Gold Nuggets - An ARTsperiment

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.

Initially, I thought I would need to bait the snails into ingesting the gold with something more aligned with their palates.  "Snails eat plants. They crave fiber and calcium, I'm going to need to combine the gold with something more yummy." This lead to gold leafing wet construction paper, which is basically crack for snails. I am not the first artist to discover this.

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So purple construction paper + gold foil resulted in this. I was happy - not ecstatic - but happy. It's a little too mottled and not enough of the paper was ingested to give the impression of a solid gold nugget.

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But, you know, this whole projects was all an experiment so why not push it harder just to see where it could go? Would a snail eat straight gold foil without the fiber or calcium to wash it down with? Why yes it will... So long as it the foil is wet.

Snails have something like 12,000 teeth on their radula. They scraped off that gold like they' were peeling an apple with a sharp blade. Just flick flick flick and it was gone down their stomachs.

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And there we had it. After waiting for all the paper and grass to pass from their digestive tract, the snails created one perfect, solid 24k gold nugget.

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But what to do with a gold nugget produced by a snail? How does one display and contextualize it within the tableau of California history? I looked at museum historical displays and natural history displays and the more base methods employed at truck stops and tourist traps.

Tourist traps... You know the kind in the foothills where you can pay to pan for gold and take home your finding in tiny little lockets? Your momento of a re-enacted homage to California history? Exactly.  

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Gold Nuggets - A Collaboration with Garden Snails

snails, 24k gold foil, water, locket

edition of 4

2018

 

Box Trucks As Arts Infrastructure

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…

Just as the urban grid is facilitated and serviced by roads, bridges, public utilities, and architectural systems which we utilize but do not (always) control; so goes the artistic corollary as well. From museums to galleries to frames to pedestals to online image galleries; the art world is made of boxes (and rigid, box-like systems) that we work within, but don’t always direct. This box-like thinking is reflected in the bones of our language – there are white box galleries and black box museums, there’s thinking outside the box and thinking outside the building.

I would like to add a new box to the arts infrastructure lexicon. One with more vibrancy, responsiveness, and agency than many other systems of display.

Box Truck.

It’s My Art In A Box

Put your Art in that box
Make her open the box
And that’s the way you do it

*

Why box trucks? Four reasons – making and displaying art in box trucks is Accessible, Inexpensive, Discrete, and Modular.The first two attributes apply to individual creators, the second two more to curators or artists in aggregate. But all four combine to allow for a fluid planning, execution, and deployment cycle that can be owned at each step in the process.

 Back That Accessibility Up

I like big trucks and I cannot lie.

*

How many U-Haul locations are in the US? And if you manage to get blacklisted from renting U-Hauls, how many Penske locations are there? And if you manage to get blacklisted from Penske, how many Budget locations are there?

At each of those locations you’ll be renting a standardized truck. So a U-Haul in Alaska will have the same deck height and dimensions as a U-Haul from Alabama or Arizona. Hell, chances are that U-Haul has been to Alabama and Arizona.

Box trucks are a known quantity/quality. They have predictable dimensions, features, and special add ons. Does your piece require a ramp or a lift, a “Grandma’s Attic” or a side door? There’s a truck for that and chances are, no matter where you go, you can probably rent it. This makes the whole business of pre-making a site specific installation A) Easier B) Replicable C) Plannable.

The site specific installation –> The site standard installation

The site standard installation –> Goddamn this is easier than I thought

Making art can be daunting; making art that doesn’t hang on a wall or sit on a pedestal even more so. Overwhelmed by decisions and choices, it’s easy to become paralyzed by creative block. By providing clear, predictable constraints, it’s easy to think through, around, and outside the box truck in a way that productively challenges both beginning and experienced artists alike.

Cash Rules Everything Around Me

Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.

– Andy Warhol

*

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual income for fine artists was $44,380 in May 2012. How does this compare to the median income in your region? And how do those numbers stack up once you consider the dozens of professional costs – for show applications, framing, documentation, web design, and materials – that go into the business of being an artist? Probably pretty poorly.

