Have you ever been walking around a town or city and found what looks to be intentionally left art? Something left behind, perhaps for you to take or just enjoy? Something tucked away, a visual treat for an alert observer? I was walking through Western Springs and came across an artfully built pile of sticks leaning against a tree in a park. Was someone making art? Was a town worker cleaning up the park and put the pile of sticks against a tree to be picked up later? Did he intentionally, artfully arrange these sticks? It appears that way. Or perhaps I see art where it isn’t. Perhaps it was accidental. Could it still be art?
Why did I give a pile of sticks, such a long and contemplative thought? Because that is the point of art. The artist has spent time, thought, energy, materials and often money to create something to get you to stop what you’re doing and think, reflect and perhaps alter your views or best yet, inspire you in some way.
Last week, while I was at the beach in New Jersey, I came across an arrangement made from found objects. It almost looked like a memorial, with a mound of sand, a feather, a coin, bottle cap and a magnifying glass. It was very small and could be easily missed. It was clearly intentionally made but was it left for someone like me, who sat in the sand and contemplated it? Perhaps the maker was watching from afar. Perhaps not but it did touch me. It moved me enough to photograph it and look into the Street Art practices of Art Abandonment and Art Intervention. The two practices are intertwined.
I first came across the idea of art abandonment in 1993, when I read about the artist Jill D’Agnenica, who had made 4,687 pink angels that she left across Los Angeles to commemorate the first anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Riots. A little history refresher: In 1991, Rodney King was beaten by four LA police officers after a high-speed chase. It was caught on videotape. Four officers were charged, three were acquitted and the fourth acquitted on one charge and the jury deadlocked on another. These acquittals are credited with triggering the 1992 LA Riots where fifty-three people were killed and thousands injured. Ms. D’Agnenica was stunned by the destruction to her city and chose to try to unite the city by leaving ten angels in every square mile of the Los Angeles.
Art Abandonment, at first seems like a negative term for such an uplifting art movement. When I think of the word abandonment, I think left behind, alone and frightened. Art Abandonment is the notion of being left behind in a good way. The movement shows us that there is a flip side to all things: Like the old cliché “you can’t have hate without love,” well the flip side of abandon is to find, to give; it’s a nice idea. Michael deMeng is credited with starting the group Art Abandonment, which encourages people to create art and leave it in public places. It is quite popular, his Facebook following has over 17,000 members!
There have been guerilla artists who have been leaving art in public for a long time; graffiti artists such as Banksy, Keith Haring and Arturo Di Modica, who created the 7,000 lb. Charging Bull, infamously left on Wall Street one late December night in 1989. I just discovered this fact! I always thought it was a commissioned piece!
Some abandonment art, such as graffiti, is meant to be contemplated by the viewer, and others, like Ms. D’agnenica’s pieces are meant to be taken by the public. I’d love to run across the concrete aerosol cans that Ryan Seslow has been leaving around New York City. They are part of his Street Intervention Program and hark back to a time when his friends were creating graffiti. He says they are gone within thirty minutes of putting them down. The same happens to the Hugman pieces, the creations of Lego artist, Nathan Sawaya.
Many street artists, such as Slinkachu, Evol and Isaac Cordel are using miniatures and miniature worlds to create cool and stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of scenes that they leave for the observant around cities. A miniature scene forces the viewer to approach it and get real close in order to view it. It is awe-inspiring and can be fun or disquieting.
To get into the spirit of things, I’ve begun making small floating homes that I will put little lights in and leave in the giant puddles that form around my town after a huge rainstorm. I am doing this for no other reason than I love to play with scale and I think passersby will enjoy them. I’ve been thinking about this project for a long time but just never chose to do it until I began researching the idea of artists who leave their work in public. What I have found distressing during this process is the idea of spending time (30 hours) and money ($100), to give art to people for free and not even get to see their reaction! I am amazed that the bull artist, Di Modica, spent close to $300,000 on his piece, although I’m sure he got to see the reactions of everyone on the news and in the papers.
Apparently in the wee hours on Tuesday, someone went through a lot of trouble to put faded American flags on top of the Brooklyn Bridge. A deputy commissioner at the Police Department, John Miller stated, “This could be someone’s art project or someone’s statement. We’re just not clear what that statement is.” Perhaps, Mr. Miller, the point is to make our own interpretations…
Kathleen Thometz is an artist and writer. She lives with her husband, kids and three doodle dogs. You can experience more about her at www.kathleenthometz.com