Before I Die
With help from friends and neighbors, I turned the side of an abandoned house in my neighborhood into a giant chalkboard to invite people to share what is important to them. “Before I Die” transforms a neglected space at the corner of Marigny and Burgundy in New Orleans into a constructive one where we can learn the hopes and aspirations of the people around us. I believe the design of our public spaces can better reflect what’s important to us as residents and as human beings. The responses and stories from passersby while we were installing it have already hit me hard in the heart. Once the wall is filled, we wash the board with water and start with a clean slate again. We are documenting all responses and some will be included in a book.
I Wish This Was
Many cities are full of vacant storefronts and people who need things. My New Orleans neighborhood is still without a full-service grocery store. What if residents could influence the types of stores and services that enter their neighborhood? So I made these fill-in-the-blank stickers to provide an easy tool to voice what we want, where we want it. Just fill them out and put them on abandoned buildings and beyond. The stickers are vinyl and they can be easily removed without damaging property. It’s a fun, low-barrier tool for citizens to provide civic input on-site, and the responses reflect the hopes, dreams, and colorful imaginations of different neighborhoods.
This project launched in New Orleans with support from the Ethnographic Terminalia exhibit Nov-Dec 2010 at Du Mois Gallery. Thousands of free stickers were available in corner stores, cafes, bookstores, bars, hair salons, and other places around the city. Grids of blank stickers and a permanent marker were also (and still are) posted on vacant storefronts to invite passersby to write their thoughts. These vinyl stickers will ensure that future business owners can easily remove them without leaving a mark like the residue of DIY paper stickers. Since May 2011, I’ve returned to the original stickers I began with, so they are fade-resistent high-gloss with a back slit for easy, on-the-go peeling.
Turku, Finland is the 2011 European Capital of Culture and as part of their programs Flux Aura and Artist as Neighbour, I was invited to create a public art project in a residential area. Near the University of Turku is a pedestrian/bike path nicknamed Uraputki, or “Career Path,” because it is a popular route that students take from their residences to the university. To remind students of the larger picture, this project transforms the “career path” into an interactive space with fill-in-the-blank sentences stenciled on the pavement that say “When I was little I wanted to be ____. Today I want to be ____.” in Finnish, Swedish, and English. Passersby can use colored chalk to write directly on the pavement and reflect upon their larger life choices, as well as learn about the lives and goals of the people around them. The project is created with temporary spray chalk so it will fade with the weather and foot traffic.
This project is about comparing yourself today and when you were young, reflecting on how you’ve changed or stayed the same, and thinking about the desires you had as a child when money was no object. The path has a constant flow of pedestrians and bikers and almost all the response spaces were already filled by the time we finished installing it. Some favorites: “When I was little I wanted to be a princess. Today I want to be an electrician.” “When I was little I wanted to be a bird. Today I want to be a speech therapist.” “When I was little I wanted to be a grown-up. Today I want to be a kid.” Sun and rain erase the responses and the installation starts again.
I’ve been working with the good people of Hypothetical Development, who had a great public art idea: to create signs depicting fanciful futures for neglected buildings in New Orleans. The large 3 feet x 5 feet renderings, created by different artists, will be posted directly onto the buildings they depict. They pose playful visions of fantastic futures and turn public space into fun brainstorming sessions for urban planning. They’re like real estate signs in the spirit of Archigram!
To reference my neighborhood’s need for affordable fresh groceries and to pay homage to Mr. Okra, I reimagined a local vacant storefront and made this collage where food trucks turn into fresh produce fountains while friends and lovers sit on giant carrots. No fresh produce, meat, or seafood in your neighborhood? No problem. The Mobile Cornucopia will come to you and provide a never-ending flow of fresh local fare. Take the food truck escalator to food truck heaven, and enjoy the revelries surrounding this daily hub for grub. We’ll have so much produce we can use it as furniture!
The first batch of signs have been installed around the city. A Preview Party was held Dec 2010 in the secret loft in Beckham’s Book Shop, and Du Mois Gallery hosted a full exhibit in April 2011. While making the collage, I was so very happy to add the army of carrot benches, which was inspired by one of my favorite public spaces in front of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul.
Did you know squirrels didn’t arrive on Governors Island until 1931? That’s right. To bring local history to the streets, I stenciled 20 landmark events in the history of Governors Island along the sidewalk. From a bucolic nutfest to a military base to a future public park, the mysterious island just south of Manhattan has gone through a lot. As visitors walk along the path, they can easily get their learn on about the local area while enjoying a leisurely stroll. Created with temporary spray-chalk, the Pedestrian Timeline was part of the Figment public art event on Governors Island in June 2008. Approximately 300 feet long.