Category Archives: Cultural HiJack

The Esther Raushenbush Library’s Guerrilla Catalogue

FullSizeRender-6 FullSizeRender-2 FullSizeRender-3 FullSizeRender-5 For my conference project, I collected and catalogued all of the graffiti in the library. Each of these pieces was separated into one of eleven categories: Love/Sex/Relationships, Campus Life, Existentialism School & Education, Conference Work, Quotes, Drawings, Questions, Jokes, Sadness/Frustration, and Motivation. The purpose of this project was to give a critical appreciation for these small, anonymous acts of vandalism. I thought a good way to do that would be to catalogue them similarly to the library’s system. While at face value, they’re funny quips, cries of desperation and exhaustion from work, and divulged secrets are just the ramblings of twenty-something liberal arts students, I think there’s something more here. Even though they were technically defacing the library, the level of intimacy in most of these felt more like reading snippets of a diary than the words of someone with the intent to destroy property. A lot of the pieces were in conversation with each other. It seemed like an act in intimate expression, but also in bonding. I think this is one of the most special components of this project. This is a community of anonymous authors, speaking to no one or anyone, and engaging in a dialogue. Sometimes it’s witty banter, but often its words of encouragement; a number of these notes said “You can do it!”. I felt a special connection to each space. There’s also a strangeness to reading a conversation which is not logged and sort of presently happening, yet totally silent and without any sense of timing. It feels very alive and present. My intention was to connect this project back to the lessons we had learned on psychogeography, but giving people a new way of navigating the space through this alternate, guerrilla catalogue. It’s subversive and enticing, or as one anonymous author wrote “I’ve never done this before and it feels way better than I expected”. So it’s a catalogue that invites interaction and contribution. This also reminded me of the Situationists International, through the way they marked their city as a way of redefining the space. The Situationists also showed how they could challenge the dominant power structure through small acts of vandalism like this. I see a lot of similarity in these small pieces of writing challenging the power structure of the library, and its catalogue of thoughts. It subverts the nature of needing to be published in order to have a presence in the library. Ideally, the best placement for this piece would be in the library, next to the guide on the wall. Although, I didn’t notice a spatial connection between the writings and the collections of books they were near, I think placing this map next to these stacks might subtly suggest or encourage someone to write something existential near the philosophy section or something.

Conference Project Draft #1: Library Graffiti

6a00d8341c630a53ef011570e53679970c There are a number of different ways to navigate a library; the Dewey decimal system seems like an obvious universal method, if there’s a specific book you’re looking for. Or if you’re looking more for information in a more general way, the library is spatially separated into categories such as Philosophy, Religion, Anthropology, and Art History. But ultimately, the library is a catalogue of ideas. Sometimes those ideas are the end destinations for researchers with particular questions, and sometimes curious minds wander in with the goal of allowing any of the innumerable ideas fill their thoughts. Sometimes ideas are contributed by the library’s visitors, and that is what I’d like to focus this conference project on. There’s a lot of graffiti on the walls and desks, as I’m sure many of the other students who frequent the library have noticed. But it’s not graffiti like we think of it, as just names written as an attempt to say “so-and-so was here” in some sort of public, urban landscape. The graffiti in our library are uncredited ideas, existential crises, quotes. These are instances of students feeling so filled with information that they need to share it in anyway possible, or of students feeling so beaten down by heavy course loads with high expectations, looking for some sort of release from the pressures of synthesizing the brilliance of others. My goal with this project is to see what these illicit markings from students reveal about how the library environment inspires certain interactions from its visitors. I will catalogue the markings in public space and document them both spatially and categorically (I’m still working on the category system but I think it will include distinctions like ‘quotes from others’, ‘images’ and ‘questions’). This project hits on themes we’ve talked about in class, such as mapping the invisible, since the goal here is to deduce some sort of reasoning behind what inspires people to share their ideas or despair in certain areas of the library. I’ve taken a lot of this graffiti at face value and I’m wondering if more can be learned from these small rebellions. Secondly, the very act of marking up the library touches on the idea of playable landscapes which we covered through our discussions and readings on psychogeogephy.

