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Reclaiming Urban Landscape | Part 4

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.

PIXELATOR

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.)

IMPROV EVERYWHERE

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?)

Improv Everywhere’s founders met through the infamous Upright Citizens Brigade and much of their improv is inspired by the teachings of the cult group that brought us ass pennies.

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.

BANKSY

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.

CANSTRUCTION

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 Canstruction national 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.

KNITTA PLEASE

knit.pngHere’s another blast from the Brain Pickings past. “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?

Missed parts 1, 2 or 3?

BP

5 Ways to Get More of Life in the City

Ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city.

Urban clutter is easily the biggest pitfall of city life. There’s just too much stuff out there. Consumer psychologist Barry Schwartz calls it “the paradox of choice” — the more that’s available to us, the more frustrated we get with it all and the less likely we are to enjoy or even choose any of it.

Luckily, we’ve got 5 ways to help you navigate all that choice clutter, nail those special city gems, and get the most out of all your social activities.

A.PLACEBETWEEN.US

Here’s the thing about friendship: it’s all about compromise. Especially when making social plans — you want one thing, your friend wants another, so you kinda have to meet each other halfway. Well, now you can do it — literally.

Thanks to a.placebetween.us, a nifty Google Maps mashup, you can let an algorithm pick your hangout — so there are no ego gauntlets involved. Here’s how it works: you simply plug the starting-point addresses of all the people in the would-be get-together, say what you wanna meet for (like, coffee or ice cream or Italian), and the app spits out a handful of establishments that offer just that in the area halfway between the attendees’ addresses, complete with directions and contact info.

See? Compromise and complete geographic fairness make everything taste better, we promise.

FABSEARCH

Okay, so maybe you’re a bit more of a control freak. You wanna know the place you’re headed is up to par with your refined palate and sophisticated expectations. Heck, you want nothing short of a fab experience.

Sit back, relax, and let fabsearch do the work. The human-powered engine pulls content you can’t normally find on the Interwebs from editorial icons like Vogue, British Harpers Bazaar, Town and Country, New York Social Diary, Vanity Fair and other give-it-to-you-straight, Zagat-sans-the-fluff sources. The fabsearch team is damn serious about it, too — they spend months sifting through old magazines to really hone the recommendation quality and bring you the ultimate best of the best in hotels and restaurants.

You can search by source or by location — and by “location” we really mean location: from Abu Dhabi to Aspen to Atlanta, they’ve got you covered. We checked out their Philly recommendations and, we must say, these guys are dead-on.

via Give it a shot for your locale and see how your favorite going out staples measure up. Thrillist

FON

But what if you’re out on the town with that all-important extension of yourself — your laptop? Looking for those precious free wireless hotspots can be a hassle, especially if you’re traveling in a new city. Guess what: there’s a way that you can not only find a solution but also be a part of it.

FON is the world’s largest WiFi community, aiming to make WiFi universal and free. The concept is simple: you give some, you get some, and everyone gets a ton. All you do is get a La Fonera community router (just $29.95) and hook it up to your home internet connection. Obviously, you get WiFi at home — but that’s not the point.

The point is that La Fonera is your membership ticket to the FON worldwide community.

This means whenever you travel, you have free access to the FON WiFi that thousands of other users, or Foneros as they call themselves, have shared. And they’re everywhere.

The entire network is 100% safe and, best of all, not only do you get free WiFi across the world, but you can also make a bit of cash whenever non-Foneros connect to the FON network.

But, really, we just dig the idea of claiming our urban web space back from the nasty, unscrupulous monopoly of present.

URBAN DADDY

The bigger your city, the more frustrating that “paradox of choice” thing can get. Which is why those of us in the biggest metropolitan beehives need a bit more help with a bit more stuff — not just dining, but also shopping, nightlife, style, travel and various insider perks.

That’s what Urban Daddy is all about — currently in four of the world’s most culture-overloaded cities (New York, L.A., Las Vegas and San Francisco), and also available in a broad U.S. National edition, the exclusive daily email magazine offers city life pickings carefully curated by a team of professional cool hunters.

And just so you get the level of exclusivity we’re talking here, Urban Daddy is currently invitation-only. But the good news is you can swallow your pride, sign up for their waitlist and hope you’re soon invited to sit at the cool kids’ table in the huge cultural cafeteria that is city life.

BANDS IN TOWN

One of the great things about city life is that it offers a music experience you can’t get on iTunes: anything from wait-in-line-for-hours megastar live shows to intimate indie gigs in neighborhood cafes. Navigating all the options, of course, is a whole different story.