 Now, if you’re crafty, you can rent a 10 foot box truck for close to $70. I’ve seen whole box truck projects pulled off for slightly more than three times that (FULL DISCLOSURE – none of mine have been in that range). And with the average box truck team consisting of two to five collaborators, even the $1k+ projects start to feel more feasible. That’s an Awesome Foundation grant, that’s a small scale Indiegogo campaign, that’s your tax refund check, that’s an approachable and manageable price tag.

 In the realm of Big Art this is cheap; and not in the tacky, low rent connotation of the word. Cheap as in accessible, accessible as in low barrier for entry, low barrier for entry as in low risk. Which means this platform can allow fledgling artists to create more work, and established artists to create outside of their core practice since

 There are lots of painfully hip terms for this type of creative workspace – sandbox, incubator, laboratory – but their value has a depth that transcends buzzwords. When we approach the work/play creative spectrum and nudge the dial from here:

 work <–|——> play

 to here:

 work < —–|–> play

 You’re giving permission to take the kinds risks that push creative “growth experiences”. It’s deeply ironic that for many artists, putting food on the table means playing it safe with their practice. If every creative experiment comes at the expense of one’s established income stream, how does one weigh chances for growth against negative risk? Probably more conservatively the more time consuming and expensive a project is.

Little Boxes, Little Boxes

There’s a U-Haul one and a Penske one
And a Budget one and an Enterprise one,
And they’re all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

*

“And they all look just the same…” Is this always an insult or in certain contexts can it be considered a strength? Box trucks are ubiquitous in the cityscape and unless they’re cutting you off or covered in top notch street art how often do you give them a second thought? Exactly. Box trucks “hide in plain sight”  which allows their interiors to trade in secret magics and act as the proverbial blank canvas for creative interactions and expressions. Blinking in and out of focus as art, mobility, and the law require. SSSSHHHHH There’s nothing (and everything) to see here. **pulls down the back rollup door and turns on the engine**

“Does that truck contain an art piece or a studio apartment?” is a powerful attribute when you’re designing and deploying guerrilla pop-up projects. It’s often the difference between having an event and not, as it makes your work discrete and innocuous.

*I didn’t even notice it.
*It seemed like it belonged there.
*Eh, it’s a truck, I’m sure it will be moving shortly.

I’ve made a lot of art involving camouflage and urban space. I like to think my box truck projects count, and that they’re perhaps some of the best examples of a singular object disguised as a multiple. A false multiple if you will. A Simulacan’t.*

*Yes, that was bad and I feel bad for it.

  (Supermodular) You Better Work It, Girl

 Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.

– Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

 Box truck-based art functions, especially in group settings like the Lost Horizon Night Market, because each truck functions as a modular unit. Truck by truck by truck – we build complexity from smaller, more manageable subsystems. Designed independently, yet functioning together as a greater entity, this allows truck artists both the freedom and protection to create.

 For the push and pull between the trucks as individual art pieces, versus the event as an creative ecosystem, allows for beneficial boundaries between collaborators.

 “We’re all in this together.”  
“Not my circus, not my monkey.”

I’ve seen experienced artists balk at making immersive art pieces in a collaborative space without walls or physical barriers between the work. In fact, I’ve been the artist overwhelmed by that very creative scenario. Sometimes good fences make good neighbors. I don’t need to know how often you mow the lawn or whether your roses need pruning – I just need to know that you’ll feed my cat while I’m on vacation. In many ways, large-scale collaborative art is similar.

 “We’re all in this together.”  
“Not my circus, not my monkey.”

The box truck format allows us to experience all the benefits of collaboration

If You Give This Man A Ride

Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally
gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…
maybe chalk it off to forced conscious expansion:
Tune in, freak out, get beaten.”

– Hunter S. Thompson

*

Say it after me – “Accessible, Inexpensive, Discrete, and Modular. BOX TRUCK!”

There. You did it. Beautiful.

Now what are you going to build?

Urban Camo Seed Bombs Part 1

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.

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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).

In hindsight that shade of blue is off.

In hindsight that shade of blue is off.

One of these is not like the others.

One of these is not like the others.

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…

Sad and mangled - after it's first disappearance.

Sad and mangled - after it's first disappearance.