This article originally appeared on VICE US.
I don't know if you heard, but people have a pretty low opinion of the year 2016. Naturally, they were looking for any glimmer of hope that this new year would be different from its predecessor. For many, that hope came in the form of New Year's Day news that some rascal had changed LA's iconic Hollywood sign to read "Hollyweed."
The alteration, an homage to the original "Hollyweed" vandalism of 1976, left many wondering who could have pulled off such a stunt at the famously inaccessible landmark.
VICE spoke with two local artists who claim they are behind the project—Zach Fernandez and his creative partner/former wife, Sarah Fern, about why and how they pulled this prank. Fernandez creates art under the name Jesus Hands, a name that can be seen written on the sign in close-up photos.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
VICE: Why'd you change the sign?
Fernandez: I saw the original "Hollyweed" sign on my buddy's' Instagram and wondered if it was just a digital alteration. But after I looked it up, I saw there was this guy, Danny Finegood, who was an art student at Cal State Northridge and originally changed the sign as part of a school art project. In 1976, California had just relaxed its laws on marijuana, and he did it in tribute to that. He got an A. That inspired me, and I dug a bit and found he did some other installs over the years with friends. Unfortunately, it's actually "the late Mr. Finegood," as he died ten years ago. So, on the bottom of the left of the "O," I wrote "a tribute to Mr. Finegood." The main goal of the piece, however, is to bring about conversation.
Fern: With this election, I think that was something that became clear. I think the idea was already brewing, but with the election panning out the way that it did, that was the final push.
The election panned out positively for marijuana-law reform. You're using this as a springboard to talk about the other results from it?
Fernandez: Yeah. I was told by a good friend that it's important to reframe situations so that no matter the circumstances, it's a positive. Any way I can bring positivity into the world, or guide or steer people away from the negativity or bad parts of life, even if it's a little bit risky, I'm down. I just want to make sure the message is clear. It's about being and staying youthful and living in the purest form. I think this project really allowed me to express that.
How did you prepare for and execute the prank?
Well, I did all the physical stuff. I cruised up in my camo. The reports about the security cam said "man dressed in black" or something, but I was in a camo field jacket prepared for rain. I was hoping it rained because the chances of interruption were slimmer.
Fern: My involvement was more in the construction of it. I pulled the vision together. We had to make sure we mapped it out together and double checked measurements and everything. We did it on a budget and were very resourceful about it. We had a few photo backdrops that were just lying around and added sheets as needed and sewed it all together.
Are there schematics for the sign online or something?
Fern: Well, Zach found a measurement for the height of the letters. So, from there, we kinda just went over every image we could possibly find online and mapped it out and did the math on it. We tried to give ourselves some wiggle room just in case.
What was the actual install like?
Fernandez: There are ladders on both sides of the letters, but they start so high up that I had to scale a good 20 feet just to get to bottom of the ladder. Then the second letter was higher up and swaying so I had to tie myself off from the rope I was using on the first one and swing around them.
You were swinging like Tarzan between the letters of the Hollywood sign?
Fern: No. He was on one letter and had to drop the rope down to another letter.
Fernandez: It was still a lot of work though. It took me two hours. It's exhausting! Your adrenaline is pumping and then you just crash so hard when it bottoms out. We collaborated before, packed everything, trying to keep it simple and easy. I'm not about "vandalizing" things. I saw the term tossed around quite a bit in the news today.
Fern: Yeah, he just used clamps and clipped it on so they can easily remove it.
Do you think you'll get in any trouble once this interview goes up?
Fern: Sometimes they do it as a slap on the wrist. Like, "We have to because if you get away with it than anyone can." I understand that, and we're OK with that.
Fernandez: Sometimes in order to create that conversation, you have to be OK with the consequences. I'm very proactive about marijuana. The first time I smoked, I was like 12, and my sister and her boyfriend brought out a bong and got me super high. Then we had our own medical-marijuana-delivery service in San Luis Obispo for two years, but we got out of the business. Still, the medical results are clear for people with MS, cancer... It's just interesting to see where the conversation has gone to at this point.
Do you have any plans for future installations like this?
Fernandez: Absolutely. We've really been putting our best foot forward. We've been doing things a bit backward. We have four kids together. I just want to live and be an example for my kids. I just look for like-minded people to collaborate with.
Fern: We're always looking for the next thing.
What do you have to say to those who read all this and still think you're just some stoner vandal?
Fernandez: My message is to smile, laugh a little, maybe not take life so seriously. Reframe things in other people's shoes.
Fern: My message? Can't win 'em all.