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.

After spending few days in jail for spray-painting graffiti on public walls, the street artist couple HOTTEA got redemption, and so decided to switch to knitting and started to do yarn-bombing actions around the city, changing paint for colorful threads.

“The HOTTEA knitting project was born after our journey in jail, but it was also heavily inspired by past experiences: A grandmother teaching the skill of knitting, anti-gay bullying from kids at school and, most importantly, the relationships that were developed along the way. The HOTTEA project embodies the similarities and differences in all of us. I wanted to base the project off an idea that had room for growth. We are always growing as people and the dynamic between us give birth to endless possibilities.”

We love knitting in the streets, from the classic yarn bombing applied to street furniture and plants (Magda Sayeg, Janet Morton and many others) to other actions like the ones HOTTEA performs: it is a simple, silent, playful and reversible technique to hack the streets and add some color to our urban panorama.

Images taken from flikr.com/photos/hotandtea

The dutch Fedor Van der Valk created an uncommon kind of hanging gardens. The project, named String_garden, consists in growing out from a ball of soil or moss any kind of plant, from small trees to strawberries, from simple grass to colorful flowers. These balls are hanged with strings to the ceiling – if indoor – or to other platforms. They are a redesign of the original japanese botanical style called Kokedama.

Even though we don’t know if the author of these “installations” is an artist, a gardener, or none of them, we think that the beauty of these images speaks by itself.

Images taken from http://www.stringgardens.com/

In our times, to receive a letter – I mean the one hand written – is an outdated and rare event. The japanese design studio eding:post and the botanical shop neo-green collaborated to try to bring back people to this practice and, at the same time, closer with nature. They created the leaf letter, a leaf-shaped postcard.
This idea was born from the old japanese postcard: in fact, the term “hagaki”, letter, is said to find its origin in the world “ha”, leaf. Indeed, in ancient Japan people use to get leaves as paper and send their messages folding the leaf as a letter.
Neo-green and eding:post have brought the old hagaki practice in our times, turning it into a modern and original writing paper. To set down our thoughts on leaves seems indeed less cold than writing them on a screen, so, next time, even if delivering times are going to be longer, we want to give nature a chance.

Images taken from www.designboom.com

What would McGyver do with tape? Probably he would save the world from a disaster. Instead, New York based artist Aakash Nihalani makes it his paintbrush to draw on the street. Using tape he builds geometric shapes, mainly isometric rectangles and squares, in order to show us the hidden geometry of the city, and of course to give it a touch of color and surprise.
His illusionistic, fluorescent drawings pop up from walls, sidewalks and windows, crawling upon the city’s structures and shapes, playing with any scenario which got chosen.

The great interaction between tape and its framework doesn’t end up within the city corners, involving people as well in the role of actors and part of the whole composition. Finding one of these installations is a face to face with the hacked side of the city, the one where street artists play and urban actors, like Aakash Nihalani, show us their truth, and that is probably why he points out that “people need to understand that how it is isn’t how it has to be”. He explains his work in this video, have a look!

Images taken from www.aakashnihalani.com

Two weeks ago, we took part to a workshop leaded by Jan Vormann, artist and creator of Dispatchwork, a nice, colored urban “hacking” practice which consists in filling holes in stone or brick-made wall with hundreds of lego bricks. It was a nice afternoon and we had the chance to talk a bit with the artist about this practice. He came to know very well the pieces he handles and can easily fix whatever kind of hole he finds with a fine, superior technique. It is interesting to notice (or maybe to remember) how much craftsmanship these small bricks need to be wisely combined, but it is even more to learn how to interface them with reality.

Building worlds made entirely out of lego is a reminiscence of our childhood but using them to “fix” wall in a urban hacking practice sounds kind of more grown-up game, maybe closer to contemporary street art practices, but in a reversible way, since legos can in any moment be removed, dismantled and turn back to their original shape. That is why we believe it is an of course more ephemeral, but also somehow less arrogant technique, to color and play with the city.

Photos by The G. Canyon in a Crack

We thank Jan Vormann for the time he spent sharing with us his art and his technique.

