You heard it here first. And now you hear it here second.
GREENLIGHTING THE TRAFFIC PROBLEM
Remember The PARK(ing) Project? On September 18, Philly finally joined the 50+ cities that partake in the annual phenomenon of National PARK(ing) Day, and now we’ve got the pics to prove it.
All throughout Philly, those mythological entities known as parking spots were transformed into mini-parks, complete with grass, benches, and random hipster types hanging out.
Over 30 local groups took part in this global event, with art exhibits and educational displays giving the whole thing a distinct Philly-culture twist.
There’s even a Google Group — we’ve been drinking the Gool-Aid long enough to know this only bosts street cred. And now that Philly has officially put itself on the proverbial map with a solid urban greenification statement, we would’ve liked to see the Google vans and satellites swing by that day to put it on the digital one as well.
Because, while street cred is great when it comes to activism and cultural statements, Street View is always better — nothing gets the word out better than some 1′s-and-0′s help from the Big G.
Today, we’re looking at art that blows — literally. Think of this as a niche appendix to our best-of graffiti and socially-conscious street art series a while back, with a nod to the superhero issue. Yep, we’re multi-pronged like that.
As much as we respect comic book culture, we’ve always wondered what it is exactly about the action illustrations that inspires such unconditional reverence, such loyal followings and such… dedicated… fan conventions. Could it be the unique intersection of visual and sound effects on the printed page, creating a POW! new reality of WURRRG! mixed media and OOH! non-linear perception? Perhaps.
And street artist D.Billy has decided to explore that intersection in our very real reality with his visual representations of sound effects through installations of colorful media like balloons and party steamers.
He works in “found scenes” of urban landscape and, after photographing the finished creations, he leaves the installations on the scene to engage passers-by and inspire a new awareness of the surroundings normally taken for granted.
We love the idea of bringing surreal elements to the most mundane corners of reality, and doing it in a way that plays with how we’re used to experiencing our own senses. Check out D.Billy’s Flickr stream and think about the visual action soundtrack to your own neighborhood. WOWZA!
JOSHUA ALLEN HARRIS
While bursts of color splattered throughout the otherwise mundane environment sure can be stride-stopping, it’s all the more fascinating when the stride-stopping stuff comes from the most mundane of materials. Case in point: artist Joshua Allen Harris, who uses plastic bags and subway vent air to create inflatable sculptures.
The magic of it is that it looks like plain ol’ trash until a train passes underneath, animating the sculptures and bringing entire scenes to life. And since Harris works mostly in the streets of New York, we find his work to be a brilliant, playful way to engage the world’s most notorious intentionally-oblivious pedestrians.
This week, we’re looking at ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what grannies and Major League Baseball have in common.
MONKEY SEE MONKEY REDO
After we gave props to groundbreaking graffiti executions, it’s only fitting that we also honor non-graffiti urban guerrilla art — especially the kind that makes a social statement. Because, after all, if we’re gonna be claiming our streets back from the grip of modern indifference, we’d better have something to say.
Yeah, yeah, we’re into advertising. Fine. But here’s the thing: we’re into good, smart advertising. Which means we’re all the more eager and willing to call out the really, really bad stuff — and root for the rebels out to take it down.
Like Pixelator: an outlaw guerrilla project that uses NYC subway entrances as its canvas, covering those eye-stabbingly ugly video billboards with a lit-up panel of 45 color- changing blinking squares. We love the extreme euphemism with which the team behind it, Jason Eppink and Jen Small, talks about the work, calling that ultimate bottom-of-the-barrel advertising “exhibitions” and the suits behind it “artists,” as if only to draw our attention to the point: our aesthetic sensibility is being relentlessly polluted by the visual atrocities of the corporate world.
Pixelator is about taking a stance against it all, a stance they invite you to join them in: here’s how you too can pixelate some public ugly.
Next, let’s take on those hideous in-train subway ads — now that’s something you’re forced to stare at for quite some time, because it’s usually between them and the smelly dude talking to himself… although we’re always far more intrigued by the latter. (Draw you own conclusions, bad ad people.)
The concept of “guerrilla art” is by definition undefined. Which means it’s not confined to any medium or dimension. Sure, a lot of it is static, physical art. But some of it is dynamic, complex, and mobile. Which makes it all the more impressive.
We’re talking about guerrilla get-up Improv Everywhere — a group of comedy-minded citizens who cause carefully orchestrated “scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” The NYC-based group, founded in 2001, has amassed an enormous following of unofficial national and global chapters. They’ve done over 70 such stealth comedy missions, recently making major waves with the Frozen Grand Central one.
Besides being a wildly impressive stroke of such large-scale genius, the stunt got major mainstream love: not only did it land in the latest episode of Law & Order: SVU , but it was also cool enough for R.E.M. to blatantly rip off. (Nicely done, Gestalt — lost your creative bone along with your hair?)
We just dig the entire concept because IE’s missions jolt pedestrians out of the private zombie bubbles we mindlessly walk around in all day. They remind us to come to and pay attention — because when you look at how long it took the Grand Central passersby to notice the extreme and obvious bizarrerie, those Orwellian drone-filled scenes seem frighteningly nonfictional.
