Art digest

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Plastic army|Guerilla knitting|Urban Plough|Plants on cars|Art Strike Chicago|Mighty manimal march|Sidewalk psychiatry|Sidewalk ‘police line-up’|The Encampment|The great wall of Los Angeles|Ghost bikes|Theatre of the Oppressed|The library project|The God Bless the Graffiti Coalition|The Psalters


Plastic army
An initiative to raise awareness of the war in Iraq, the Army Men Project involves taking green plastic army men and putting them in public places. In the picture above, they surround the top of a fire hydrant. Attached are notes that read “Bring me home.”

The largest demonstration included placing 4,500 army men along almost five miles of Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. It took nearly 60 volunteers an hour to cover almost 40 blocks.

The army men can, according to the project’s website, act “as green plastic pin-pricks to the American conscience, helping to create an environment in which it becomes increasingly difficult to ignore the war, the loss of life and the unending destruction.”
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Guerilla knitting
Knitting represents an act of rebellion for political knitters. Work by artists like England’s Kelly Jenkins remind audiences that “everyone wears a piece of knitting every day.”

“By knitting you are resisting capitalism and consumerism,” says artist Shane Waltener. “You are not responding to the fashion industry; you are making your own decisions.”
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Urban Plough
Fourth generation farmer and artist Matthew Moore protested the building of a housing development outside of Phoenix, Arizona. He created the subdivision in crops on neighboring property.

“In the 21st century, at the frontier, the urban and rural do not meet; they collide,” Moore says. “My art practice recounts my reactions to the changes in such landscapes, while also representing my attempts to reconcile the urban with the rural in times where many historical and cultural practices are in danger of being engulfed.”
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Plants on cars
New York-based artist Katie Holten employs a wide rage of materials and media such as drawing, installation and temporary public art works.

For her 2006 public art project in the Centro Historico, Mexico City, she used plants to cover a car.

“I am interested in creating works that contribute to an awareness of place … and reflect the vulnerabilities implicit in everyday life,” Holten says.
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Art Strike Chicago
In 2003, Art Strike Chicago organizers sent out a call for anyone to contribute plywood panel murals protesting, “The War against Iraq. The War on Drugs. The War on Terrorism. The War for our minds, bodies and spirit. The War of public education and social justices. The War on Us.”

Murals were installed on a day of action in public spaces throughout the city and documented online. The purpose of the project was “creative resistance and adding beauty to the world when it needs it most.”
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Mighty manimal march
Nicole Kistler set up 160 lawn ornaments on the lawn in front of an Arizona State University auditorium last year in Tempe, Arizona. “Mighty Manimal March” was designed to appear as though the ornaments were on a protest march or leaving class together, discussing the material.

The idea came from the irony of pushing animals off their land to build cities and homes, and then ornamenting that same land with plastic animals.

“We are happy to have plastic deer, but don’t want live deer eating our flowers,” Kistler said. “What if these plastic animals rebelled? What if they got together to find their flesh and blood kin?”
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Sidewalk psychiatry
New York graphic designer and artist Candy Chang encouraged self-evaluation in transit by posing critical questions on the pavements of her hometown. “Do you think that went well?” and “Does she know how you feel?” are just two of the questions she posed.

“A routine trip to work can prompt reflections on everything from futurejob goals to last night’s dinner conversation,” Chang said in a statement accompanying the project’s website. “As people sacrifice personal time for hectic schedules, these casual occasions for reflection become all the more important.”
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Sidewalk ‘police line-up’
Jan Brown Checco created a 5-foot-by-20-foot pastel piece called “Culture Crimes – Art Assassins.” Made to look like a police line-up, the piece had five historical figures – Savonrola, Hernando Cortez, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse-tung, and Newt Gingrich – featured for what Brown Checco called their “crimes against Civilization, and their lust for control of creativity, disguised as zealous reform.”
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The Encampment
Thom Sokoloski and a Toronto-based team organized The Encampment on the south point of New York City’s Roosevelt Island in October 2007. Volunteers collaborated with the team to research the stories, people, culture and architecture of Roosevelt Island’s history to create installations within each of the 100 expedition-style tents. This was an effort to create a collective memory of the former insane asylum locale and its storied past.

