polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Art-Mobiles as Provisional Urbanism

by Hector Fernando Burga

A crocodile chases candy and lollipops as a unicorn eats ice cream on this surrealist shuttle.

On any given day in Berkeley, Calif., you may encounter art on wheels. These transportation tableaus include trucks, vans, shuttles and school buses found in streets and public parks. They transport street art to different parts of the city, sparking debate on the relationships between art, public space, consumption and mobility.

An art truck adorned with anti-corporate and feminist images, along with a window for livability.

They add moving installations to the street grid, where surprise encounters occur at any time. You may experience a creative "drive by" while walking, biking or standing in the front yard.

A truck speeding down Bancroft Avenue, next to U.C. Berkeley. This one almost got away from me.

Berkeley's art-mobiles are 3-D canvases with visual narratives that wrap around the chassis, offering multiple points of view. As one surface faces the sheltered sidewalk, another confronts traffic on the street. This allows pedestrians, drivers and bikers to appreciate the same pictorial sculpture at different speeds.

A bus becomes a habitable space.

While the art attracts attention, these vehicles often serve as homes or workplaces as well. Inside their steel envelopes, people add makeshift storage, cooking units and furniture, combining artistic expression with practical needs.

A painted truck parked next to People's Park.

Art-mobiles reflect a lifestyle of travelling, camping and squatting in cities. They are a form of provisional urbanism, as people repurpose gas-guzzling vehicles into alternative billboards and real estate.

A reanimated school bus.

In a previous post, I discussed how street art has been used to promote speculative development. Other posts have looked at relationships between food trucks and public space. What do the art-mobiles pictured here tell us about urban life in Berkeley?

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