100 Layers of Beige starts out upbeat enough. With “Bleacher Lovin’” by Victoria’s Slam Dunk playing in the background, residents of Esquimalt and anyone else who remembers share their memories of the graffiti that once gave life to the train tracks on the border of Vic West and Esquimalt.
“It was like a playground. It was an untouched playground for us to spray paint, have fun with,” says Jules Uno, one of the many interviewees who appear in the film. The colours, graffiti, and art have since been painted over. By the time “Bleacher Lovin’” comes to an end, the walls have become endless stretches of unflattering beige, surrounded by overgrowth and billboards falling apart.
“What happened?” Everyone asks, “how did it end?” Brief silence, before the next track begins.
“I was inspired to make 100 Layers of Beige because I had heard friends of mine talking about the Trackside Gallery for years,” director Kay Gallivan explains. “I love local music, and when I heard about the painting over of this mile-long mural wall that meant so much to so many people, it reminded me of all-ages venues that have been shut down in every city I have lived. One thing that drew me to the story was the fact that nobody really knew exactly why the Trackside Gallery was painted over.”
Gallivan attempts to answer the question as best as she can, while also making it clear that there really isn’t a satisfying answer. Documented are the efforts of a community organization, Rock Solid, to turn around the tracks and create a space for art, deeming what is already on the walls as vandalism and signs of nighttime activity — and the subsequent failure of those efforts. There is also the emergence of a mysterious group called Esquimalt Together Against Graffiti, faceless and silent, responsible for the beige.
Throughout 100 Layers of Beige, the relationship between space and ownership arises again and again. The walls were no one’s and therefore everyone’s, the artists say; however, there is an invisible crowd, the concerned members of the community who are working to keep the walls beige, that clearly thinks differently. A palpable class tension is at play here. The graffiti starts from the bottom and takes a long time to build up to the magnitude it hopes of achieving. Neither the beige nor the billboards do the same.
“I never saw the wall before it was painted over,” says Gallivan, “but still to this day if you go down there, the beige paint is flaking off and multicoloured paint chips are all over the ground. The wall was repainted so many times over the years that the paint chips are really thick with multicoloured layers.”
While I enjoyed 100 Layers of Beige immensely, and do empathize with the sentiments of loss and displacement expressed by those who loved the walls, I do think the film treads a little too lightly over the more serious issues that may have had to do with the removal, or the onset of beige. There are always two sides to an issue — and it would have been interesting to hear what the other side has to say. Whether this was left out for creative reasons or because no one wanted to speak in favour of the beige, I’m not sure.
In any case, 100 Layers of Beige gives viewers a lot to think about in terms of urban renewal efforts and the idea of graffiti being considered as an art form. I would like to take a look at these scandalous layers of beige myself, one day, to see how thickly the paint has truly set on the walls.
If you want to watch 100 Layers of Beige in all its beigey glory, the full documentary is now available online at Visual Orgasm.com