Water vs rock, gold vs green, 750,000 pounds of metal vs the natural world.Read More
Snails are not native. They’re a product of the Gold Rush, of boom and bust cycles, of California style disruption and enterprise.Read More
I've been working on a series where I feed 24k gold to snails. Snails were imported to California during the late Gold Rush for food; another way to separate miners from their earnings. It didn't work. They escaped from snail farms in San Jose and Los Angeles and our gardens have suffered ever since.Read More
Before the TifFAUXny Snails, my first snail daydreams involved recreating Damien Hirst's Spot Paintings. I wanted to watch color and structure disintegrate, degrade, migrate off the canvas, cease to be legible as Art. It would be a triumph of the organic, meandering line over the formal, mechanical grid. And it needed to be as large as my disdain for the original source material.
What is artistic infrastructure? Is it something we can we map with schematics and diagrams; trace a map of all the white walls, track lights, picture hangers, and pedestals that comprise our creative lives? Could we use that to chart a course towards prosperity – turn left at the DIY art collective, right at the storefront gallery, and straight on towards a solo show…
The latest Urban Camo Seed Bomb. Well, actually this was the first one I painted – I just didn’t get around to documenting it until now. Now it lives on an onramp embankment in East Oakland. A sad little spot full of weeds and trash; it seemed fitting and perhaps a more fertile locale than a sidewalk tree well.
Right now I’m working on some non-bottle cap Urban Camo Seed Bombs. I’m not sure how I feel about this particular one, it’s not quite working for me. Perhaps it’s because I “cheated” and used watercolor pencils and gouache to achieve the metallic quality? Also, I’m not a classically trained painter – I actually hadn’t painted in over nine years when I started this series – and this particular seed bomb was difficult. There’s something simple about painting logos and text. Having to accurately render non-graphic objects was a challenge.
Anyway, I’m constantly seeing condoms and condom wrappers on the ground in my neighborhood so I figured this was a fitting addition to the series.
“Meh, I could have done better”. For nebulous reasons this particular Urban Camo Seed Bomb doesn’t do it for me. I realize it’s unrealistic to be madly in love with my entire portfolio but as a perfectionist it’s difficult feeling underwhelmed by my work. It just smacks of defeat and sadness and being stuck in the artistic equivalent of the line at the DMV.
So in the interest of “redeeming” this piece and my feelings around it, I placed it in one of my very favorite spots in Fruitvale – the remains of the Old Fruitvale Hotel. Boarded up for years (decades?), the hotel is a favorite spot for taggers, the homeless, and people looking to dump trash.
A simple example of 19th century stick architecture, the Old Fruitvale Hotel was built in 1894 when “Fruit Vale” was an unincorporated neighborhood of small cherry and apricot orchards (it was annexed in 1909). The oldest extant commercial building in Fruitvale, the hotel stood directly across from the Fruitvale Station (train not BART, although it’s near that too) and serviced riders on the Southern Pacific , Interurban Electric Railway (IER), Key System, and California Railway lines during different points of it’s existence.
Oh, the sights those blind, boarded up eyes must have seen! The railside greetings and goodbyes, the passing of the torch from transit system to transit system, the rise and decline and promised return of a beautiful and complicated neighborhood. Such lovely secrets, such a lovely state of decay, and such a “meh” little seed bomb tucked away at it’s feet.
After about a month in inclement weather it became obvious this seed bomb was tucked too far under the eaves for successful disintegration/germination. A week later it was gone. Turns out that interesting places attract attentive eyes and that tiny slips of urban art rarely go unnoticed for long. Back to the Ideal Placement drawing board!
Both of these Urban Camo Seed Bombs disappeared within one week. The Pyramid Brewing cap is from the Bay Trail near the High Street Bridge. The Holiday Shiner cap is from the freeway onramp at 40th Avenue and 12th Street.
I really wonder where these go. Are my neighbors collecting them? Are magpies and crows scooping them up? Are dogs wolfing them down? I guess I’ll never know. But in the future I should probably aim for more covert seed bomb placement.
As we established two weeks ago - I broke an in-progress Faberge Egg Seed Bomb and was very, very angry. So angry that I went out this weekend and had my nails painted to match the lost egg. We all grieve in our own unique ways.
BURIAL SERVICE FROM THE BOOK OF COMMON ART PRAYER
In sure and certain hope of inclusion in the permanent collection and 15 million years remembrance through our Lord Andy Warhol, we commend to Almighty MOMA our art piece the Tsarevich Fabergé Egg Seed Bomb; and we commit this art piece to the list of lost artworks; paint to paint; egg shell to egg shell; poppy seed to poppy seed. Artforum bless him and keep him, Artforum make his pages to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him good reviews. Amen.
“…my family despised Faberge objects as emblems of grotesque garishness.”
― Vladimir Nabokov
What does it mean to destroy your own art? To have that destruction be writ into the very bones of it’s conception and execution? (no pun intended) I’ve spent five years and counting making seed bomb simulacras of trash for the Urban Camo Seed Bomb series – I’m used to turning my art over to the rains, the winds, and the trash collectors. But what if I’m tired of passive submission; of fading and melting and other synonyms for a gradual slide into non-being? What if I want to dream big, to let those dreams edge into darker terrain, to Fuck. Shit. Up.
