Archive for January, 2010


Bring the Piano back, Hartman’s!

A downtown Ottawa landmark recently disappeared, and the decision to do so has got a lot of people riled up.
Zoom of KnitNut says it best…

“It used to be that when you walked into the Hartman’s grocery store at the corner of Bank & Somerset, the first thing you’d see was the cozy seating area arranged around the piano.

The Hartman’s Piano was a free, accessible community instrument. Usually someone would be playing it, very often an accomplished musician who couldn’t afford a piano of his or her own. The music was lovely. I blogged about it once myself (The Happiest Woman at the Grocery Store).

The Hartman’s Piano disappeared on January 5th, along with the cozy seating area. Overnight, without warning, a floral department sprung up in its place.

Now, instead of the strains of piano music welcoming you to Hartman’s and setting the mood for your visit, there’s a machine welcoming you to Hartman’s in its cold computerized voice. ”

It always used to put a smile on my face when I’d go into Hartman’s and there’d be kids playing the piano. It was that kind of space which quite literally anyone could use. It was a rare thing in the day and age of big-box stores.

And that feeling led to this… I’ve been making street pieces out of cardboard and paints, and I brought a few with me to Ottawa this past weekend.
larger version here

As often happens when I start making streetart, other ideas for street pieces have popped into my head. Downtown Ottawa’s got a real problem with Poster Nazi, a crotchety old man who walks down Elgin tearing down posters and handbills from street poles at seemingly all hours of the day.

I’ve been wanting to make some Poster Nazi-themed streetart for the next time I’m in Ottawa. Alas, I haven’t got a picture of what Poster Nazi looks like… so if anyone out there has a picture of Poster Nazi, post it here. It’ll be used for a good and funny cause….


New Streetart, and a question…

Well, I’ve been doing a bit of painting in what spare time I have these days, and this led me to start painting on cardboard. I ended up making a couple of streetart pieces, which I put up along Rue St. Laurent a few days ago. These three pieces were part of an art-giveaway series that I’m planning on working on, and so I just tacked them up lightly with a couple of thumbtacks.

And I’d like to toss this question your way, my dear readers. What would you say is wrong with the way that North American cities are designed today? I’ve been thinking about this question for a little while, and all I’m realizing is that I’ve gotten too close to the urban planning process to be able to come up with a satisfying answer.

I’ve felt for a while that the profession of urban planning pretty much trains its participants in the interpretation and use of a specialized language which in a way serves to maintain the position and power of a technocratic-interpreter class. However, I’m too entrenched in the specialized language of zoning right now (as per class requirements) and am looking for fresh perspectives. So therefore I toss this question out to you…


New Orleans thoughts, Part one

Working on reconstruction projects in New Orleans always leaves me feeling somewhat pensive and conflicted. The first time I was in New Orleans post-Katrina was in December of 2006, fifteen months after the storm. I went down to offer up my skills as a drywaller, house gutter and cook. I saw it as being a learning experience as well. I’ve never had to face the bigotry, poverty and institutionalized racism that contributed so greatly to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of poor black New Orleans neighbourhoods, and part of me wanted to challenge my view of the world by seeing its impacts up close.

I found myself feeling rather wary about staying in the city’s Lower 9th Ward, a historically working-class black neighbourhood. I felt like an outsider, a privileged university student who doesn’t have to deal with the everyday frustrations and tribulations of their lives let alone all the problems caused by the storm. I don’t have to worry about a rickety-looking levee crumbling and washing away my livelihood.

I also found myself thinking a bit about street art and its entry into both popular culture and the mainstream art world. Despite the anonymity of streetart, how much do colour and gender barriers still play a role in who gets noticed or who sells? It’s inspiring seeing streetart and graffiti becoming a truly international art movement and non-North American artists (such as Os Gemeos and Jace) getting noticed.
But I remember flipping through a newspaper last year and seeing two stories on adjoining pages- one of which was about how a Banksy piece on the side of a house sold for a record amount, while the other was about the unexplained death in police custody of a black youth arrested for spraypainting.

And that’s what I keep coming back to.

Turns out I just stumbled onto some old Swap Box pictures I hadn’t seen before, from Knitnut… I’m starting to select pictures for my yet-untitled streetart book, and some of these might just make it in.

