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Activism

Some time ago I wrote a post describing an interesting and crazy documentary about the unconscious art of graffiti removal. Recently WAV (We Are Visual), urban activists and artists from Germany, made up a project which reminded me about this documentary. During a trip to Russia they documented all the buffed walls they found on the streets of St. Petersburg, creating this way a sort of alphabet or, as they said, an ABC of the city, their own way of reading the urban context. The common act of covering tag or graffiti can be charged with different meaning:  it can be read as an unconscious form of abstractionism or, as in this case, as a visual contemporary spelling-book.

Also, sometimes it is possible to play with these sad stains of colourless paint. The artist Mobrst for instance uses buffs as a base for his own pieces. He deliberately has fun of this practice by writing ironic and sarcastic short sentences on buffed walls. In his piece Playing with the buff man he tried to find an acceptable shade of grey, creating a “dialog” between himself and the buff man who, unconscious of the game, had to paint over the stencils, againg and again. Mobstr is putting an issue, like if he was challenging the municipality to a duel. In another of his pieces he also thanks the city council for their “obiedient collaboration”.

Images taken from mobstr.org

Both artists are taking advantage of elements already present in the city frame, focusing attention on it in different way and, like in Mobstr’s case, underlining the absurd behave of a city who blindly act against any form of urban intervention without even looking at it.

 

I’m fascinated by the sun-shaped lamp, called Little Sun, designed by Olafur Eliasson, together with the engineer Frederik Ottesen. Eliasson was born in Iceland, a country where, during the winter, you cannot see any sunlight. That’s why he gives extreme importance to light in his works. Certainly everybody remember The Weather Project, realized at the Tate Modern, London, in 2003, where he installed a giant semi-circular object made up from hundreds of mono-frequency lamps, in order to recreate an artificial sun in the Turbine Hall of the museum. This new project is also about sunlight, but, this time, the small piece of art wants to be part of our everyday life, as the real sun. Little Sun is a solar-powered lamp, conceived to bring light to those countries were electricity is not accessible to everyone. As stated in their project web page: “Little Sun helps decentralize access to power in the world by making sustainable light available anywhere. It promotes economic growth in regions of the world where electricity is not available or reliable.”

On the other hand, I would like to show another kind of project: an intervention realized in Berlin, which concept lies on the opposite pole of Little Sun. Powerhouse 2 The People is a project conceived by the creative studio Cheesecake Powerhouse. What they did was give citizens the chance to take care of a small piece of their urban furniture, installing a switch on a streetlamp and letting people free to turn it on or off as they wanted, when they wanted. We’re used to have light in our life and often we don’t give value to it, sometimes we also waste it without even realizing it. This project faces the problem of sustainable energy-consumption, hacking the frame of the city, involving citizens and encouraging them to think about how their everyday life works. A small effort for a great effective result.

 

Money can’t buy happiness. Sure, but from now on it can make flowers and vegetables sprout! A nice new rework of the classic seed bomb has been created by the canadian designer Lea Redmond: the seed money. The seed money comprehends hand-illustrated  pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters, garnished with the playful sentence “in soil we trust”. Each coin is made by paper and organic seeds. More precisely, the pennies contain a flower seeds mixture inside, the nickels a vegetables mix, the dimes a herb mix and the quarters a salad mix. The paper coins are just a green way to make people think about the relationship we have with nature and with money. As the author says:

“what if  having a pocket full of seeds was a sign of wealth and prosperity? A coin was once worth the actual amount of gold or silver it contained. Today, its value is purely representational. A melted down quarter is almost worthless and pennies are mostly just annoying. Our paper coins aim to re-infuse actual value into physical money. Seed Money promises to produce a bounty of beautiful, delightful, and edible experiences.”

The project has a page on kickstarter.com, where it reached and passed the initial goal of 10.000 dollars for its development. Depending from the support they received, they sent different quantities of rolls of seed money to let everyone spread the message in their city.
What is nice is that they didn’t think about this plantable coins just for gardeners. Community members are encouraged to use their creativity and, for instance, leave the coins in their tip at the restaurant, in public telephones, in cracks and slots in the ground, public parks, or even playfully try to use them at the bakery and so on…

The project uses these organic coins as a medium to give people consciousness about the real value of money and, at the same time, let them the chance to make their life greener. You can order seed money here.

Images found on inahbitat.com

My street has no trees is not only a truth or a complaint we often hear about our cities, but also a new project run in Toronto that aims to beautify the neighborhoods, taking advantage of what the urban environment already provides.

The project uses Toronto’s Post and Ring bike stands in order to create original pots where to plant micro-gardens: a recycled plastic bottle is cut and turned into a small case for flowers or vegetables, then fixed on the top of the bike stands. Reuse and reinvent are the two key words of MSHNT; the micro-gardens are made to show people the enormous potential of public space and teach us to look at the urban environment  from a different point of view.In the web page of the project you can find instruction to build your own mini pot and bring some green in your neighborhood.

This summer 40 planters were installed in some of the main streets of Toronto. MSHNT is a public and participatory installation, an action call for everybody all around the world who want to underline the problem lack of plants and green spots in our cities.

The intent of the project is to raise awareness about the imbalance between the hardscape and softscapes of our streets, to encourage people to think critically about the transformative possibilities of our everyday environments, and to increase the beauty and joy of our neighborhoods.

Next time, don’t throw away a plastic bottle, it could be a small tool for starting big changes.

A few years ago, the landscape architecture office CMG was asked by a group of citizens to create a special garden in a precise area of the neighborhood. With the project Crack Garden, they created a green space from an area mainly made out of concrete, by removing some strips, cracking the material with a hammer drill and leaving this way only the naked ground of soil. Then, various type of flowers, herbs and vegetables were planted in these strips. This is how the authors explain the project:

The Crack Garden is a hostile takeover of a concrete urban backyard by imposing a series of jackhammer “cracks.” Inspired by the tenacious plants that pioneer the tiny cracks of the urban landscape, the formal rows of this garden create order amongst the random and mixed planting of herbs, vegetables, strange flowers and rogue weeds.

