In August 2016, members of the art-activist collective INDECLINE put up a grotesque Donald Trump statue, The Emperor Has No Balls, in the Castro — one of several similar anti-Trump works that the group erected around the United States. Most recently, INDECLINE changed a gun-oriented Las Vegas billboard into an anti-gun and anti-NRA advertisement with the words, “Shoot a school kid only $29.”
Stark messages are the group’s trademark, which is why a newish INDECLINE work at Clayton and Oak streets is almost anticlimactic. Spray-painted on the outside of a fire-alarm call box is INDECLINE’s name and logo, a suitcase-holding devil in a business suit. Drips come off the suitcase and the name, and the devil’s right leg seems to be aflame, as if the artwork were a portent of something big to come in San Francisco. Another anti-Trump work, perhaps? Some kind of Burning Man-like fire art?
No, INDECLINE tells SF Weekly. “Our collective has active artists all over America who regularly stencil or wheat-paste the logo,” a member of the anonymous collective said in an email. “There’s nothing special about the one you’ve discovered, unfortunately, and we currently don’t have any plans for S.F.”
Around the same time that INDECLINE’s new work emerged on Clayton and Oak, another anonymous art piece appeared on Valencia near 16th, and this collage — like INDECLINE’s nude, anti-Trump statue, which included a micro-penis — has a strong political message and a provocative sexual undercurrent.
Anchoring the collage is an “I Stand With Emma” handbill that supports Emma González, a teenage survivor of Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and a co-founder of the gun-control group Never Again MSD. But the collage also has images that are seemingly from sex-for-hire ads. “Maya Visiting SF” reads one ad, which includes a phone number to call. And there are images of pussy cats, and of collaged women who look Cyclopsian — with a large eye on their forehead, or an eye in addition to their two normal eyes. And then there’s this: A section that shows downtown San Francisco from the sky with the words, “Even here.” Is that a reference to the presence of sex workers? Harassment against young women? The presence of NRA supporters?
The collage, which resembles a style that frequently appears on Valencia Street walls, is a Rorschach test — and the yin to INDECLINE’s Clayton Street yang. Where one is female-centered and the other male-centered, both be interpreted to the viewer’s liking (or disliking). They’re there to arouse passersby into what some art theorists would call “a state of awareness.” The state might be brief. Just a few seconds, really. But if that state happens at all, the art has done more than thousands of other things that, every day, cry out for people’s attention on the streets of San Francisco.