Guerrilla Art

We spent a night in Wanaka last week before our tramping trip. While wandering around town looking for a likely spot for dinner, we came across some poems stuck onto a bridge railing. 

Like a Banksy painting, the poems were certainly not ‘legal’ and were no doubt frowned upon by the local authorities. But also Banksy-like, they made passersby smile and think.

Years ago, when my husband and I lived in State College, Pennsylvania, we regularly took our walks in the agricultural fields near the edge of town. Along the path, shortly after leaving the neighbourhood, someone had installed a tiny section of sidewalk. Embedded in the concrete was the poem ‘Where the Sidewalk Ends’ by Shel Silverstein. There was no indication of who had installed the poem, and it was tucked away beside the field as though it had been surreptitiously installed in the dead of night. 

There are municipally sanctioned examples of Guerrilla art—art that appears in unlikely places. The poetry among the rocks along Wellington’s waterfront is one example. But there’s something particularly delightful about the non-sanctioned art—the amazing sand sculptures people create on the beach, the sidewalk chalk drawings that proliferated during lockdown, the splash of graffiti on train cars. It’s an expression of life and spirit, a proclamation of something uniquely human, a statement about human lives.

I think we all could use a little more guerrilla art in our lives. Thanks to the Brownston Street Bard for your lovely contribution. May the ink continue to flow from your pen.

Useful Crafts?

I do a fair bit of crafting—I weave, sew, knit, embroider, etc.—but almost all of what I create is useful. Clothing, rugs, bags, household furnishings … if I need something, I make it.

It’s unusual for me to create something with no utility at all.

Maybe that’s why I had so much fun making this fabric collage wall hanging. There is no purpose for this piece of whimsy, beyond fitting the ocean theme my husband declared for the new family ‘art installation’ in the living room.

I didn’t have to worry about whether the metallic threads would hold up to use, or whether the long embroidery stitches would snag on anything. I didn’t have to finish all the edges of every piece of fabric. It didn’t have to be machine washable, warm, comfortable, or something I’d want to be seen wearing in public. It didn’t have to be biologically accurate or to even make sense in any way. I could make it as silly as I liked. I could do whatever I wanted and call it finished when I got sick of it.

What started as a project I felt obligated to do (because everyone else in the family was contributing to the art installation) turned out to be a joy. I spent twice as long on it as I originally intended and, though I’m not sure it particularly counts as Art with a capital A, it makes me smile when I see it on the wall.

Maybe it was useful after all.

Building Castles

Patrick Dougherty is a North Carolina artist who builds amazing structures from tree saplings and sticks. His works are remarkably detailed. They evoke movement with their swirling lines and often skewed shapes. They provoke thought and reflection. Most of them invite you in, to experience them inside and out. And, by nature, they are ephemeral.

I can’t help but think we’re all building stick castles. We take the materials around us–the stuff life has dealt us–and build a structure we call ‘me’. Every ‘me’ is different and detailed, and many are wonky. Every ‘me’ is in motion–ever changing as we add new materials to our structure. Hopefully our ‘me’ invites people in for a more personal experience. And, ultimately, our structures are ephemeral.

Dougherty began building his stick structures with material that happened to be available in North Carolina. When he first started building structures in other places, he brought his materials with him. Over the years, he’s discovered that suitable materials can be found nearly everywhere, and he now finds what he needs close to where he’s working.

Likewise, we start off building our ‘me’ structures with the materials around us, and as we grow, hopefully we learn what we need to create strong selves. Hopefully we learn how to find those things, no matter where life takes us. The older we get, the more refined our technique, the more efficient and skilled we are at finding materials and building ‘me’. It doesn’t mean we aren’t wonky anymore–it means the wonkiness is perhaps more deliberate, planned, and stronger than it was before.

Dougherty builds about one structure a month, and he accepts that his artworks will only last two to four years. But though the artwork itself doesn’t last, its impact lingers in the hearts and minds of those who have experienced it. May our own ‘me’ castles do the same.

Spinning House, Spinning Life

Photo: OMI International Arts Center;

Photo: OMI International Arts Center;

In looking for something in the news that wasn’t depressing on this rainy Friday, I found an article about this delightful piece of art by Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley—a house that spins in the wind and tilts as it occupants move around in it. They built it, then moved into it for five days.

The article about the house in the New York Times includes observations written by the artists during their time living there.

Shelley’s final observation: “We’ve stayed spinning most of this breezy day. Four-and-a-half days in, I can’t say something definitive about this spinning. It is the prime feature, and joy of life inside this machine. I know it could become too much of a good thing. For now, though, it is what I like best.”

Isn’t that a great encapsulation of life?

The spinning is the prime feature and joy of life–the crazy every day whirlwind of school, work, family, friends, sun, snow, and rainbows. The emotional highs and lows as we spin in and out of the metaphorical sunshine are what give life spark and colour. The spinning keeps us on our toes and interested, because the view is ever-changing.

But spin too fast, too out of control, and we’re liable to get dizzy and fall. We won’t know how to step to go in the direction we want to move. We might lose track of where we are altogether.

I would love to see this house in action, and maybe even spend time in it. Alas, I’m unlikely to find myself at the OMI International Arts Center in Ghent, New York in the next two years while the house is on display there. I suppose I’ll have to remain in my own spinning life instead.


2015-12-28 13.49.30 smMy kids inherited their father’s obsession with making sandcastles. No beach trip is complete without a major construction project. We take a full-size garden shovel when we go to the beach—that’s how serious they are about it.

Their creations can reach well over a metre tall and cover twenty square metres of beach.

Last week, there were some families with preschoolers on the beach with us. When castle construction halted for lunch, the kids came over to investigate. They splashed in the pools and admired the turrets and bridges. They spent ages enjoying my family’s creations.

Later, as people walked past, many stopped, or walked around the castle complex to get a better look. Some stopped to chat or comment. All of them smiled.

This is what art does.

Not that sandcastles on the beach are Art with a capital A, but they are a form of creative expression like all art. And art is meant to be appreciated and enjoyed.

Art can make people smile. It can encourage strangers to talk to one another. At its best, it encourages interaction—with the art, with each other. It inspires. It provokes.

Too often, we step out our doors and put on our uniform—our “normal” face and behaviour. This is good, to an extent (norms of behaviour are generally there to help us all live together without excess friction). But all that uniformity is cold and sterile. Uniformity doesn’t encourage us to smile and talk to one another. I think that if more people expressed their creativity openly in public for everyone to enjoy, the world would be a better place.