“Mr. Brainwash is a force of nature, he’s a phenomenon. And I don’t mean that in a good way.” With these words, the universally known street artist Banksy promoted in 2008 the first solo exhibition of Mr Brainwash. After seeing the movie Exit through the gift shop, we could not agree more with what he said. Once heard the story we came out astonished about Mister Brainwash’ ability, but not the one for making art, but for his extremely delicate taste for business. Not bad for a “mentally ill person with a camera” (cit. by Banksy). We tried not to write about this movie because too many people already did, but in the end we gave up, because the show was very nice.

Exit through the gift shop is a documentary about the strange evolutions in the life of a french filmmaker: Thierry Guetta, who found himself to be, all of a sudden, a famous street artist. The story provides an overview of the street art panorama, including some of its most popular protagonists, like Space Invaders, Shepard Fairey (we’re partial to his amazing work), and mainly Banksy, director of the movie.

As we read, the documentary wants to launch a critique towards the actually market-driven street art world, as the title underlines, but this critical vein is not what we noticed first. We were indeed much more involved by the funny story of Thierry, a character who would amaze any director without needing to act.

Even if we usually don’t freak out for him, it is time to give Banksy a chance, so please get out through the gift shop.

Later, we found online the complete documentary Beautifull Losers. Another story and another style. Maybe not that much fireworks but the same good feeling.

For some strange, lucky reasons, I manage to get into the opening of the XII International Architecture Exposition of the Venice Biennale 2010. Outside shiny models and drawings, in between the non-architectonical offer (which remains the most friendly to me), I got impressed by the nice work presented by the serbian pavilion, which possessed a special, playful ability, to involve people in its game.

Under the direction of the curator Jovan Mitrović, pavillion of Serbia shows two different installations, ideas of the collective Škart, born in 1990 at the Faculty of Architecture in Belgrade.

The first one, See-saw Play-Grow, chooses the see-saw to explain the concept of architecture as a meeting place (the main theme of the whole Biennale): the see-saw teaches a child to relate with the others, since it doesn’t work if you use it alone.

The second project, Plant-o-biles, was conceived starting from these few verses, written by the serbian poet Vasko Popa:

My wife who I would do anything for

Told me once

I would like to have
A small green tree
That would run after me
down the street

The installation consists in a series of simple objects mounted on wheels, carrying soil, plants and flowers. The nice mobile disposals create a sort of  little garden moving in old pots, which is supposed to be carried by people, promoting a sign of friendship with nature.

Photos by Christian Bonin

Plant-o-biles reminds us other similar projects, like Moving Forest of NL Architects or Mobile Garden of the artist Tattfoo Tan, which we already discussed here.
For sure Serbia won our gold lion.

In may 2010, in Amsterdam, the garbage collectors decided to strike, in order to protest against the low salaries. The result of their action were streets full of trash bags and a postcard city transformed into an open air dump. In this circumstances, art took part in the city life, rendering the trash into something original and concealing its typical ugliness with a colored show. The artist Jesse Limmen decided to give a touch of color to the rubbish hills painting them with spray cans and creating an unusual splash of colors.

Images taken from http://web.me.com/jlimmen/Site/Kleuren_-_Vuilnis.html

It is interesting to notice that, not so far away, in Spain, in the city of Barcelona, lives an artist who uses garbage as the raw material of his art. Francisco de Pajaro uses the everyday rubbish found on the street to create particular and colored art works: he puts together pieces of different things (from old tables to doors, from monitors to refrigerators, from shoes to chairs, but also suitcases, simple cardboard boxes or garbage bags) and he draws on them, paints or writes his thoughts. Most of the times we can recognize his work for a small text which goes together with the work and says “El arte es basura”, literally “Art is trash”. In technical words it is true, his art is trash, but in a larger meaning this approach to art is, we believe, what is most far from trash. The tough message he leaves us suddenly reveals the strong, deep meaning of making art out of garbage, claiming without shame the origins (and the end) of his work to the frivolous mood of the more touristic streets, often far from the reality of the City.

Images taken from http://www.franciscodepajaro.net/2009/11/el-arte-es-basura.html