Urban Camo Seed Bombs

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In Oakland, urban space is simultaneously expansive and isolated. Lacking the motivation to grow upwards, everything spreads and languishes along the horizontal axis. 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 single 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? Realistically, these things aren’t happening because Oakland is huge and sprawling and economically disadvantaged and the city’s hierarchy of needs is focused elsewhere.

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 represents an opportunity. To combat this under-utilization of green space I created 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 into plants and flowers.

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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. 

The below are the first two seed bombs placed in the urban environment – specifically an abandoned tree well on San Leandro Street in Fruitvale. I walk by this spot every day and loved the bottle cap mosaics. So much Heineken and Corona but not a single, solitary scrap of greenery! And how did the first placement go? 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. It’s almost as if the neighbors were playing a trick, but more likely the seed bomb was getting stuck on shoe bottoms and tracked around the block.

LESSONS LEARNED 1) Bottle caps need to be pressed into the soil, both as camo and as protection from the wind. 2) Bottle caps require more secluded spots; if people see an art they will take it.

The next two Urban Camo Seed Bombs placed in the urban environment 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 went. Did my neighbors collect them? Did magpies and crows scoop them up? Did dogs scarf them down? Did the wind blow them beyond my grasp? The Alaska cap did last a bit longer than the rest. I could still find it after four weeks but it never fully dissolved in a way compatible with nurturing the seeds inside it. I have to assume that bulk was an issue; they ended up being quite dense in a way that may have prevented sprouting.

LESSONS LEARNED 1) Urban Camo Seeds Bombs require a light, breathable construction to let moisture in and sprouting seeds out. 2) More discreet placement does extend their lifespan but counts for nothing without the first point.

It was now time for a pivot. Measuring 26mm across, bottle caps are a challenge of scale but with their simplistic logos that challenge exhausts itself quickly. After placing the first five bottle caps I turned my attention to larger packaging with more complicated designs. Three dimensional packaging, packaging with metal or plastic elements, packaging with elaborate text or graphics. I consider myself an opportunistic painter - I enjoy the medium but approach it as a conceptual tool rather than an expressive outlet; using it sparingly and without loyalty across my portfolio. The demands of creating a photorealistic, to-scale Dot’s box or Skittle’s wrapper was certainly unlike my previous painting challenges.

Preciousness and possessiveness made an appearance in the studio, staking an ownership claim on these new pieces. They started to feel different and I began to question the series. Did I really want to just throw them out? Maybe the more simple pieces could be left outside and these could be framed and shown in galleries? Wouldn’t it be a shame to see them fade and dissolve? Didn’t the art deserve better.

No.

Placing these was a non-trivial emotional exercise, a foreshadowing of what was to come with the Fauxberge Series. The Mike and Ike box, the Hi Chew, and the Buonamici were placed in quick succession and monitored for months while they dissolved. In the end none sprouted. I held off placing the remainder due to concerns with seed viability and yes, my own hesitancy to relinquish the more elaborate seed bombs to the streets. This ended up being a years-long break before the Dots, Skittles, and Strawberry Hard Candy pieces were placed. (The Emergen-C and One Condom seed bombs are both in private collections.)

LESSONS LEARNED 1) Urban gardening is challenging.

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IMAGE GALLERY OF PLACED SEEDS

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IMAGE GALLERY OF WHATEVER ONE I CAN GET TO SPROUT

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Urban Camo Seed Bomb Gallery