Images taken from www.cmgsite.com

Crack Garden reminds us about two other similar interventions. The first one is the artwork Cut made by Franziska and Lois Weinberger in 1999. The project was realized in Innsbruck University square and consists in a “cut” that crosses all the square, thanks to a straight removal of the pavement, in order to create an interruption of the public space. Inside the cut, flowers and little plants were inserted. Along with time, the pattern became homogeneous with spontaneous green grown in the crack. As for Crack Garden, this artworks was inspired by all these plants that grow in the hidden corners and cracks of our city, the famous third landscape of Gilles Clément.

The second project we were thinking about is the one of Depave, a group of activists and citizens based in Portland which goal is to remove unnecessary asphalt in urban areas, in order to replace it with plants and flowers. They also recycle wrecked concrete to make up little enclosures where to plant different seeds.
In lots of cities, the majority of ground surfaces is covered by streets or parking: Depave, through the removal of pieces of pavement, wants to re-establish natural environment, leading the way for green spaces in the city.

The Guerrilla Gardening phenomenon is slowly getting known and media are starting to get interested. But what is exactly the Guerrilla Gardening? It is said that is a spontaneous movement, kept on by common people who, tired of the decay of their streets, meet trying to revalue urban or suburban abandoned spaces through unauthorized gardening actions. The first group who recognized itself under this definition was born in London in 2004, thanks to Richard Reynolds.

The movement has no leader or manifesto, every group of activists is free to act in its own way and is autonomous from the others. However, there are actually some forms of “green attack” which are more common. The seed bombs, for instance, are little “bombs” made by wet soil, gritty compost and flowers’ seeds.  They have been created for he first time in 1970 by the activists of Green Guerrillas in New York. A renewed form of seed bombs are the Seed Guns, a work of the artists/activists Christopher Humes and Noah Scalin, who, in 2004, gave them the shape of 9 mm gun: red clay powder, dry organic humus compost, seed mixture and water are the ingredients of this peaceful weapon.

Image taken from blog.alrdesign.com

Seed Gun wants to be a memorial for all the homicide’s victims dead in Richmond, Virginia, place of birth of the two artists. But, beside from the meaning that the artist wants to attribute to his work, what is most interesting is the perfect fusion between a gardening instrument and an artwork. The concept of weapon itself is shown from the shape and, at the same time, denied by its funcion. Soil and seeds express  the slow, respectful and nonviolent nature of Guerrilla Gardening.

Watching this work, people are looking at a gun, but this gun is nothing more than natural elements: this is somehow the same that René Magritte tried to express in Cecì n’est pas un pipe, where he upsets the ordinary way of looking at the reality, telling us that what we see is not a pipe and arguing the process which ties similarity and assertion.

Seed Gun was inspired by the philosophy of the japanese radical gardener Masanobu Fukuoka, who said “The ultimate goal of farming is not growing of crops, but the cultivation and perfection of human beings”. This is exactly what the Guerrilla Gardening wants to do: improving our landscape, it improves, at the same time, ourselves.

Another interesting kind of seed bombs are the Seedbom: they have a grenade shape and one more time they express through an oxymoron their peaceful nature.

Anyone can create seed bombs thanks to manuals and instructions found in the web and join the GG battle. This is an open source urban intervention and, we believe, an open source kind of art.

Image taken from kabloo.co.uk

In october 2009, for the festival Art in Odd Places in the city of New York, the artist Tattfo Tan created the work Mobile Garden.

The project involved groups of citizens, students and artists who walked down the city’s streets bringing wheeled objects – from baby buggies and shopping carts to old suitcases, from chairs to skateboards. What you could see above these objects were no babies, food or clothes, but every kind of plants and flowers. The intention of the artist was to place all little mobile gardens in particular spaces, pointed out previously with some signs (which said “Plant here!”).

The perfect locations for plants were pieces of land unused and neglected or out of sight corners. All the pointed spaces were collected in a map, distributed to people in the neighborhood.

The use of particular objects, usually found abandoned or lying along the streets (shopping cart, baby buggies) powers up the performance, involving a level of provocation and reevaluating classic symbols of poverty and urban decay.

By placing the plants in abandoned spaces, the artist wants to invite people to reflect upon unexplored possibilities of urban land use, particularly about the lack of parks and green public spaces.
The performance is going to be repeated in june, 5th 2010, in Staten Island (NY), for a Mobile Garden Expo, but in the meanwhile it inspired some other similar works: the artist Shannon Young, on february 2010, presented a project very close to mobile garden in the Umami, Food&Art Festival in New York city.

Talking about Mobile Garden, we’re not saying anything particularly innovative: the japanese architect Gen Yamamoto (NL Architects), during the ExperimentaDesign Amsterdam in 2008, conceived a sort of “forest” made by a hundred of shopping carts scattered around the city, in which he planted trees and plants. This way, he wanted people to interact with his installation and “adopt” a tree, to make the city greener.
Other examples could be find in the Green Island workshop, developed every year in Milan in correspondence with the famous Design Expo Salone del Mobile. In the 2009 edition the work Bike Cart and Portable Garden was presented, which totally reflected the Mobile Garden of Tattfo Tan, moving little gardens above bikes an mobile containers.
More than this, in 1994, Lois & Franziska Weinberger, a couple of austrian artists, created Portable Garden putting plants and flowers inside little bags or different containers. The past is a good teacher.

All images taken from http://www.tattfoo.com/projects.html