“The Encampment represents a fragile yet powerful glimpse into a community’s understanding of its history… . A time when no one resided on Roosevelt Island but rather was confined.”
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The great wall of Los Angeles
Half-a-mile long, this is one of the largest monuments to inter-racial harmony in the U.S. Officially dubbed “The History of California,” the mural is a pictorial representation of the history of ethnic peoples of California from pre-historic times to the 1950s. The project was conceived and started by Judith F. Baca in 1974 and completed over five summers. It took more than 700 people from a variety of backgrounds to complete the project.

Plans are underway to continue the mural as well as restore the existing portions which have faded with time, weather and chemical damage.
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www.ghostbike.org, www.ghostbikes.org

Ghost bikes
These are old bikes painted stark white and set up to memorialize a cyclist knocked down or killed by a motor vehicle. Ghost bike memorials exist in major North American cities, as well as in Australia, Brazil, Hungary and England.

“We recognize the horror of a machine that runs at an inhuman speed, indifferent to its peripheral victims,” says Ghostbike.org. “We confront that indifference as a tragedy in itself.”
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Theatre of the Oppressed
Started in 1971 in Brazil, this theatre acknowledges the reality that all dialogues have the tendency to become monologues, which creates an oppressors-oppressed relationship. Its main principle is to help restore dialogue among human beings, because all human relationships should be dialogical. Among those of different sexes, races, families, groups and nations, dialogue should prevail.

The Theatre of the Oppressed describes itself as “a worldwide non-violent aesthetic movement which seeks peace, not passivity.”
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The library project
A three-person artist collective in Chicago known as Temporary Services created this project. The group added 100 books designed by artists and others into the Harold Washington Library Center, the largest municipal, public, circulating library in the country. The library was unaware of this donation. It was an effort to bring obscure and underexposed writers and artists to a wider audience as well as rethink the way literature is categorized.

“Artists doing extraordinary work shouldn’t have to be famous or widely-published before they can have their work in the city’s public library. For once let’s take bureaucracy out of the equation,” Marc Fisher a Services member wrote in an essay explaining the project.

“If the library really does have six million books and periodicals, how disruptive is the addition of a hundred more?”
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The God Bless Graffiti Coalition
The God Bless Graffiti Coalition, Inc. was founded in Chicago in 2000. Organizers wanted to combat anti-graffiti trends. They’ve published Give Graffiti the Thumbs Up brochures to educate the public about graffiti, placed ads on subway trains and handed out graffiti “Bible tracts.”

“Instead of spending millions to maintain the dull monotony of the urban landscape and to criminalize creative youth, it is time we demand a rational policy towards graffiti.” Not afraid of art galleries, the group made a 70 by 40 foot wall of grafitti at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in 2004.
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The Psalters
An eight-person anarcho-Christian-punk band who seek to make music not for entertainment’s sake, but for the sake of praising and praying to God – just like the temple musicians who first performed the Psalms over 3,000 years ago. They’re nomads that travel with “2 dogs, 1 robot, 2 ships.”

“Christ speaks to us as we immerse ourselves in the musical heritage of the suffering servant … to learn how to make music for the lepers. Music that will help heal our leprosy, not perpetuate it,” reads their manifesto.

They are “on the road after our First Love, the refugee King, for whom we pledge our only allegiance.” With over 100 alumni in their ranks they aim to recruit misfits. On their MySpace page: “You can come along if you’re a miserable wretch, but unfortunately if you are generally a good person there is not enough room for you.”
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Issue 9

This article first appeared in Geez magazine Issue 9, Spring 2008, Art in an Age of Brutality.

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Issue 9, Spring 2008

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