Inspired to take the themes of the Urban Camo Seed Bomb series in a more dynamic direction; I thought on destruction, value, and taboo; as well as their inverses creation, unimportance, and social acceptability. How is cultural importance conferred and what crises are caused by the non-consensual revocation of that status? The more I thought, the more I kept coming back to the works of Peter Carl Faberge. I remember the 1996 Faberge show at the de Young and the captivating, glittery insincerity of it all. Those charmingly vacuous objects d’art branded with a name that personifies elegance, excess, luxury, and their negation; the beauty of the object irretrievably mired in the fate of their owners. The last gasps of an empire can be heard in their presence and it turns out that eggs, like tsars, don’t do well up against a wall.
So I decided this new series would artistically explore that hard, severe moment where worth and status are severed from their vessels. No more lengthy disintegrations and ephemeral wastings. This would be about the moment where metaphorical eggs meet metaphorical walls and (every)thing becomes lost in that not-so-pleasant exchange of greetings. Towards this end I would create a series of seed-filled eggs painted to resemble Faberge’s and smash them in an empty Fruitvale lot. This arc from cultural object –> delicately painted rendition –> shattered mess –> blossoming flowers would serve to highlight the arbitrary status of Worth through a crisis point of wanton, uncomfortable destruction – with a bit of deferred transformative growth (albeit on a different value axis) promised at the end.
Speaking of deferred results…
It took six months between finishing the last egg and scheduling Fauxberge Revealed (which I perhaps too cleverly named after Faberge Revealed, the international traveling exhibit of Faberge Eggs). I needed to say goodbye, and after a year of touching paint to fragility I was still intimidated by the subject’s vastness. I needed a better handle on it’s relationship to my art and life in order to let it all go and say,
“This may look delicate but it will only break by choice, never by accident, and I choose to break it now.”
It took six months of studious procrastination to design a show as full of crystaline contradictions as the eggs themselves. For when your art commits suicide, what kind of note does it leave? And how does one craft a eulogy brimming with cheerful optimism and positivity to mark the occasion?
It took six months to finally answer this – you dedicate it to the things you proved stronger than. I never expected to make it through 2010 – I planned to buy a fabulous New Look dress and toss myself in the bay in a dramatic gesture worthy of Kim Novak in Vertigo. Eighteen months later, when depression reared it’s head once more, I sat in the dark listening to trains and contemplating less cinematic acts of conscious self negation. So for Fauxberge Revealed I stole the outfit from one personal crisis moment and the location from another because three years on, I simply refuse to break. Those ghosts cannot pick at my cracks, cannot find a foothold in the life I’ve made in the interim. I am stronger than my art, my goodbyes, my stubbornness, and the constellation of inspiration points that went into this series – and this is where I make my stand.
“This may look delicate but it will only break by choice, never by accident, and I do not choose to let it break. Ever.”
So I wiped away the tears, put on my party dress and egg bandolier, invited 50+ people to meet me on a corner in Fruitvale, and handed them a map to the eggs. In hindsight, I should have pushed people further into the neighborhood or better integrated the eggs into the surrounding civic infrastructure. Afraid of breaking either my friends or my neighborhood, I contracted the exhibition field from 4×4 to 2×3 square blocks; altering the show’s sense of immersion and discovery.
Since all my art is a love letter to place, I feel like this last minute revision amounted to turning “I love you Fruitvale! Let’s make beautiful things together!” into an emotionally avoidant “I really like you a lot! But I’m not really ready to call this a relationship!” The neighborhood deserves more faith in its strength and gentleness; in its self determinism around breaking and brokenness; in its status as an important creative site. By questioning my trust in it, I failed to do it justice in that regard.
However, some measure of my “meh” was redeemed by collecting all the eggs into my bandolier and leading the crowd to the train tracks like some tsarina-turned-1950’s-beauty-queen-turned-cult-leader. This image is worth a dozen painted eggs to me.
And the actual breaking of the eggs? I did not cry, I did not lose my nerve, people seemed equal parts horrified and charmed, and it was a fitting tribute to things destined to break and destined to remain unbroken. I’m not sure where to take my explorations of value, ephemerality, and artistic seed bombing next – I suppose 2015 has an answer in store for me?
Until then, I’m keeping an eye on the train tracks – not for a way out, but for a sign of beautiful beginnings.
All in all it was just another poppy sprouting against the wall…
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
- Newton’s Third Law
If the Urban Camo Seed Bombs were an exercise in patience and observation, the Fauxberge Egg series is an exercise in instant, almost violent, gratification. Eight hollowed eggs filled with California Poppy seeds and painted to resemble Faberge Eggs; they’re destined to be shattered on the streets of Fruitvale, scattering their seeds and (hopefully) leading to a crop of spring flowers. A direct response to my previous seed bomb series; I’m continuing to work with themes of art as renewal, the impermanence of the art object, and the arbitrary nature of “worth”. Building on that conceptual base are the additional tensions of passive versus active destruction and precious trash versus trashing the precious.
Now to meet the eggs!