Psychogeography of Historians

Today the Historians walked around the campus, from spaces around Heimbold to Marshall Field to the space near Tweed. As we walked, we discussed the unique histories of the buildings and the landscapes. We walked around Heimbold, considering what materials we would use for our sculpture. A few methods of traversing the campus that utilize its history (which we haven’t tried yet, but will potentially) -Finding a map of the school in the archives from several decades ago, and visiting various places on the map which have since moved, then re-imagining those spaces in their former glory. For example, the Pub has gone through several transformations before it became what we know today, such as the nurse’s office. -Talking to neighbors from Hill who have lived in the apartment building before it was student housing, and asking them how they traversed the campus. -Looking at William VanDoozer Lawrence’s plans for developing the town and visiting and reimagining the sites as he must have seen them.

Historians: Invisible Histories

Picture-16 (Pictured above: Inspirational piece by Monica Canilao) Today our group brainstormed on-site, about how we could apply our role as “historians” to the area next to Marshall Field. Though we’re still in the drafting phase, we cobbled together a few ideas from each member to come up with bones of our collaborative sculpture. Essentially, we would like to create a house-type structure which explores and pays homage excluded histories; narratives which are invisible from Bronxville’s manicured facade. While we are still not settled on whether this means private histories from a personal point of view, or an approach which regards class boundaries we see in Bronxville, we are certain that we want this project to feel like a welcoming celebration of unheard voices. The goal is to create an interactive house/hut-like structure which welcomes people inside and allows them to take or contribute to the structure. We see this as a challenge to the close-off, private properties in Bronxville, whose beauty can be admired from afar but never shared. So in a way, we see just the act of creating a space which invites one and all to share and take and contribute as a subversive creation to its environment.

Final Project – Feminist Ad Bust

January 15, 2015 caroline1 I wanted my final project during my intersession to address social issues that are relevant to me. My plan was to use an existing advertisement, paint it white, and then add text directly onto it. I decided to return to my initial idea of creating a billboard which advertised compliments that aren’t about physical appearance. I felt this is increasingly necessary especially in this area, given the number of times I was cat called in this neighborhood while I was here. The inspiration for this piece came from a post I read on angryasianfeminist. I decided to springboard off of this post, and add my own compliments, make it public and add a bit of humor. I brainstormed on compliments for awhile. Some of the rejected included things like “There’s no need for TV when you’re around” and “You’re the reason Kanye has self esteem issues” (I thought that might sound like bullying Kanye, rather than just being like ‘you’re so flawless’). I left two bullet points at the end open so that passersby could add on their own. I noticed that someone added “I LOVE YOU” when I went back to check (ironically on Valentine’s day). It’s a silly addition, not one I would have added, but I like that someone ws inspired enough to participate. The response online has been incredible. A photographer from the Philadelphia area snapped it and his photo was pretty popular on tumblr, gaining about 4,000 notes (‘notes’ indicate when another blogger has favorited or reblogged the original post/photo). I posted a similar photo and it got about 178,000 notes and counting. Even though this is dry data and doesn’t describe any impact the art may have had on these bloggers, it’s at least an easy way to numerically represent that a large number of people have appreciated the work enough to share it. My friends have even mentioned how they saw pictures of this piece popping up around various corners of the web. Suffice to say, the photo of this piece and its share-ability on the web is more important than the actual piece itself because it was able to reach more people. Overall, I consider this project a success. I was thrilled by the way the piece came out, inviting humor yet still attempting to challenge serious issues around catcalling. The fact that it went viral is a pretty clear indication that people want to see work that speaks to real issues. I think about that a lot when I think about the success of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh with her “Stop Telling Women to Smile”. Her project was incredible, combining street art and powerful messages about women reclaiming their agency in public spaces. Her work is obviously great, but I think the response to her work is the strength of the project. It felt almost like women had been waiting for someone to say this, so when Tatyana spoke the message people immediately rallied behind the project. I’m not suggesting my piece is anywhere near as good as Tatyana’s campaign, but I think the responses to our messages show how eager people are to see art that addresses these larger social concerns about the treatment of women.