Luckily, there’s BandsInTown — a cool service you may remember from pickings past that lets you know about upcoming shows by your favorite artists whenever they pop into town. A little IP address birdie tells the algorithm your location, so all you do is say what music you dig. It then spits out a tag cloud of bands and artists, letting you narrow things further by show date (tonight only or not), distance from the city, max price range, and label type (unsigned, indie or major). On top of that, you can also filter results by genre or tag.

It’s all free, super nifty, and it’s telling us Rilo Kiley are playing right across the street on June 5, so we diggidy mucho. Check it out and get ready to show your friends who’s boss in music town.

Missed parts 1 and 2?

BP

Reclaiming Urban Landscape: Graffiti Subversion

Ideas that claim our urban space back from the gruesome grip of commercialization, concrete and the general ugly of the city, or what manholes and Stanley Kubrick have in common.

What bigger mark of a city’s self-expression than its graffiti culture? The tricky thing is that much of urban graffiti has become contrived, sliding by our attention as expected graphic clichès. The ones that break the norm manage to leave a cultural mark bigger than the physical paint-on-concrete one, and here is our curation of the top 5 unconventional urban graffiti executions.

BRAZILIAN RUIN GRAFFITI

Ruins. Landslides. Demolitions. To the average pedestrian, these are the most brutal architectural scars and open sores of a city. But to one Brazilian artist, they are a canvas of the imagination, an opportunity to imagine and re-imagine — the graffiti equivalent of looking at clouds and seeing magical shapes.

And, not unlike the great art of yore, these contemporary urban masterpieces remain unsigned and unclaimed. The images popped up randomly with the plain descriptor “Brazilian Graffiti,” leaving us with nothing less than utter awe and respect for the anonymous artist.

via Best Pics Around

JULIAN BEEVER OPTICAL ILLUSIONS

From graffiti art on the remains of what once was, to graffiti art on what has never been and will never be. Confused? That’s usually the first reaction to Julian Beever‘s chalk drawings anyway. “The Pavement Picasso” creates trompe-l’Å“il drawings (2D images designed to create an extremely realistic 3D optical illusion) using anamorphosis projection — a technique requiring the viewer to look at the drawing from a designated vantage point in order for the illusion to work. Too much fancy talk for saying the guy’s art extracts more holy-shit’s from passersby than a 5-legged purple elephant.

Watching him work his magic is even more fascinating:

The Pavement Picasso finds inspiration in a wide range of niches — from the art of the great masters, to nature, to famous people, to low-brow pop culture currency. (Spiderman, we’re looking at you.)

Since the early 90’s, the artist has anamorphosized the streets of England, Germany, Australia, the U.S., and Belgium, using nothing but chalk, a camera and buckets of patience to transform our magicless urban sidewalks into fantasy scenes that truly suspend disbelief.

6EMEIA STROM DRAIN COVERS

It’s official, the best street art does come from Brazil. What a culture of seeing a canvas where no one else does. Case in point: storm drain graffiti by Brazilian duo 6emeia — artists Leonardo Delafuente (a.k.a. “D lafuen T”) and August Anderson (a.k.a. “SÃO”).

The team also decks out fire hydrants, manholes and various other urban hydraulics standbys. Their projects are inspired by the need for change and color in urban landscape, driven by the idea that artistic tradition has always inspired the greatest social change. They aim to create a new language between art objects and art audiences, calling their art “drops of color in an immense gray bucket.” Eggg-zactly.

BULGARIAN GRAFFITI

At a superficial glance, the following street art may appear to be just another not-all-that-exceptional piece of graffiti. But what makes it exceptional is its cultural context: it’s situated around one of the largest surviving monuments of Communism left untouched in Bulgaria as sombre reminders of life before democracy.

And what makes it so powerful is that it truly takes graffiti culture to its roots of anti-authority rebellion: under Communism, free expression and the artists who practiced it were severely oppressed, if not persecuted, their creative vision squeezed tight in the crushing fist of the regime. Today, this graffiti fence is how artists have symbolically and physically confined Communism to its tiny and uncomfortable compartment in culture’s collective memory, where it slouches gray and demolished in the grip of free creative expression.

TOYNBEE TILES

Some of the most successful graffiti and guerrilla work has an element of mystery to it. (No, we’re not talking about Banksy here — the dude now has a website, we think he’s got about as much mystery left as a Red District “exotic dancer.”) We’re talking about what could easily be one of the largest guerrilla art mysteries of our time.

It all began sometime in the 80’s when the cryptic Toynbee tiles first started appearing on sidewalks, inscribed with some variation of the semi-articulate phrase “TOYNBEE IDEA IN KUBRICK’S 2001 RESURRECT DEAD ON PLANET JUPITER.” Since then, more than 250 plaques have appeared in a number of major U.S. cities and a few South American capitals.

Like in this one spotted on Juniper and Filbert streets in Philadelphia, the main inscription is sometimes accompanied by other cryptic messages and political allusions.

