Growing in public

As part of my Growing Art show this month, I took some of my ideas outdoors & asked the photoriffic Donna if she would document my set-up. I have been wanting to take part in public and street art for the better part of two years, but three things kept me from braving the great outdoors:

1) The graffiti style

This summer, the Elliot Louis gallery put on a show with 7 graffiti artists. While I have been interested in graffiti for some time, the show really spoke to me about the challenges of melding street art and fine art. Many of the pieces I saw in the show came from incredibly talented artists, but the work displayed felt wrong on the white wall, constrained to their rectangular frames. When I researched the featured artists, I was disappointed to see that most of the work in the gallery didn’t match the artists’ street style. I then realized that the show was made up of pieces that were interpretations of what these artists thought belonged in a gallery. This made me wonder if my work, usually contained on a canvas or bristol paper, would translate when moved into the streets.

2) Private property & Vandalism

I’ve owned a business before. I’ve worked for small businesses. It’s really crappy to have your leased space vandalized. Your insurance may cover it, but mostly you’re responsible for the clean up and repairs. Note I’ve said vandalism. I don’t necessarily consider graffiti to be vandalism, however, the childish exercise of tagging is often reserved for punk kids, literally in a pissing contest for territory and cred. It’s ugly, and from what I’ve read, it’s the lowest form of graffiti. If you’re working with bubble letters, or a mural, it’s understood that you can paint over a single colour tag (yes, there are rules in the world of graffiti). So the exercise of tagging, in my mind, is better suited to a piece of scrap paper vs. someone’s property where they are trying to make a living. Of course, if you wanna tag Walmart, I’ll buy you the paint.

I wanted to participate in the public art movement, but where to put it?

3) Environmental responsibility

If my personal goals are to limit my mark on the planet, why would I consider buying toxic paint in a non-recyclable container that would eventually drain down the wall and into the water and soil? What kind of paste could I use to adhere paper to walls, concrete or wood if I found an appropriate surface. I really wanted to make sure that if I ventured out to do my work, I would keep my girl guide motto in mind: leave any site you enter better than you found it.

When making the pieces for the public project, I stuck to recycled cardboard and paper (made up of 90% or higher post-consumer materials). I wanted to use materials that would biodegrade if they were blown away or removed before the end of the project. Egg cartons, toliet paper rolls, twine, and cardboard boxes (marked with the appropriate symbols) were my chosen materials, and I stuck to chalk or charcoal for mark making.

Since the Growing Art theme revolves around mushrooms and the idea that art can grow from anything/anywhere, I chose a public park in my neighbourhood. No private property would be harmed in my project and if the park crew was unhappy with my set-up, they could easily disassemble and dispose of any of the pieces without issue.

My oyster mushrooms were hung in a coniferous tree and so had some protection from the elements (which is important when you’re doing an experiment in Vancouver in the month of December). My ring of mushrooms was placed in the centre of a ring of benches, further contained within a circular walking path. My tiny brown mushrooms were likely going to be the first to fall apart in the rain, and so were placed in the cracks of a park bench. The toadstool mushrooms were planted in the roots of a tree that already had a petrified mushroom cap. I will be heading back during the month to document the project.

It’s exciting! Even if all the pieces are blown away, removed or destroyed, I’m glad I challenged myself to this project. I really wanted to try this and I was my own worst enemy coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t. How else am I to learn what works, until I am willing to fail? To take a lesson from the mushrooms upon whom I’ve been fixated, good things can come from shit.

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