Joshua Sofaer

Gum Wall: Beauty and Revulsion

I am visting Seattle to talk at Seattle Art Museum about The Rubbish Collection, a public participatory project which confronted waste, and to my simultaneous delight and disgust, I have happened across a public participatory project which does a similar thing: The Market Theater Gum Wall in Post Alley underneath the famous Pike Place Market.

Around 50 feet of wall up to 15 feet high and in parts several inches thick, is covered with chewing gum and bubble gum that the public have stuck up there. The collective DNA on this wall is overwhelming. It really is an event of both beauty and revulsion to see (and smell) this amount of chewed gum in one alleyway.

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People have been sticking their gum to these walls for more than 20 years. It’s not entirely clear to me how it all started but apparently after a couple of attempts to clear it all away, the building occupants have given up and embraced their mint, fruit, and cola flavoured exterior.

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As the person responsible for putting Una White’s Name in Lights, I was pleased to spot this rather more ad hoc version: your name in gum.

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Some parts of the wall don’t look so fresh. They are beginning to form new micro-ecosystems.

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It is easy to see why it has been designated a tourist attraction. People coo and yelp in equal measure. I don’t remember the last time I encountered something that managed to be so wonderfully charming and repulsive at the same time.

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