Two young women — girls, really — balance precariously on the same trapeze in a death-defying circus act. As depicted in Susan R. Greene's giant street art, the girls' trapeze artistry is a thing of beauty. And if that's all that busy pedestrians take from the work painted on the side of an apartment building at 16th Street and Hoff (between Mission and Valencia), then fine. But for people who take a few minutes to stand before Greene's work, Bending Over Backwards, there's much more than beauty. For one thing, Greene lists a phone number for people to call, which lets them hear a contemplative and uplifting jazz piece by musician John Santos, and a poem about revolution and journeying through life by the late Marilyn Buck. Then there's the artwork's dedication: "To Political Prisoners Everywhere." And, finally, there's the work's suggestion of how precarious it is to survive in San Francisco when — for many people — rents are climbing and wages are failing to keep up.
"The trapeze artists are dependent on each other," says Greene, "so it's really about relationships that you need to survive."
A longtime artist and clinical psychologist, Greene put up Bending Over Backwards in 2010. She also erected a companion piece at 397 Eighth St., close to Harrison, that also features a trapeze artist and is also on a blue background that accentuates the black-and-white details of Greene's powerful figures. (Greene modeled the trapeze artists on those photographed by Mary Ellen Mark, whose Indian Circus images are iconic among art photographers.)
Greene's other street art — like the one called The Struggle Continues, at 23rd between Mission and Capp, which features images of Gandhi, Malcolm X, Sitting Bull, Cesar Chavez, Edward Said and others — is much more overtly political. Bending Over Backwards takes a different approach. "With Bending Over Backwards," says Greene, "I'm trying to address the inspiration, the motivation, and the feelings involved with not giving up, and being tenacious, and to keep on doing the right thing without necessarily seeing concrete results."