Interview with Philadelphia Street Artist

12 January 2015 Before I set out to design and install my interactive art piece, I considered the importance of hearing about Philadelphia’s street art scene from an active participant. I managed to get in touch with a local street artist, who agreed to an interview if they could maintain anonymity. This artist uses found materials to create text pieces, that they then screw onto signposts. I had seen these pieces as well as text-based stickers by the same artist around Philadelphia on many occasions. The artist also has a bit of an internet presence. Since some of his pieces directly address the audience (the audience being pedestrians who happen to walk past it), I thought this person would be a good example of creating work that inspires interaction.   Here are some of the artist’s thoughts on street art, interactive art, and documentation: Why do you share your art on the streets? I get a thrill from the whole process of producing and installing the work, so that’s the selfish reason. But I also do it because I want people to actually be looking around them as they walk around the city. I want to produce something that catches your eye so that after you leave it behind, you’re starting to look for more things to catch your eye and snap you out of the everyday. Why anonymously? Well there’s the law, for one, and just the general sense that some people might judge me harshly for putting up street art. It’s easier to not deal with that. I know anonymous street artists who work for the government, or as teachers, or in finance, or in other fields where a morals clause in their contracts might mean that they could be fired for doing street art. So anonymity provides some protection and separation from a private life. But I think more importantly it’s more fun for the viewer if the artist is anonymous. It creates mystery. Fans are curious. Why does that artist do what they do? A nice side benefit is honest feedback. I’ve had conversations with people who don’t know who they are talking to, and we’ll start discussing my artwork, but they’ll think they are just talking to some random person on the street, or a new drinking buddy at an art opening, but instead they’ll be telling the artist exactly what they really think. Most importantly though is the mystery that comes with anonymity. It provides artistic freedom and excites fans.   What’s an ideal reaction you’d hope to illicit from your work? What the hell? This is terrible/evil/hilarious/eyeopening! I could do this. Hell, I could do better. I will do better. Is street art really this easy?   Is there anyone in particular you’re trying to reach? When I started, I was trying to reach people already in the street art community. I felt that Philly street art could be so much better, and so I was trying to inspire local artists to try different and better things. My work was a challenge to mediocre street art to improve. Now, it’s 80% that, and 20% geared towards anyone willing to notice it and think differently about their day or their surroundings.   How important is documentation to you? When I started, I documented 95% of what I did. It was essential to my practice. I was trying to create a street art persona online without producing amazing work or doing very much of it. My theory was that good documentation and social media marketing would make up for sub-par art. I was right. Now, I don’t document as much of my work myself, but I make sure to do as much of it as I can in places where I believe it will be documented by others. I recognize that internet visibility matters, and documentation is very important to day.   Is having a web presence important for street artists? Why or why not? A web presence isn’t essential to street art, but it is essential to street artists. What I mean is, to do street art in its purest form doesn’t require a web presence, but to use street art as a means for promoting your own art career requires a web presence, and these days, most street artists use their outdoor work as a way to get into galleries and museums rather than as a rejection of those systems.   Are you inspired by other texts artists? Other street artists? I steal my words from other text artists, and I find other street artists equally inspiring and revolting. In the few years I’ve been active, I’ve seen the Philadelphia scene mature slightly, and that’s inspiring.   What made you decide to start putting up your work? A frustration with the trappings of the mainstream artworld and general scenesterism have crept into street art, an artform intended to be anonymous and free.