Inside the box Larger pic
Bigger pic


Some New Orleans pics, thoughts to follow…

Everytime I’m down in New Orleans working on a reconstruction project, I always leave feeling somewhat pensive, conflicted, and looking for a chance to reflect on what it is that I’ve learned. I had intended to write a good long post about my experiences, reflections on my position in society and thoughts on streetart, urban planning and professionalism as a whole, but I’m downright exhausted right now and so that will just have to wait a day or two.

In the meantime, here are a couple of photos.

Faces by Freya on the side of a boarded-up house, Burgundy St.

Inside a gutted-out Baptist church, Lower 9th Ward

Enamel paint and paint markers on an old hubcap. More pics available at my Flickr page


Let Us Now Think Up New Deities…

Maybe I’ve read too much William Burroughs, but I can’t help but think our current spiritual and sacred life lacks inspiration.
I’ve long been wanting to put together a streetart series featuring small, shoebox-size temples to deities appropriate to our current city life complete with an offering ledge for passers-by to use and a description of what it is that each deity does…

Let’s see…what deities would suit today’s North American city? What deity would a street-artist like me or an urban planner (which I hope to become) worship? Feel free to contribute suggestions of your own to the pantheon…

Metronius- Metronius is the spirit of the city’s underground subway network and is believed to inhabit its maze of tunnels. He is typically depicted with four outstretched arms signifying the cardinal directional points, and stylized depictions of Metronius’s quartet of arms often appear at the entrances to subway tunnels. He is also known as the Guider, and when trains derail or power fails it is seen as a sign of his wrath. Sacrifices to Metronius are, without fail, conducted following one of these events in order to regain his favour. All who enter the tunnels and travel anywhere are under the power of Metronius, and those who exit the underground tunnels back onto street level typically knock twice on brass plaques affixed to the inside of subway entrance doors to show their gratitude to him for having safely guided them to their destination.

The subway system has given rise to other deities and cults, and none is so repressed as that of the Farejumper. Known by many names including the Dodger and Fleetfoot, statues of her show her face shrouded by cloth. Before the destruction of her shrines, those who worshipped her would leave offerings at an altar and call upon her to grant them the quickness needed to weave through or slip over the subway’s iron gates undetected and vanish. The more superstitious of the subway’s guards fear her evil-eye and distracting abilities and wear a host of charms to ward them off. It is said that thieves of all kinds offer up a portion of their plunder to her as thanks, and in darkened corners one can often see her totem sign- a stylized checker gate surmounted by an upward-pointing arrow- scrawled on a wall.

Status- Status is worshipped in many forms by a variety of social groups. Among the well-off, he is known as the Protector and by a host of other names and is seen as the defender of their priviledged place. Those with second-floor bedrooms will often mount a small statue in his honour upon the highest pillar in the staircase’s bannister or else upon the wall at the second floor threshhold. He therefore is seen as guarding the house’s inhabitants against a precipitous tumble down the social ladder. Members of the lower-classes will worship Status as the Advancer and the fulfiller of aspirations. He is also seen as a guardian of wealth and a protector against job-loss.


New Orleans Bounce

Greetings from New Orleans…

Looking out onto the streets of the Lower 9th Ward gives you a veritable mishmash of sights. Some places are abuzz with swarms of construction and framing workers, bulldozers, earth movers and pickup trucks of all kinds weaving about to one of the many houses being thrown up or refinished. Housing construction is taking off here, led by Brad Pitt’s Make It Right foundation. Its raised experimental houses, designed by some of the world’s leading architects, sit uncomfortably amidst their surroundings on their concrete stilts like pastel blocks or children’s toys. In other places, only weed-covered foundations remain…here a still-standing stretchh of perimeter fence, there concrete steps that lead to nowhere.

Down here I’ve put up some street art and took a lot of pictures that I’ll upload once I get back home. I’ve also talked to some folks from Nola Rising who have been involved in some great community-building projects and have others in progress. New Orleans has become a destination of choice for some of the biggest names in street art, including Banksy, Swoon, and Dan Witz.

I’ve been doing some reading on vernacular sculpture projects to fill my head with ideas for the Champ-De-Mars redesign, and I’d like to introduce some of you to one of my all-time favorites- the Rodia Towers of Watts, CA. They were built over a period of three decades by one man from steel , mortar and scrap porcelain and glass tiles.
A short film
Rodia Towers Wiki
An incredible spherical panorama view of the Rodia Towers