The tiles have expectedly attracted an enormous amount of attention from conspiracy theorists and mass media channels alike, but the only widely agreed upon interpretation has to do with references to 19th century religious historian Arnold J. Toynbee and Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Even the material used in the plaques was a mystery until recently, when it was finally confirmed to be layered linoleum and an asphalt filler compound.

The leading theory suggests the movement was started by Philadelphia carpenter James Morasco, in his 70’s at the time, who claimed in a 1983 newspaper interview that Jupiter could be colonized by bringing dead humans there to have them resurrected. Although Morasco died in 2003, new tiles have since been appearing consistently, particularly in the Greater Philadelphia area (with the latest reported sighting as recent as a week ago), leading some to speculate that the entire endeavor is the work of a single person and Morasco was only responsible for the first few.

At the same time, plaque size and styling vary greatly across locations, suggesting there may be a multitude of artists involved — in which case we have to wonder what kind of Mason-like secret subculture is so cohesively mum about such a large-scale public space movement.

To this day, the phenomenon is a complete urban mystery that, despite prolific coverage in thousands of newspapers, blogs, local TV specials and even a feature-length documentary, remains unsolved.

Left you high and dry? Thank you, thank you, we’ll be here all week.

BP

Reclaiming Urban Landscape | Part 1

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 scaffolding has to do with Bambi.

Nothing says “give us back our space” like some unexpected greenification amidst the pavement-and-concrete dullness of the city. So we’ve picked the top 5 ideas that bring a tasty bite-sized bit of green to our urban stew of gray.

URBAN PARK(ING)

The PARK(ing) Project started in 2005 when REBAR, a San Francisco collective of artists, designers and activists, decided the city was in desperate need of an intervention: the dire lack of outdoor human habitat in downtown public space deprived people of their very basic need for a space to sit, relax and do nothing.

At the same time, 70% of the city’s downtown outdoor areas were dedicated to vehicles. So REBAR decided the way to go was to temporarily reclaim some of those parking spaces, feeding meters as a way of “renting” some precious outdoor space for up to 2 hours and transforming that space into a mini-park where people could just sit and enjoy themselves.

Think of it as a bonsai version of The Great Outdoors.

Since then, urban PARK(ing) has been popping up all over the world — Santa Monica, Glasgow, Sicily — producing the expected chain of befuddlement followed by amusement and eventually a delighted grin. And we say anything that brings more smiles to our sidewalks bustling with steel-faced pedestrians is a brilliant idea.

PARKWHEEL

The Parkwheel, a grass-lined wheel that lets you take the park with you, is the product of a student project aiming to make a social statement about the lack of green space in cities — and the irony of how we’re not even allowed to walk on the few public grass areas that do exist.

This nifty “park to go” came from David Gallaugher and two more students at the Dalhousie University of Architecture in Nova Scotia.

And, hamster jokes aside, we really, really want one.

ADIDAS GRUN

Ugly billboards are everywhere, polluting our cityscape with bad ads, uninspiring imagery and general corporate unseemliness. So when one pops up and actually brings something fresh and inspiring to our urban scenery, we dig big-time.

Like this one for the adidas Grun, a shoe collection of questionable design that may indeed look much better on your building’s facade than it does on your feet.

Spotted in London. (Why is everything better in Europe?)

GREEN GREEN SCREEN

Ah, construction sites. With their raw industrial scaffolding, they’re just about the ugliest and least outdoorsy city sight. So when something not only covers the big ugly but actually greenifies the sidewalk, it’s a very, very good thing.

That’s exactly what Japanese architecture studio Klein Dytham did in Tokyo back in 2003 when the city’s largest mixed-use development was being built.

The Green Green Screen spanned an impressive 900 feet, covering the construction site with vertical stripes of 13 types of living evergreens alternating with green-leaf-themed graphic patterns. The Green Green Screen stayed up for the entire 3-year duration of the development, delighting passersby with a parklike experience that every New York sidewalk could oh-so-desperately use.

EDINA TOKODI GREEN GRAFFITI

As much as we respect graffiti culture, it has become one of the most universal reminders that you’re in a city — nothing says urban clutter like a graffiti-clad concrete wall. Which is why we dig street artist Edina Tokodi’s green graffiti — moss installations transforming drab public spaces like neighborhood streets and subway trains into living, touchable art galleries.

The Hungarian-born, Brooklyn-based artist is appalled by our city-dweller lack of a relationship with nature and hopes her art sends us into “mentally healthy garden states” — she sees herself a as a “cultivator of eco-urban sensitivity,” and relates her art to deeper emotional memories of animals and gardens from her childhood in Central Europe.

We just wanna pet Green Bambi.

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BP

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