Imperial Coronation Egg and Pansy Egg
The Imperial Coronation Egg was a gifted to Empress Alexandra Fvodorovna in 1897 to commemorate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II.
The Pansy Egg was gifted to Tsar Nicholas II from Empress Alexandra Fvodorovna in 1899.
Rose Trellis Egg
The Rose Trellis Egg was gifted to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by Tsar Nicholas II in 1907.
Rosebud Egg (dedicated to Conor Fahey-Latrope)
The Rosebud Egg was gifted to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by Tsar Nicholas II in 1895. It was the first egg Nicholas gifted to her.
Clover Leaf Egg and Twelve Panel Egg
The Clover Leaf Egg was gifted to Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna by Tsar Nicholas II in 1902. It is considered too fragile to travel and is one of the few Imperial Eggs to have never left Russia.
The Twelve Panel egg was gifted to Barbara (Varvara) Kelch-Bazanova in 1899 by her husband Alexander Kelch. It is the only non-Imperial Egg I painted.
Twelve Monograms Egg
The Twelve Monograms egg – Also called the Alexander III Portrait Egg – was gifted to the Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1896 by her son Tsar Nicholas II.
The Renaissance Egg was gifted to Empress Maria Fyodorovna in 1894 by her husband Tsar Alexander III. It was the last egg he would gift her.
All my portfolio pics were shot by the wonderful Randal Alan Smith. You should consider him for you Bay Area art and product photography needs. http://randalalansmith.com/
A little backstory on this project…
Between working, sleeping, and socializing I split my time pretty evenly between Oakland and San Francisco. Given that most of that time is spent in SOMA (where I work) or Fruitvale (where I live) I have a passing familiarity with urban blight and the underutilization of green space. The specific issues – and by “issues” I mean observable symptoms not their underlying causes – in each area differ immensely. In San Francisco, urban space is a cage – the grid-like layout of it’s streets and the box-like architecture of it’s buildings marching up and down hills like prison bars or long teeth. With buildings pressed up against the sidewalk and one another there’s a dearth of front yardage, a dearth of tree wells and a general dearth of visually accessible greenery. However, this series is not about that specific set of urban issues. Sorry San Francisco, this series is very much about Oakland’s relationship to space.
In Oakland, urban space is simultaneously expansive and isolated. Lacking the motivation to grow upwards, everything spreads and languishes in uninspired apathy. Houses are cushioned by yards, businesses are cushioned by parking lots, and the streets are cushioned by tree wells. Which is not to say that any of it counts as well utilized space. Sure, there’s a great feel of openness and breathability to Oakland; but the cost of maintaining that open, urban space expands exponentially with the size of the space in question. If relatively wealthy San Francisco cannot properly landscape a tree well how do you expect relatively impoverished Oakland to properly maintain an empty lot, a small park, or the yard of a foreclosed home? How does a neighborhood who’s tax base (or political clout) doesn’t support adequate litter removal contain residents/landlords financially capable of landscaping their yards and tree wells en masse? Realistically, these things aren’t happening because Oakland is huge and sprawling and economically disadvantaged. “City coffers fall apart; the tax base cannot hold; Mere neglect is loosed upon public space.”
So how did I get from Oakland-has-lots-of-underutilized-open-space to the concept of the Urban Camo Seed Bomb? And what is an Urban Camo Seed Bomb anyway? Simple; when walking through my neighborhood I see more litter than plant-life and that wasted opportunity makes me sad. To combat this under-utilization of green space I’ve made a series of seed bombs painted to look like common trash – the idea being that my “trash” will blend in with the actual trash, dissolve in the rain, and eventually sprout flowers. So how are the Urban Camo Seed bombs constructed? The seeds I used are from the California Poppy and were chosen due to their relatively easy germination, their suitability for the region, their showy blossoms, and their status as the official California state flower. The seed bombs themselves are made from recycled paper, water, and flour that’s either pressed into moulds or flattened between bricks and painted using non-toxic water colors. Below are two of the dozen or so completed Urban Camo Seed Bombs. These are the Fancy Pants Art Portfolio shots.
And these are the Placed In The Urban Environment shots – specifically an abandoned tree well on San Leandro Street in Oakland. I walk by this spot every day and love the bottle cap mosaics. So much Heineken and Corona but not a single, solitary scrap of greenery! If successful, this project should help change that (although hopefully not so much that the mosaics no longer show).
And how has this little experiment gone? Within 48 hours both bottle caps were gone. Within an additional 24 hours the Corona cap came back but was severally mangled – it’s paint smudged and it’s body crushed. Within another 24 hours it had disappeared again only to reappear once more the following day. At this point I can only conclude that my neighbors are playing tricks on me.
LESSONS LEARNED 1) Bottle caps need to be pressed into the soil both as camo and as protection from the wind. The Corona cap was pressed into the soil whereas the Heineken cap was not – I’m wondering if this had something to do with their differing fates. 2) Pick more secluded spots. If people see an art they will take it. While a certain amount of Seed Bomb FAIL has been factored into this project it would be nice if not ALL of them disappeared. 3) My neighbors are either the best or worst people ever. Keep a close eye on them…