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It is always nice to discover an original guerrilla gardening project: Head Gardner, created by  Anna Garfort, turns milk plastic bottles into funny colored faces and re-uses them as boxes for plants. The bottles are then hanged up on street lamps or road signs. We believe it is a cool, alternative way to bring some green in our cities.

The artist uses to work with natural material, such as tree leaves or moss, and she integrates her art passion with urban ecology and sustainability, creating green ephemeral installations mostly in public spaces. As an example, we can mention the projects Change and Rethink, in which she sends messages writing on railings with thorns and fallen leaves. She makes our streets speak through natural and living elements: this is what we call a nice, accessible way to make art.

Images taken from www.crosshatchling.co.uk/

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Let’s open another little retrospective to explain a project we believe could be an ancestor of the modern Seed Bomb, a common practice of Guerrilla Gardening, which we already described in this post.

The project is part of a wider collection, Eco Redux, which is the name given to an archive collecting “architectural” projects and thinkings which appeared in the 60’s and 70’s, from sketches to more complex manuals, mainly trying to redefine the notions of “shelter” and “habitat”. Some of them are maybe just fashionable “anti-buildings”, as Peter Cook of Archigram thought about many projects of those years described as a “conglomeration of environmental elements”. But we believe we can see an effort to propose experimental techniques that go beyond architecture and design, to reach the level of performances or installations, mainly for the radical connection between materials and time, in a dynamic use of the succesive stages of formation.

As an example, we can bring the Chesterfield Armchair (1964-65) or the Grow Your Own Furniture (1973, recently reproposed in this version)

But what we would expecially like to bring to your attention is a project named Artificial Burrs, from the designers James Harold and Jolan Truan. In 1968, they invented a foldable small biodegradable plastic structure imitating the “hook mechanism” of particular kinds of seeds. These objects are capable of combining in order to create a dam of vegetation through time thanks to seeds and an hydrotropic nutrient solution spread over their surface.

The original goal for which this particular design was achieved was stopping the erosion cycle in arid areas through aerial distribution of the macroseeds, a practice already known since 1930. But what we suggest is considering this object as an earlier prototype of the modern Seed Bomb, which included also few intresting design characteristics like the hooks and the folding structure, that would maybe be interesting to re-propose in the current practice of Guerrilla Gardening.

Images taken from the Eco Redux archive

COMMONStudio, based in Los Angeles, created a funny installation called Greenaid. They transformed a candy machine into a dispenser of seed bombs, making the “battle” of Guerrilla Gardening more accessible to everybody. Instead of useless small toys or unhealthy gummy bears, we would find an alternative way to make our cities greener. In the webpage of the studio it is possible to purchase a machine that you are supposed to “simply place […] at your local bar, business, school, park, or anywhere that you think it can have the most impact. We will then supply you with all the seed bombs you need to support the continued success of the initiative.”

Images taken from thecommonstudio.com

We like this kind of initiatives, but we want also give to Caesar what is Ceasar’s. So, let’s jump a little back. In 2006, during the Design Expo in Milan, the artist Ettore Favini, working since years in the relationship between man and nature, was called to participate to Green Island workshop. He came out with an installation which aim was to make green more accessible on an everyday level. He put on the platform number eight of Garibaldi train station in Milan a machine selling transparent capsules, in which he previously placed seeds of different kinds of trees and a little piece of paper where he explained how to take care of the plants. He also wrote an e-mail address, where eventually people could send the coordinates of the place where the tree was planted, in order to create a map of the growing green. The installation tries to involve people, in a direct interaction, into a project of “reforestation”, inviting them to participate in the creation of  DIY green areas.

We believe that this form of interaction is a good choice for the health of our cities and, at the same time, gives the citiziens an important role as a protagonist and co-author of public space.

Image taken from verdecuratoda.it

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

During the first edition of the ExperimentaDesign in Amsterdam Biennale in 2008, a project was realized under the name of Urban Play. The project is deeply analyzed by Scott Burnham in the catalogue who presents the event: “Droog event 2, Urban Play. Here, Burnham tells us about the slow falling of our cities into a uniform pattern made of basic, common elements, such as housing, streets, transports, sidewalks, public spaces and so on.

Nevertheless, a touch of individuality is starting to appear – he argues – in the everyday urban structures, thanks to the big potential of human creative intervention. Only the effort and strength of citizens’ participation can bring back a little bit of human scale in the alienate contemporary city.

Urban Play is a project made of individual, semi-illegal works, often breaking laws or rules which discourage the spontaneous intervention of the citizen in the urban contest; all the interventions analyzed in the book are equal answers to the alienation of the contemporary city inhabitant.

Image taken from flikr.com/photos/scottburnham

Talking about “urban art”, usually known reductively as street art, such as graffiti on walls or, sometimes, galleries, the still undeveloped borders of this artistic scene show another reality, looking forward to a new model of urban design, made of citizens interaction with every-day’s surroundings through creative interventions, a sort of a DIY operation, made by people for people, without any license or order.

Images taken from flikr.com/photos/scottburnham

This kind of “hacking culture” or “artistic disturb” plans the use of old urban elements, in order to obtain the highest benefit for people around them. We are looking to an experiment, maybe a vision: human potential and landscape are cooperating together in the chance of creating a new idea of contemporary urbanism.

Canada. Living the American dream without the violence since 1867” said the t-shirt of a guy I met once.  From the peaceful Canada comes a peaceful urban guerrilla. I’m talking about three young artists from Toronto who want to revalue the neglected areas of their cities through their work.

Image taken from bladediary.com

The first one is known as Posterchild and creates public installations thought to interact with their sourroundings. Planter boxes made of wood and full of flowers are hanged up on lampposts, walls or traffic lights, while empty flyer-boxes are transformed into unusual containers for any kind of plant. Posterchild creates his works with the flotsam of the urban environment, he just processes it and return it to the city. The uselessness of these objects could be an opportunity, for artists and people, to act and dialogue whit the metropolitan contest, where the green is often absent.

Image taken from posterpocketplants.blogspot.com

However, the most original idea is the Poster Pocket Plant project, a work of two other artists who find the way to bring a bit of nature in our everyday city life: Sean and Eric create some “hacking” installations with the typical urban furniture: they tear pieces of billboards and roll them up in order to create a sort of a pot where to put some soil and plant flowers. In this way, they want to show people the enormous potential of public space and teach them to look at reality  from a different point of view.

Poster Pocket Plant Instructions – Courtesy of the artist

Both projects fall within the category of “DIY urban design”, as Scott Burnham describes all kinds of artworks born outside the official panorama of contemporary art, a new fresh underground culture which starts to emerge in our city.