Digital DNA, the 7-foot-tall egg-shaped sculpture made of computer circuit boards installed in Lytton Plaza, will be removed from the city's public-art collection, the Public Art Commission voted unanimously Thursday night, after a report from city staff made the case that the piece is damaged, made of materials unsuitable for outdoor installation and too costly to keep restoring.
Artist Adriana Varella, who's started a crowdfunding campaign to fund restoration and possible rehoming of the piece, counters that the city is actually set on getting rid of the sculpture because of the way the piece encourages reflection upon the darker side of technology.
Varella's attorney requested that the vote be rescheduled for a time when Varella could be present, while two members of the Raging Grannies, a social-justice and activism group, spoke in favor of keeping Digital DNA, including Ruth Robertson, who read a statement on behalf of the artist and the recently formed Friends of Digital DNA group. The statement was written from the point of view of the sculpture itself, and in particular accuses the commission of purposely scheduling the deaccession vote on a date in which Varella was unable to attend, and of censoring art for political reasons.
"The real reason there is a push to remove me is not my state, but instead my content — the political message embedded in me which talks about how our modern technology can enslave us," according to the statement. "When a Public Art Commission starts using tricks of process and bureaucracy to facilitate removal of art for political reasons, it stops being an art commission, and becomes a censorship committee."
Robertson handed out printed photos of a new piece Varella is currently exhibiting in New York that includes photos and biographies of members of the art commission and identifies them as the "Censorship Committee of Palo Alto."
According to the statement, "I was designed to be in the heart of Palo Alto from its conception. I inspired the Twitter egg, and have become a focal point for gatherings in Lytton Plaza. Removing me from this location will rob my message of contextual meaning and be a desecration."
The statement also accuses the city of not allowing enough time for public awareness and comment about the deaccession, although Palo Alto Public Art Director Elise deMarzo noted that it had been a topic of discussion at numerous previous meetings.
"The city of Palo Alto has really tried to find a solution. I do believe the piece is deteriorating and we aren't able to maintain it in a good state for the public to be around it," Commissioner Loren Gordon said.
The big egg is not the only maternity-symbol-sculpture on the chopping block. Marta Thoma's Go Mama, currently located on California Avenue, will likely soon be gone, as the commission voted on deaccession for it as well. The piece, a figure with a doll-like head and a baby's face in its midsection, was originally commissioned at a time when "public art didn't have to go through so strenuous a process as it does now," deMarzo said, noting that the piece has become unstable and structurally unsound, and damaged by years of people climbing and spilling food on it, especially after the California Avenue streetscape redesign. The city, she said, "cannot guarantee the safety of the piece."
Deaccessioned artwork may be returned to the artist at the artist's expense, sold or donated by the city, or destroyed.