Linda Poon is an assistant editor at CityLab covering science and urban technology, including smart cities and climate change. She previously covered global health and development for NPR’s Goats and Soda blog.
Powerwashing has transformed Poland’s Solina Dam into a work of art.
Poland’s Solina dam, completed in 1969 and the tallest dam in Poland, has been collecting dirt and grime on its walls for decades. But when it came time for the 269-foot dam to get a good powerwash, the energy company Polska Grupa Energetyczna had an idea.
PGE worked with emerging comic book artist Przemek “Trust” Truściński to design a giant eco-mural honoring the wild and plant life found in the Bieszczady Mountains in southeast Poland, where the dam is located. At almost 300 feet wide and 177 feet tall, the mural is painted with a technique called “reverse graffiti.”
That means the only tool they needed was high-pressure water—no paint required. Men suspended from cables strategically blasted water from power washers to “erase” the grime and create, for example, the texture of fur on a giant wildcat on the right side of the mural, or the scales of fish on the lower half.
Similar artworks are also being created on the sidewalks near the dam, according to a statement from PGE, and the mural is expected to last at least a year.
If you’ve ever scribbled “Wash me”on the back of a dusty car with your finger, then you’ve participated in reverse graffiti. But it didn’t catch on as a formal technique until the 2000s, when the world took notice of British artist Paul “Moose” Curtis. He’s thought to be an early pioneer of reverse, or clean, graffiti.
Writing in Financial Times, Moose said he began in 1999, working with just a sock and a dirty tile. He’s since switched to using a power washer and has teamed up with the London government, advocacy groups like Greenpeace and anti-gun campaigns, as well as advertising agencies.
But just as traditional graffiti is shrouded in controversy over the legality of it, reverse graffiti also sits in a murky gray area between creatively cleaning a space and vandalism. Moose has said he’s been arrested several times.
But he wants people to look at it this way: “It’s refacing,” Moose told The New York Times in 2006, “not defacing. Just restoring a surface to its original state. It’s very temporary. It glows and it twinkles, and then it fades away.”