Revolution Recovery – site visit & response piece

January 10, 2015 gene_smirnov_grid_rr_2 Today, my partner and I conducted a site visit to RAIR (Recycled Artists in Residency) located at the Philadelphia-based recycling plant Revolution Recovery. Revolution Recovery is an environmentally-friendly, sustainability-focused trash sorting center. Their main clients are predominantly large scale corporate and industrial projects that need to dispose of massive amounts of waste. The recycling center was approached by artist Billy Dufala, half of the art duo The Dufala Brothers and a former member of the popular band Man Man. Dufala proposed a partnership between the recycling center and artists who might want to use the material waste for sculptures and projects. Avi Golen, a co-founder of Revolution Recovery, was for the idea and thus RAIR was formed. RAIR invites artists from across the US to pick through the trash and the materials that are dumped at the recycling plant to create art projects that raise awareness about sustainability. While touring the facility and the artists’ studios, I got a sense of the social and environmental importance (and relative ease) of sourcing art materials from the trash. Dufala and Golen spoke at length about the kinds of incredible objects they’ve pulled from the trash: everything from expensive boots still in the box, a cheetah pelt, an actual shark fetus in a jar, and miles of christmas lights. trash The exhibitions RAIR puts on have included massive trash-sourced sculptures, Rube Goldberg contraptions, trash-bowling and much more. Currently, they’re in the selection process for their next batch of residents. In terms of my own project, I was inspired to appropriate trashed material for a public art project. I came across a peg-board which, though dirty, seemed like it had the potential to be turned into a fun game. I went to a hardware store and bought bolts. I cleaned and modified the pegboard in a small way, added a marker on a string, and created a fun little ‘connect the dots’ game. pegboard I was delighted by the fast response! Just hours after I installed it, people were drawing on the pegboard. To me, this was a success because it accomplished three of my goals: Create a piece which inspires people to directly interact with their environment in a positive way. Use recycled material (a la RAIR and Revolution Recovery) Create something which is accessible to a broad audience, that was not necessarily expecting to see art. So now that I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned from my site visit and my interview with a local Philadelphian street artist, I’d like to create a larger piece which addresses more important social concerns. This next project will probably play off of my initial inspirations. tumblr_nic1rsAkfV1qdozlyo1_1280

Urban Interventions: Brainstorm

This project will be carried out in Philadelphia. My goal is to create a piece of public art that encourages public interaction. I let a few people in the art scene here know that I’m looking for walls or spaces for intervention. While I wait for possible leads, I’ve started the brainstorm process for projects which would not require an approval process. This way, if I’m not able to coordinate a space in the short time allotted for this project, I am able to carry on with other ideas. The majority of these ideas are short-term interventions, and include adding a suggestion box to a public space (such as an unmaintained bus stop). Responses could be reviewed and sent to a community council member. Another idea would be replacing advertisements on the public transportation system (Septa) with art, quotes, history lessons; content that is based on improving the visual environment and passenger’s experience, and does not ask its audience for money as advertisements do. Potential ad takeovers could include short lessons such as game theory, why/how to encrypt data, or perhaps even riddles, brain teasers or philosophical questions. The goal would be to show that one’s time on the train doesn’t have to feel like time wasted, rather, it could be a space for contemplation. Another idea for a temporary ad replacement would be a list of compliments that are not about one’s looks. Multiple artists over the last few years have done a fantastic job of drawing attention to the issue of catcalling women, such as Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s “Stop Telling Women to Smile” street campaign, Hannah Price’s portraits of catcallers, or Rob Bliss’ video “10 Hours of Walking Around NYC as a Woman”. These projects are all highly effective in highlighting how these supposed compliments are a degrading action that make women feel vulnerable and reduce people to objects of physical desire on the street. If the counter argument (as flawed as it is) is that there is there is positive intention in paying someone a compliment, I thought a positive extension of this existing work would be to provide a list entitled “Compliments That Aren’t About Looks”. The list would include quotes like “You have a beautiful perspective on the world/humanity/etc”, “You have an incredible sense of humor,” “I wish more people thought the way you did about ____”, and so on. The purpose of placing this within the context of an advertisement space on public transportation is because a lot of these types of catcalling issues occur in these small-quartered, public spaces. Thus, this placement would connect with one facet of the target-audience who should think twice before they address a stranger about their looks. All of these ideas are attempts to reimagine existing public space as a place for audience engagement. Candy Chang, an artist, designer and urban planner, is an inspiration for this project as she uses her art to achieve this type of public engagement in a very direct way. A few of her more notable projects include painting an outdoor wall with the words “Before I Die….” then leaving a number of spaces for pedestrians to fill in the blank. Her indoor work has included projects such as confession booths, where audience members are able to anonymously write a confession on a provided card, which is then hung on a wall with other confessions as an exhibit. What I like about Candy’s projects is that they involve direct interaction between the audience and the art, and this allows the audience to take away a sense of self-importance from the work. One of my favorite projects that I completed last semester (Fall 2014) for Angela’s Remix the City course involved this same sort of direct connection with the work: I replaced an advertisement on the Metro-North train with an email address in order to provide people with a space to be heard. I was both surprised by the amount of positive feedback the sign received, and was encouraged to do more projects which gave people a space to feel heard. That’s where I am in the brainstorm process, more posts to come!