SECRET WALL TATTOOS
Guerrilla statements are all the more indulgent when they mess with institutions that take themselves a bit too seriously. Especially if the messing is kinda hidden, producing even more of a jaw-drop when accidentally discovered.
Case in point: you may remember the “secret wall tattoos” of pickings past — drawings in spaces normally covered by hotel furniture only revealed when said furniture is moved. Word on the street is the movement was started by Queens of the Stone Age frontman Josh Homme, who compares the idea to the delightful discovery of the toy hidden in a box of Cracker Jacks.
Today, there’s a whole following of independent artists spreading the hospitality mischief. And curiously enough, hotels hungry for street cred are actually paying artists to do that stuff. But street- cred-for-sale discussions aside, we love the idea — what better form of social art protest than taking some of that mind-numbingly bland space back?
So here’s to injecting a bit of scavenger-huntish excitement into the otherwise bland hotel experience. Next time you check in, make sure you peek behind the paintings… and maybe pack a Sharpie of your very own.
MARK JENKINS ART
We’ve been obsessed with Mark Jenkins for quite some time, so it’s no surprise we honor him here. His street art installations are an exquisite hybrid of playful and unsettling, from the human- legged shopping cart to his Storker Project
But besides the gotta-love-it shock value of his brilliantly cast and positioned sculptures, we love what his art stands for. In a rather compelling interview with The Morning News, the artist shares what drives him: a certain outrage at how stagnant institutionally authorized public art is — monuments, memorials and the like seem to cling to the past rather than push the city into the future or challenge its present.
And that’s a pretty big social statement — how come our culture chooses to glorify the works of the past rather than celebrate the artistic vision of the present?
Plus, we just can’t stop laughing at the wall-diver.
Okay, okay, Banksy fans: relax. Here it comes… although we’ll preface it by saying we’re a bit ambivalent about the “social statement” quotient of Banksy’s art: somehow, it always seems to be a bit too ego-gratifying (a.k.a. “Oooh, look at what I can get away with!”) as opposed to challenging ordinary folk to stand for something.
But despite selling his works at auctions, we have to hand it to Banksy for smuggling his own art into the MoMA, The Met, The Museum of National History, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tate Gallery, and…wait for it… the Louvre. Sure, this may be the ultimate ego-driven prank — but it also challenges our relationship with art and makes us question. What belongs in this museum? Why? What makes it better than that?
And, really, while we may admire his exquisite technique (and his ability to sneak a live red elephant into a gallery), we find that all- important social perception shuffle is what really makes him a guerrilla maverick.
Because it’s not about what you can get away with, it’s about what you let people take away from it.
Guerrilla art doesn’t always have to be unauthorized. In fact, the more people are on board, the more of a difference the effort can make. And when it’s about solving a really, really serious social problem, then it’s really worth noting.
We found out about Canstruction by fluke, stumbling upon a bizarre public installation downtown — several gigantic sculptures of anything from the Philly Phanatic to an iPod, all made entirely out of food cans. Turns out, Philly was just one stop on the Canstructionnational circuit — an operation of the Society for Design Administration, the design/build competition travels the country, challenging teams of engineers, architects and students to construct enormous sculptures out of full cans of food.
Here’s the social kick: after the competition, all the cans are donated to local food banks and distributed in emergency hunger relief programs. Since Canstruction was founded in the early 90′s, 10 million pounds of food have been donated — sodium overdose aside, that’s one massive stab at the poverty monster.
Check out the gallery of work to get amazed, inspired, and even fired up to participate. And, hey, if your city isn’t on the tour map, you can always host a competition. Talk about grassroots initiative.
Here’s another blast from the Brain Pickingspast. “Guerrilla knitting” may sound like a laughable oxymoron (visuals of prankster grannies materialize), but it’s actually a brilliant form of public art that blasts the urban grayness away with a bold splash of color.
Heading the movement is Houston-based Knitta Please, a group of 11 men and women out to reimagine the cityscape. Since 2005, the crew has been wrapping ordinary city staples like lamp posts, bike racks, parking meters and other random personality- deprived objects in colorful hand-knitted sleeves.
The yarn ninjas have since color-bombed their way around the world, knit-blasting places like Seattle, Harlem, Paris, El Salvador, The Great Wall of China and the Notre Dame Cathedral.
And we love the statement they’re making — what better way to wrap up our week-long tribute to guerrilla work that claims the city back from the gray grip of faceless concrete?
Brain Pickings has a free weekly interestingness digest. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week's best articles. Here's an example. Like? Sign up.
donating = loving
Brain Pickings remains ad-free and takes hundreds of hours a month to research and write, and thousands of dollars to sustain. If you find any joy and value in it, please consider becoming a Member and supporting with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner:
(If you don't have a PayPal account, no need to sign up for one – you can just use any credit or debit card.)
You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount:
Brain Pickings participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. In more human terms, this means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps supportBrain Pickings by offsetting a fraction of what it takes to maintain the site, and is very much appreciated.