Words about art and art about words

Photo by LePetitRusse, Mural by Trevor Wheatley

Marching down the hill from the West End in the wake of last year’s festival, words, so far away that they should have been whispers, were shouting at me. “WALK SAFE, don’t slip” they said. But what did they mean?

Again, at the grocery store, transferring bags from cart to car, words, even larger now, navigate their way through the mundane fog that shrouds such a commonplace task, and scream “WALK SAFE, don’t slip”.

I find them downtown, these words, and they are giant now. Titanic sentinels, stoically looking out to the West, their silent message bellowing throughout the hills, refusing to be ignored. Was I being warned, or just advised? Was I being scolded? My guilty conscience tells me I deserve it…

This wasn’t the first time my city’s walls had spoken to me. There was that building, not that long ago, who began to tell me I was beautiful. At first I refused to believe it but, days turned into weeks, and the words continued to insist “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL”. Realizing the futility in resisting their position on the matter, I resolved to allow the words, just this once, to persuade me. “Never again,” I swore, “will I let a wall tell me what to think”.

In a way, I maintained that promise. Or, so I thought.

This time, I wasn’t really sure what the words were asking of me, “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” gave me something direct and intimate, whereas “Walk safe, don’t slip” seemed rather ambiguous and reticent- so I began to ask my friends and neighbours what their thoughts were on the matter, and, in doing so, discovered what it was these words were after all along.

Some would say they found the wall inspiring. Others found it oppressive. Some hated the very sight of these words, while others, like myself, were falling in love. While discussions and debates were soon popping up everywhere, none of them seemed to offer any clarity on the mystery of “WALK SAFE, don’t slip.”

That is when I realized that I had, once again, let the wall win. It had deceived me. Hung up on my literal interpretation of their message, I failed to see that all these words wanted was to be talked about.

Photo by Stacey Lalande, mural by We Live Up Here

Our city had changed after the appearance of these words. Physically, yes, but it wasn’t enough that the festival brought us new murals, and music, and light, and colour. What it left us with was the opportunity to explore this art within the framework of our day-to-day lives. To discuss things like aesthetic and meaning and intent with one another. This was art about words inspiring words about art. 

Every evening, as the sun speeds toward the horizon casting a spotlight on the wall, naturally amplifying its call with ominous precision, I can’t help but wonder if these giant letters are satisfied in knowing that their purpose has been fulfilled. Then I wonder if these words are comforted by the fact that, regardless of what anyone might say about them, there is still one wall, not too far away, who thinks that they are beautiful.

By Maty Ralph