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May 04, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Lytton Plaza egg to be hatched Lytton Plaza egg to be hatched (May 04, 2005)

Two plans for site on collision course

by Bill D'Agostino

It's ready to hatch, and it's going to be watched.

Palo Alto's controversial "Digital DNA" artwork -- a 7-foot tall, egg-shaped sculpture -- was expected to be installed in Lytton Plaza today, according to city officials.

"Finally," artist Adriana Varella said.

The project is infamous for two reasons: an original version burned down last May in a warehouse fire and it's in competition with another plan to update the aging .2-acre plaza.

Because of concerns about its safety, video cameras are going to be installed inside and outside the reconstructed artwork, according to Varella. "The sculpture is now equipped with the latest and greatest in surveillance systems," she wrote in a statement prepared for the Weekly.

The artist refused to give details about the security system -- calling it "secret and complex" -- but her statement mentions it will be "based on the perturbations of a randomic field."

The installation is a setback to a second plan to revitalize Lytton Plaza. Last year, the City Council agreed to partner with a local real estate developer to study a complete redesign, one that would include a large fountain and an oversized chess set -- but probably not the sculpture.

Since that plan is still on the drawing board, the city is installing the sculpture in Lytton Plaza. Insurance covered the loss of the first piece and the rebuilding of the second. The city originally paid the artists $9,950.

Former Mayor Le Levy, who's working with developer Roxy Rapp on the plan, said they expected to submit a proposal to the city soon.

"It's unfortunate that funds are being spent on a piecemeal paste-on right now when a full-scale major redesign is in the near future," Levy said.

The second plan is expected to cost approximately $600,000. Under Levy and Rapp's proposal, half the money would come from the city, and half from private donations.

Asked if they will include the Public Art Commission in their development plans, Levy responded, "We plan to include the whole community in the process."

Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto said she hoped to call Levy and Rapp soon to hopefully mediate the dispute. She is the council's liaison to the Public Art Commission, and has been hearing its members complain about the private plan for months.

Commissioner Gerald Brett once described it as "stealth-like."

"They wished that they had been consulted about this earlier," Kishimoto said.

Varella and her husband Nilton Maltz, both of San Francisco, designed the project using recycled computer parts. It's meant to honor the Palo Alto's role as the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

Brett saw the recreated artwork last month. "It's far better than the original," he told his colleagues at a recent commission meeting.

The process "was more authentic and revolutionary compared to the first one," Varella wrote. She noted that it was created in San Francisco's Red Ink Studios, which bills itself as a "guerilla art movement," rather than in her private studio.

The sculpture includes technology-related phrases, suggested by non-artists, sewed into it. "From PhDs to prostitutes and homeless, everybody had a say," Varella added.

A dedication for the piece will be held on June 10. The artist said she hoped the artwork would elevate people's consciousness as they walked by it.

"I don't want to preach truths, just trigger ideas," she wrote. "It reminds me (of) the Faberge eggs given as a gift to the Russian imperial family."

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at

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