The low skies of Los Angeles are latticed with power lines. They criss-cross every intersection, weighing down telegraph poles with far more miles of wire than in any British city. But I’ve rarely found an incentive to look up. Until recently, when I began to notice an odd sight while my car idled at red lights: all over town, there were stuffed toys hanging from the lines, as if a lynch mob had been trawling LA for teddy-bear victims.
Some dangling toys are colourful and fresh, while others are grey and rain-damaged (not surprising, since they reportedly started to appear in 2012). Bloggers identified the bears as being the work of a dance band called HeartsRevolution, an entrepreneurial duo who also own a fleet of hipster ice-cream vans. The toys are identifiable by bright pink stripes across their eyes, which resembles the stage make-up of vocalist Leyla ‘Lo’ Safai. Far from being sinister, Safai told LA Weekly the bears were “like a child’s mobile … they’re there to say hi”.
Street artists have used LA’s power lines as public gallery space for some time, among them Manny Castro, who hung glittering red shoes from the wires like Dorothy’s footwear from The Wizard of Oz. The shoes were also a reference to a much older phenomenon: laced-together trainers dangling from power lines are a familiar sight in any US city, and they have several apocryphal origins tales. Some claim the shoes mark the site of crack houses, while others say they represent the borders between two street gangs’ turfs.