“Once more into the fray – Into the last good fight I’ll ever know – Live and die on this day.”
Liam Neeson, The Grey.
This week, while standing on a sidewalk in Oahu’s Chinatown, I spotted a long and narrow alley. Just how did it go undetected by me for almost 10 years?
It is always a “What to do situation?”. Should I mimic Liam Neeson and defiantly walk into this abyss? Should I be channeling the power of Dido’s 2003’s anthemic “I will go down with this ship, and I won’t put my hands up and surrender. . .”?
Or should I listen to my sensible girlfriend from Detroit’s warning, “Girl, maybe you can do that here – or maybe not – but don’t you EVER do that in Detroit, NO, never!”
In Hawaii, as on the mainland, daylight gun-related crime is slowly creeping in, along with drug-induced predation obscured by the massive numbers of untreated mentally ill people, screaming religious zealots who can only be moved along if they exceed a certain decibel level, and scads of homeless people including veterans and elderly women. Combined, these elements sometimes make scouting around different neighbourhoods a bit risky and definitely an emotional bumper-car experience.
The possibility of an actual physical attack here in Hawaii can range from,“completely unlikely” to “moderately unlikely”. So the “no jewelry, sensible shoes, cryptic hair style and cheapish counter-culture clothing rules’ can be relaxed a bit. Meanwhile, my grotty backpack holds an old iPhone 4, and stupidly, a highly visible, mid-priced flashy white camera, and a mono-pod, which if I suddenly needed to morph into Wonder Woman, it would definitely double as a truncheon.
Be aware that even in the darkest of alleys, without Frodo’s Light of Earendil or his flashy Mithril Vest, Wonder Woman would never risk an open-air lens change.
After all of these precautions, unless this imagined villain is totally cracked out, one’s theft-able ranking in the Aloha state has just plummeted to an almost “no way”.
So preceding every hunt for street art, I start with a regular round of “Warnings-to-Myself”.
1- “Exercise caution when wandering around new neighbourhoods.”
2. “Beware of enclosed spaces with no visible exit”.
Berlin, Germany. (FYI: These are completely misleading images. Hackescher Markt is usually a churning trendy area so it is actually a rare event to climb these stairs to the second floor street-art themed bookstore without various groupings of locals and tourists bumping around.)
3. “Quickening heartbeat. “Yes” or “No?”
4. “Can I still trust my fight-or-flight response?”
5. “How good has my intuition been so far, on a scale of one to ten?
6. “Have I exceeded my scare scale target for the day?”
8 . The bigger question is: “Do I listen to my own advice?”
Even after collecting graffiti for about ten years the idea of personal security only occasionally pops up. One of those times involved seeking urban art in delapidated Palermo. Yes, I discovered a piece by Pang…. but surviving the scare was just about as thrilling.
Naples also provided both the high and the low in extremes of my contemporary urban art hunting experience. With persistence, and an innate sense for disenfranchised areas, I came across a few quick paste-ups and then one of the biggest scores of my decade – an original Banksy in situ, on a side street.
So this week in Oahu’s KaKa’Ako district, even after photographing work by some of my favourites including Vhils, Borondo, Faith47, Kamea Hadar and Herakut, the thought of finding another Banksy down this narrow laneway in Chinatown seemed highly unlikely, but in this Las Vegas-styled world – anything can happen.
I walked past a lockable metal gate (imagine: “Silence of the Lambs”) and then went about another 60 feet towards a blank cement wall with no clearly visible exit. It seemed pointless to cut and run and dwelling upon the probability of unseen scary monsters only set imaginary chains and my confidence rattling. I went anyway and – KABOOM! Street art REWARD! There it was, a beautiful stencil paste-up entitled “Dawn and Gemma” by Swoon! And tonight, after a little research I discovered a few galleries that are holding similar pieces of her work, bearing the same name, with a “cheer-me-up” price range of $17,500 to $30,000! SCORE.
In the end, if you want to know, that dark and scary laneway led to a large parking garage with security cameras and an attendant in sight.
Last night as I told my girlfriend about how I suffer for my art, she just said . . .“you crazy girl!”