Problem. Then They Outsourced It
Web Link

To name but 2 of endless examples of The American Way.


7 people like this
Posted by Vasche LaMou
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 10, 2017 at 4:07 pm

"Art isn't trash."

Ah, but consider the converse - given a glib "artist" and a gullible or clueless client.


10 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 10, 2017 at 8:56 pm

Hey! I will gladly house Digital DNA in my front yard on Lytton Ave.
Thousands of cars pass my house daily and it would be an awesome reminder to them of our heritage.


5 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 10, 2017 at 9:55 pm

e-waste.

For some perspective, and a history of comments regarding the egg, look at this story from 2011 Web Link Note that back then, the 'egg' could be saved by the artist for only $80,000!


11 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:00 am

Can it be housed as a permanent indoor exhibit somewhere (if the city, a company or museum was willing to take it for free)?


9 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 11, 2017 at 10:03 am

Personally, I think that the best "art" is natural -- created by nature itself. I'd rather see a living redwood than the manufactured product of someone's imagination most of the time.


3 people like this
Posted by DC
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 11, 2017 at 12:04 pm

If the piece has been part of the public cultural life for so many years shows that the work was recognized and awarded, not trash or an object to be scrutinized based on one's personal taste or on popular myths. It is upsetting to see how, instead of trying to help the artist, who sustains freedom of expression despite little resources and financial stability, people have nothing else to do than scrutinize an artwork which has been part of the culture of the city for some time. When jurors sit together to determine which piece to endow support and public visibility, knowledge of art and art history is part of the deal. Therefore, be able to recognize the work of artists in your communities which helps our democracy and ability to respect the deeds and knowledges of specific fields of production, art including.


5 people like this
Posted by artlover in Palo Alto
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 11, 2017 at 2:04 pm

Has anyone spoken with the Cantor or Anderson Museums at Stanford?


2 people like this
Posted by
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 11, 2017 at 3:57 pm

is a registered user.

I rather like it.

Does the city have an location (perhaps a community center with tons of empty breezeway space that is covered) where this sculpture might be better protected from the elements?


4 people like this
Posted by Eggcellent Eggsibit
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:00 pm

Eggcellent Eggsibit is a registered user.

I rather like it.

Does the city have an location (perhaps a community center with tons of empty breezeway space that is covered or a library with a gigantic covered outdoor entry) where this sculpture might be better protected from the elements?

Oh, yeah. We do.


4 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 11, 2017 at 4:43 pm

I really like that sculpture!


5 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 11, 2017 at 8:27 pm

"Note that back then, the 'egg' could be saved by the artist for only $80,000!"

Not bad, considering the cost of materials is somewhat less than nothing. Hope they decided on ROHS scrap.


Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 12, 2017 at 11:13 pm

And the artist threatens with a possible lawsuit against the city... I would get rid of it for this reason alone


1 person likes this
Posted by Lazlo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 13, 2017 at 8:25 am

So how much will it cost for the city to dispose of this hazardous waste creation?


5 people like this
Posted by Orion
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 16, 2017 at 7:42 pm

This artwork Digital DNA is the IDENTITY of Palo Alto


Like this comment
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 16, 2017 at 9:46 pm

Not this again!


2 people like this
Posted by Orion
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 17, 2017 at 5:20 am

this is one of the most important art magazine and have an amazing article about DDNA

Web Link


2 people like this
Posted by Orion
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 17, 2017 at 5:22 am

and how about the local and international population that loves DDNA?

Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Orion
a resident of Los Altos
on Oct 17, 2017 at 5:26 am

"People love taking photographs of it and with it; individuals literally embrace it. You could say the sculpture carries a similar public sentiment as New York City’s Astor Place Cub"


2 people like this
Posted by Sandy
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 16, 2017 at 4:52 pm

This piece was ugly when it first appeared, and it's ugly now. Get rid of it, "Go Mama," and all the other money-wasting projects the City Art Commission has foisted on the citizens of Palo Alto. Remember The Color of Palo Alto?? Our city seems to waste inordinate amounts of money on unneccessary things (like the raise for an already overpaid City Manager, paid consultants giving opinions on things about which residents have already voiced their opinions, unoriginal artworks, etc.), while NOT funding projects like train crossings, which seem to me far more critical. Welcome to Silly Valley's silliest city.


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