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A Mural About City-Building That Actually Doesn't Stink

This time-lapse video chronicles painted cranes as they "build" a city from the ground up, with real-life objects blending into two dimensions and vice versa.

Public murals can really stink sometimes. The earnestness of the subject matter, the often-middling skill of the painter, the repetition of played-out motifs like upraised hands and rainbows can make these urban canvases a jab in the eyeball.

Jo Peel's "Things Change" is one mural that doesn't suck. That's not because it looks strikingly different from all other murals; in fact, it's a harmless-enough depiction of a broken-down inner city overrun by giant trees. The neat part is that Peel decided to make the process of painting the mural a work of art in itself, using time-lapse shots taken over the course of three weeks.

From the first frames, it's obvious that this is no ordinary mural. A butterfly flits across a blue background then disappears from the frame, leaving no trace of its presence on the wall. Towering cranes sprout up and begin to build a city, loading bricks in rows from the ground up like a regular construction crew. At times, debris from the painting, like orange rubble, seems to fall out of the wall, becoming its three-dimensional equivalent on the sidewalk. At another moment a real plastic bag flying in the wind is sucked into the mural and locked in painted stasis. It's all a bit Videodrome-ish, and quite fun to watch.

The city scene decorates the outside of the Village Underground, an arts venue in London's Shoreditch area. (Interesting apocryphal tidbit about that 'hood from Wikipedia: "One legend holds that the place was originally named 'Shore's Ditch,' after Jane Shore, the mistress of Edward IV, who is supposed to have died or been buried in a ditch in the area.") You can find more works in a similar vein on Jo Peel's website, which gives this bio for the artist:

Jo Peel is a member of internationally acclaimed Scrawl Collective. Jo spends her time documenting in great detail her fascination with everyday scenes and scenarios. From abandoned east London construction sites to the streets of any place she might find herself, all are captured in her well observed and uniquely executed style....

Alongside her limited edition screen prints and original canvases, Jo has created bespoke paintings on street walls and within interiors, as well as designing and illustrating sets for photo shoots and festivals. Her distinctive line drawings find beauty in scenes of urban decay and construction.

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.