You may have noticed the political messages lodged in Market and City Hall news racks over the last couple years. It’s the guerrilla artwork of San Franciscans Paz De la Calzada and Eliza Barrios. The two-female crew met a decade ago at a resident artist program, and began stocking the city’s newsstands with slogans in 2010. Calling their campaign “Daily Slots,” they’ve hit Market Street and outside City Hall, once with a marriage proposal that got tweeted by the head of the Department of Public Works, Mohammed Nuru. (He said it was illegal to post on city street furniture, and then ordered it taken down).
This month, they targeted De La Calzada’s longtime neighborhood, the Mission, for the first time. They positioned their messages “HOME GONE” and “CASA MALA” (“bad” or “sick house”) in the newsstands in front of the real estate agency Vanguard Properties at 21st and Mission streets.
We caught up with longtime Mission dweller De La Calzada and Barrios by email. The text has been edited for clarity.
Mission Local: How long have you been doing these demonstrations?
De La Calzada and Barrios: We started in the summer of 2010 under an ongoing movement of interruptions and actions called “Capitalism Is Over If You Want It” — artists responding to the need for a fundamental shift in our approach to capitalism, which has had a negative impact on the environment, health and our well-being. We came up with the title “Daily Slots” inspired by the slots machines in casinos.
Why did you choose newsstands as your protest canvas?
We thought it made complete sense, since newspaper stands inherently signify a space that relays messages. We liked the idea that these newspaper stands create controversy. They cost the city a lot of money to maintain, and they are mostly empty and controlled by Clear Channel. They are basically lockers for homeless people.
We use the windows of the newspaper stands to call the attention to media control, the economy, consumerism and the unsustainability of capitalist culture. We’ve posted slogans like, “Convenience is the enemy,” “Claim your power now!” “Taxes pay for what?” “Credito de hoy, hambre de mañana” (“Credit today, hunger tomorrow”). We also used the newspaper stands along Market Street for a free seeds dispensary for last year’s Earth Day.
Have you also done live political protests?
Eliza has definitely supported the Occupy Movement. I think art is a better tool to engage with the community and raise questions. I prefer to propose more than to protest. Say “yes” more than “no.” I think art is a better tool to engage with the community and raise questions. Sometimes a hyper-political protest discourages folks from engaging while the same message conveyed with an art action hits home.
Have you ever gotten in trouble for putting these up? Do you have to put the signs up secretly?
We normally do it early in the morning so people who are arriving to work can see them. We haven’t really gotten in trouble. We are playing with public space that is controlled by a media corporation but we are not damaging the structures — only using their own game rules. Eliza had the guy from Clear Channel chase her once, and the director of Public Works called out one of our actions on the Chronicle’s website.
Are you feeling the rent crunch yourself? Would you ever consider moving out of San Francisco?
Eliza works in tech support at a nonprofit downtown. She has rent control and she would consider moving out of San Francisco if she lost her rent-controlled apartment. It is really hard to live here as an artist now. Many of our artist friends are leaving San Francisco and we are losing the sense of community. We struggle with the idea of moving out of the city. Our work is rooted here, but the price we have to pay to stay may be too high.
Why did you pick the newspaper stands in front of Vanguard Properties for your first Mission protest?
It was a perfect location. There are newspaper stands right outside their main office, and they are in the Mission, the area that is most affected by displacement, eviction and gentrification. Their building is also very ostentatious, it used to be a bank.
How long did your message last before it was removed?
It varies, some of them last one hour, some of them a whole day, or even a few days. “CASA MALA” (which can mean “bad” or “sick house”) lasted one day but “HOME GONE” was removed right away.
What is the reaction of the public?
Lots of people take photos. Somebody left us a message on Craigslist ‘Missed Connections’ saying something like “to whoever wrote ‘Capitalism is over…’ you made my day!” Another person played with the letters and changed “capitalism” to “crapitalism.” When gay marriage was finally allowed in California we wrote, “Will you marry me now?” in front of City Hall’s newspaper stands. It came out in the news as somebody from the city complained about the use of public space to have a marriage proposal. The comments left by readers were mostly questioning the use of these newsstands.
What other interventions are you planning to do?
Last summer we showed our “Daily Slots” at the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts and we left a notebook for the public to write messages that they would like to see “published.” This is our new project, to invite a few of these people to join us in this adventure.
Do you think your protest art makes a difference in the debate over gentrification?
I think art that acknowledges what’s happening on our streets makes a difference. It’s all about offering ideas rather than a product. And not to be arrogant, but I think our method is quite genius.
Full disclosure: De La Calzada is a former classmate of the reporter, who didn’t know De La Calzada was involved with the news rack protest art until she contacted Mission Local earlier this month.