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Sunday, March 12, 2017

Public Art, Tiny Space

Some years ago I used to walk down the same street every day, morning and evening.

Here in the UK, people who live on the ground floor frequently have a little bay window in their front sitting room that is easily seen from the sidewalk. It is expected that anyone can look in, so these windows are either concealed with lace curtains or else decorated with a collection of items which presumably reflect the occupant's interests.

One day I noticed that a particular window displayed a miniature room identical to the real one behind it.

It amused me.

In my daily trek past this window I began to observe that every day there were subtle changes in the miniature room: a newspaper on the chair, which I discovered was a photocopied miniature of that very day's edition, and a cup of coffee that was gradually emptied as the day wore on, a plate of biscuits similarly diminished.

Sometimes a little jumper was left over the back of a chair. On rainy days a tiny umbrella leaned against the wall near the door. In the winter there was a coal scuttle near the tiny fireplace. Sometimes a pair of spectacles were left on the side table. On Saturday mornings there were cleaning things in the tiny room...a broom, a featherduster, things like that.

I was enchanted and intrigued. Someone knew that people stopped to peer in. Someone was having genuine fun.

There is a small book by Keri Smith called "Guerilla Art".  In it she offers inspiration on creating unauthorized art in public places.

I created the Faerie Garden at the Lisson Grove Moorings to engage young children in a process of art which they could own. I planted it in an old porcelain sink, at a height convenient for young children to reach in and touch. I put a tiny house at the end of a gravel footpath. I posted a little sign: "Faerie Garden in Progress". I included a few tiny plastic fairies.

From the privacy of my boat, I observed that many children stopped each day to play with the garden. They began to insert their own special objects into the garden. My favorite addition was a tiny mirror ball, which a young visitor told me was there because "Fairies dance at night". There were pieces of colorful tiles, shards of floral tea cups, a plastic holly pin, bits of colorful ribbon and shiny paper. The gravel path was rearranged several times. They planted new plants, a horsetail fern, thyme, clovers.The children began to take ownership of this tiny garden.

I repeated this effort in an old washtub outside my house in the States. Again, local children play with this garden.

I remember very well the pleasure I had as a young child playing with a tiny Winnie the Pooh figure in a planter in my home. As I arranged these Faerie Gardens fifty years later, I reconnected with that childhood joy.

Art is not always a private process. And it doesn't always hang on gallery walls.

I urge you to engage in public art making. Invite strangers in, and rediscover your inner child. Have FUN!

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