Canyon was a peculiar community, almost all of it being illegal. People like David Lynn build mostly without permits, because no permits are issued. Others have their houses condemned out of hand because their houses bear no relation to anything described in the California Building Codes as a house. The nearest community is a non-site collection of real-estate developments called Moraga, which has Muzak piped onto the sidewalks of its shopping center. Canyon can’t come close to Moraga for safe and sound housing. Moraga levels off hilltops like a barber. In Canyon it is worth your life to cut down a tree. Moraga houses are neighborly, near one another, laid our in “courts.” In Canyon you have to climb a mountain and wander around in the underbrush for hours to find out where your best friend lives. In Moraga the paved highway is laid down even before the houses are built. Canyon’s roads are cemeteries of automobiles that tried to negotiate them. Moraga passes its sewage right into San Francisco Bay. Canyon has offered the county a fully worked out plan for the recycling of its sewage. Moraga has discreet bathrooms. In Canyon open-air bathtub is all the rage.
Canyon people don’t like Moraga very much, and try to have to go there as little as possible. They know there’s a lot of prejudice in their attitudes, but many of them nevertheless seem to feel that their neighbors to the south are sexually desperate, physically ugly, unavailable to reason, and capable at any moment of instant, murderous violence. But Canyon kids have to go to high school in Moraga, and that’s the trouble. The Canyon point of view seems to have been taking uncommon hold among the Moraga kids, and it looks strictly like it’s going to be a one-generation town for sure unless something is done about it.
Other neighbors also feel that something has to be done about Canyon. Abbie Hoffman has said, “Always create Art and destroy Property,” and while the art world may not be sure whether Canyon is doing either, the real estate people are pretty sure they’re doing both. To them, Canyon itself, with its dense brush and uncountable trees, has that long-haired look to which real estate people so itch to give that old subdivided crew cut. Brush shaved off to reveal that smooth concrete underneath, trees trimmed drastically from the sides and back of the neck and there it is, all ready for the ranch house. So there are lots of reasons why concerned authorities should move against Canyon, and they have, repeatedly and consistently, beginning, of course, with the condemning of most of the houses they know about, and the self-evident illegality of those they didn’t. Canyon people spend a lot of their time in court patiently explaining that the housing code is financially repressive and ecologically disastrous, that more concrete means less grass and more automobiles mean less air and therefore they have not felt honor-bound to provide off-street parking, there being, in any event, little auto traffic in Canyon, and fewer streets. They try to suggest that the houses they live in are beautiful, strong, economical and designed to fit the needs of the persons occupying them in a way that no house in Moraga or all of California for that matter could even approximate; that they effect no change in the natural ecology of the region; that, not un-mindful of their duty to their neighbors in the outside world, they must therefore attempt to use this courtroom to indict the building codes, the real estate interests, the water departments, the sewer departments and all the other interests and departments that don’t seem to realize that there’s a war on. They can’t seem to get it across, and lose all their cases.
The thing is, as soon as court lets out the Canyon people rush home and start building, not as if there was no tomorrow, but as if there were an infinite number of tomorrows. Those houses just don’t look as if the people who live in them plan to give them up, and, in a state that kills a boy and gasses its population just because people made a park where there should have been a parking lot, that’s a grim thought.
The last time I saw Dave Lynn, he didn’t look grim at all, chortling over his Wobbly book and swinging another monstrous beam into place. We didn’t talk about sculpture at all; it seemed pretty clear that as far as Lynn was concerned, every sculptural idea he has ever had was in his building. The revolution in Lynn’s art, if there was one, was dictated by the terrain: with Moraga just three miles down the road, and coming closer all the time, what serious artists could do otherwise? Whether this meant that Lynn wasn’t an artist any more or whether he had undergone that complete redefinition of what an artist is and does that Serra worries about was my problem, not his.
I’m interested in the politics of the Triassic period.