COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Digesting the Kook

By the time you are reading this, the fate of the latest art installation inspired by the Cardiff Kook may be decided. Let’s hope that art triumphs over legalities, and that the latest installation of guerilla KookArt can stay up until Labor Day, at least. What are we to make of this? What have we created, perhaps inadvertently, with this statue of a young surfer?
In case you haven’t seen it (and if this is the case, you need to get out more) the Cardiff statue, after being circled by fins for a few days, was suddenly engulfed by a huge papier-mâché shark, jaws spread, attacking from below. The piece is brilliantly conceived, complete with eyes, gills, and construction foam standing in for water streaming off its body. The fins of its companions still poke through the median strip.
Someone, or someones, put up time, energy and dollars to create this work. At a weekend soiree, by random chance, I met a young man who was part of the crew that installed the shark in the wee hours. I wish to report he seemed like a fine young 20something, with no apparent nihilistic or anarchistic tendencies, in fact no agenda other than a love of life and a desire to be part of the creative process, and perhaps to bring a smile to the face of his fellow citizens. It should also be noted that he said he really loved the Kook, and defended the statue and its place in our community.
The statue, officially named “Magic Carpet Ride,” has been the object of much discussion, and even derision, since it’s unveiling in July 2007. It stands in a rather iconic setting on historic Highway 101, between Swami’s point and Cardiff Reef, two world-class surf breaks Encinitas has been blessed with. But, as is often the case with art, especially public art, unforeseen consequences soon arose.
Perhaps because of his youthful appearance and his awkward stance, the Kook was immediately “enhanced” with grass skirts, bikini tops, Lucha Libre masks and more. Then the decorations became holiday themed, and nothing made me feel more patriotic than seeing our own Cardiff Kook dressed up as Uncle Sam for the Fourth of July. His pumpkin head at Halloween and Santa’s hat at Christmas have now joined other such civic events like the Classic Car Nights, Holiday parades, free concerts at Moonlight beach, Poetry Slams at the La Paloma as traditions in our beachside community. Each “enhancement” seemed to up the ante, and push the creative envelope, ending with the latest installation.
Everyone by now knows of the Cardiff Kook. My adult children have even added a Kook-related drinking game to our holiday festivities (every time Dad mentions the Cardiff Kook, take another drink!). But in the larger picture, the circling fins and sudden appearance of the shark has reached the level of performance art. Such creativity should not be discounted, for it represents a vitality to our community that is sometimes hard to tap into. I believe the uniqueness of the Kook has probably brought out more creativity and civic involvement than would have been the case with a statue of a more classic pose. When a new KookArt appears, everybody texts and twitters and sends pics and calls each other to share the news. In its own goofy way, the Cardiff Kook has become a focal point for our community, a creative touchstone that brings us together. The Kook-eating shark is a must-see for many, best appreciated in person, and I am sure this has been good for local businesses, especially in this gray summer. It attracts tourists and art lovers and brings a smile to everyone’s face, young and old alike.
I’ll say it out loud: I love the Kook! I never grow tired of seeing his pose floating above the fray. So what is the city to do? Public art is a very tricky situation, and nothing will make everyone happy. But the shark did no damage to the statue or any public property, and the danger to the public is minimal, if not insignificant. The installation is really free advertising for our city, a public notice that we take our silliness seriously here in Encinitas. Perhaps the best policy is one of benign neglect, letting the artists do their thing as long as the statue is undamaged and safety is not compromised. Now the only question that remains: Can the shark digest bronze?

Bruce Stephens is an Encinitas resident and business owner, poet and author.

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