John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
The installations comment on the hundreds of people literally living underground in Bucharest.
Walk around Milan with your eyes glued to your phone and you might find yourself falling into somebody’s blue and white-tiled shower stall. For this strange life experience you could thank local artist Biancoshock, who’s decked out manholes to look like rooms in a pleasantly decorated but microscopic house.
Biancoshock, a practitioner of “ephemeralism” who’s also made a plastic bubble-popping service for bored commuters and a sidewalk station for high fives, isn’t just dabbling in whimsy. The underground lairs he somehow stocked with wallpaper, framed artwork, and even a kitchenette are meant to draw attention to the scores of homeless people in Bucharest who live in tunnels and sewers. Many are said to be ex-residents of Romania’s horrid orphanages who had no safety net when released in 1989. Many also are struggling with addictions and HIV/AIDS, as well as the occasional police raid for alleged drug trafficking.
Biancoshock writes that Bucharest’s subterranean population numbers hover around 600. The message of his Milan intervention, he states, is that if “some problems can not be avoided, [at least] make them comfortable.”