I was recently contacted by a guy from a group called Indecline who claimed that he and some friends had just created the largest piece of illegal graffiti in the world.
Indecline describe themselves as an "underground movement" of "activists, musicians, graffiti writers, [and] photographers," but you probably remember them either as the creators of the Bumfights videos, or as the guys who got arrested for allegedly stealing body parts from a hospital in Thailand.
The piece of graffiti, which reads "THIS LAND WAS OUR LAND," was made on a disused landing strip in California's Mojave Desert. It took six days of work, contains over 250 gallons of paint, and is over half a mile wide. This makes it about twice as wide as MTA's piece on the LA River bed, which, before it was removed, was generally considered to be the world's largest piece of illegal graffiti.
I spoke to a representative for Indecline, who wanted to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, to get more info about the piece.
VICE: How do you know this is the biggest piece of graffiti in the world?
Indecline: We did a lot of research on that. We wanted to make the distinction in terms of graffiti that we know and respected, which is graffiti that is done as an illegal act. Graffiti came into prominence as something that was done illegally. Graffiti is not, in our opinion, something a business owner can pay for and then have produced on the side of his building as "the largest piece of graffiti in the world." Governments have paid for graffiti murals that are massive, they're huge—there's one in Dubai that's enormous—but it's a mural. And there's a massive difference between a legally-sponsored mural from a government and something that required putting our freedom on the line, bolt cutters, and a ton of guerrilla tactics to pull it off.
Where and when did you do this piece?
It was done in April of this year. We spent a little over a month searching, physically going out there, taking measurements, getting the lay of the land. We spent a lot of time on Google Earth, there were a few trips in general that were focused on the pre-production elements, bringing the team out there and seeing how we'd pull it off. It's an extremely arduous task to get to that specific runway. From Kramer Junction, California, you have to go through about 45 minutes of dirt roads that aren't maintained at all, and I'm sure you can imagine the amount of paint and material we had to take out there, that had to be taken into account.
Why'd you pick the Cuddeback landing strip?
Primarily the location. We looked at about half a dozen runways in California and Nevada. When we found this one, there was too much irony to pass up. That this was a disregarded wasteland of bombs and bullets and military aircraft that's just rotting away in the middle of nowhere… It was just interesting to us that the military had taken this piece of land and completely abused it. At one point they dropped, I think, a nuclear bomb on it and just left it. It's pretty fucked up out there. We thought the location was great; it's pretty poetic, and the other part of it was the condition the runway was in. It took three days to clean that thing before we could even put paint down, but given some of the other runways we looked at, this was in pretty pristine condition. Some of them were just dirt.
How did you clean it?
We had about six high-powered leaf blowers. We just walked the entire thing, day after day. Those things will blow a softball sized rock clear across the street. They're very powerful. That was secondary, though. The first thing we did was build an apparatus out of chain link fence that was weighted down and put on the back of a truck, and we kinda just dragged it up and down the runway for hours, just ripping up all kinds of weeds and bushes and shit that had grown in that area over the years.
How many of you were involved in the production of this?
And how long did it take?
It took six days. And that was consecutive 18-20 hour days, very little sleep.
How many trips was that?
One trip. We took a Cruise America RV and a bunch of trucks and we built this massive camouflage encampment and kept the vehicles behind that and camped out there for six days.
How did you camouflage it?
With this tarp we purchased from a military surplus store. With the exception of a couple of last-minute runs to Home Depot, we were out there the entire time.
How far was the nearest Home Depot?
About 90 minutes.
Were there any unexpected problems you faced while making it?
We got about 90% done and we saw some aircraft circling the runway, and it turned out to be military aircraft. So there's still a military presence out there. That was an unexpected problem, but the consensus was just to keep going. Because there's nothing you can really do, if that's a threat. You're not gonna go anywhere, we were probably 95% done at that point, so we wrapped it up and left. That was a little hairy. Aside from that everything was pretty good to go. I think the only major setback was we completely miscalculated the amount of paint we needed—we ended up using over 250 gallons of paint, and we did not realize we would need that much to complete it. So that's why we ended up running to Home Depot for more.
How much money did you spend on this?
It came in at well over $20,000.
How'd you decide on the message?
Relevance. There's a lot of messages that we have touched on, and I think as we sat around and kinda discussed this, the probability that this would be visible on Google Earth made us want to do something about the earth. So global warming was that message.
How is "this land was our land" about global warming?
We're massive Woody Guthrie fans, and the original song that he wrote—most people don't know the lyrics to it—and we all grow up in America singing the modified version. So there's a kind of a message behind that, so we wanted to tie that in to the message that we were all given this earth and we've let people take it from us.
How illegal is this?
It's private property, it's government owned. I suspect it would be treated the same as any other act of vandalism. Probably more harshly given that it's military. But I don't know. I don't wanna know.
How secure was the area that you went into?
It's in the middle of nowhere. There was a gate that we had to cut the locks on. Aside from the military jets we saw, we never saw any other activity there.
In the comments on the video you made of this, there's one from someone saying, "Went out there yesterday. The navy had gone out there and put up a new heavy duty gate and they also buffed out the Indecline and put USN." Do you know if that's true?
I don't know if that's true, but it's pretty fucking awesome. I would guess it probably is true.
In retrospect, do you think you could've picked a message that would be slightly more difficult to reclaim? Because that's kind of the perfect message for them to just write "USN" over.
Well, we've already taken credit. This video is gonna go a lot farther. We live in the digital age. It's already out in the ether. They can't erase the fact that it was filmed and promoted by Indecline. And I can almost guarantee you that we will go back out there and paint over that.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Follow Jamie Lee Curtis Taete on Twitter.