Tuesday, August 21, 2007

When prompted-- RUN!

I had dinner last night with two really good friends. The idea was to get together and talk about project ideas, job searches, whatever each person needed help with. Of course for me, the talk was about figuring out which of the three (top of the heap) ideas to pursue. One of my friends said, "Why don't you work on all three?" Holy mackerel! What a novel idea! Part of me thought, no way that's insane, the other part of me thought, that makes perfect sense, of course I should work on them all. (And a tiny little part of me was cowering in the corner). Of course there is the problem of funding all of them, but I guess I can work on that at the same time...

So in light of that discussion, I thought I would throw out the other two ideas and see what sticks.
The first is the Coffee Cup Reduction Project (CCRP). The idea is to find out why people don't use re-usable mugs (since most cafes will both wash them and give you a few cents off your cup o' joe). I would do this through surveying people. Then I would work with a design program at one of the schools and have a design contest for the mug, giving the students the survey data to work with. Next, have the new super cup fabricated (in a lo-energy eco-friendly way!), take those cups back out to the streets and offer to give them to people for free in exchange for their coffee cup. (Pouring their coffee into the new eco-super-cup). From all of the cups and lids collected I will create some sculptures to display with the information on how many cups there are and over what period of time were they collected.
This idea also spun off the idea of the Disposable Culture - What a Waste project. Which would be a sculpture/performance/awareness piece in Union Square. First I would find out how many plastic bags are given away at Filene's and Whole Foods over the course of a week. Then find out how many coffee cups are given away at Starbucks over the course of a week. Finally, how many plastic bottles are sold by the street vendors around the park within a week. Then I would take one week each to build a beach or nature scene using the number of items above. So if there are 65,000 plastic bags per week, I would spend a week in the park building say clouds out of 65,000 used Whole Foods and Filene's bags (that I would have collected before the beginning of the building). Then the next week I would build maybe trees out of the coffee cups & lids, then finally a lake of plastic water bottles. Then it could be on display for a week.
The other project is much simpler to undertake than the Green Seeds or CCRP/Disposable Culture. It is to open a Real Cost Cafe. I would do extensive research regarding the actual life cycle cost of a cup of coffee. (So the cost of the coffee beans if there were no subsidies, if the laborers were paid a fair living wage, if the cost to the planet were factored into the cultivation, roasting and shipping of the beans, and so on with all the products involved in making a cup of coffee). I would open the cafe for just a few weeks, create some good explanatory signage and charge for everything (cup of coffee? $15, don't have your own mug? $4 for paper cup, want a lid? that's $6, sugar? $2 each, milk? another $4, etc). Here's the funny thing, I think some people would pay it. Just to say they are supporting and paying the real cost. Plus if I open it in the Wall Street area, I think those guys would go nutso over it...
Some additional notes on the Green Seeds project, one of my dinner friends liked the idea of string going from house to house because of the reference to connections like phone lines and clothes lines. Another suggestion was green flags on the front of the building, like a symbol of belonging.

So I have a lot on the plate to work on. If you have any thoughts, ideas or want to be a part of any of it - or want to help fund! Then get in touch with me!

Next up: a wikipedia of artist ideas to give away.

Coffee cup image courtesy of Rachel Cartwright/Gazette published in article on coffee cup waste at the University of Western Ontario.
Picture of plastic bottles & plastic bags courtesy of Chris Jordan - whose studies of American culture, Running the Numbers, absolutely ROCKS!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Turning waves into power

Some smart person was sitting looking at the water, watching the undulations and reflections and was smart enough to realize that if they harnessed that energy...

I'm not that smart person, but I am glad they are out there. Instead, I tend to lend my brain to creative pursuits. Albeit hopefully creative pursuits that have a goal, or actionable outcome. So lately, as the High Water Line project continues along (just finished Lower Manhattan - so its back to Brooklyn!), I have been contemplating a couple of things.

First, what to do next. I have a lot of ideas I am playing with, which I will outline below.

And second, how to capitalize on all the media attention around the High Water Line. An artist whom I admire, Chris Doyle, speaks of his first big public art project, Commutable, and he was asked, "Are you ready?" by one of his presenting organizations. When he asked what they meant, they said "Are you ready for all of the attention you will get around this, and will you be able to use that to continue to build your career?"

So I was very conscious of that going into this project, particularly as the attention continued to grow. And I have to ask myself? Am I ready? I thought I was. I have concepts for the next project, I am definitely making use of the fantastic network of people that I have met over the course of the project. But how, realistically does one turn that attention into funding or other types of support for the next project? I'm not sure that I know. So now what?

Well, what I am doing now is working on the next thing... hopefully I can take it a little slower and ensure more up front funding and get all of the ducks in a row earlier in the process. So here is the roster of projects (all with *working* titles and there fore subject to change).

Green Seeds
Background: This project builds off the history of gardening in NYC as well as the connections to food which are long established in the Lower East Side and Chinatown. It also examines the heat island effect, and the mitigation which even a small portion of something like a green roof can play on the temperature of the city. Finally it utilizes social networking to generate siting the project.
Green roof: I have been gathering information on green roofing and have found a modular and lightweight system which can be used without a lot of retrofitting or heavy construction etc. My idea is to take one or two of the modular pillows and place them on roofs. They then act as a *seed* of a green roof. They might (I'm working on this) housed in a sculptural element (the seed pod?) that could also contain instruments for measuring temperature (which could be sent back to an online map), a solar panel to power the instrumentation, provide some weight and protection for the green roof and perhaps provide some visual cues about the green roof.

Social networking: The social networking is accomplished as follows. 1. I find the first person on whose roof I place the first green seed pod. I then get the necessary approval from the landlord, and ask the resident to meet or find one or two people in a neighboring building that are also interested in having the project installed. Again I go through the necessary approvals and install the second green seed pod, asking those residents to again find the next set of interested participants. I would also like to install them in some more public spaces like schools and public rooftop areas. From these locations people could inquire and request green seed pods.

How to make it public: Here's one of the tricky parts. How to make the project *more* public. Since the roofs might be a majority privately owned, access isn't really a possibility. The mapping and temperature taking will be publicly accessible, but how else can I do it? Do I literally run string from one green seed pod to the next, showing the network as it grows? (But what does that really have to do with green roofs?) Do I create little plaques (like historical markers) that can be affixed to the front of the buildings? Do I recreate George Bliss' Purple Footprints (once used to lead to Adam Purple's community garden, and then later to protest the Bowery Bar) - but that's illegal...

Okay, I was supposed to write them all up, but now I am going to be late for work, so I will add the rest (Coffee Cup Reduction Project, Real Cost Cafe and What a Waste - Disposable Culture) later...

Friday, August 03, 2007

When confronted with the extraordinary

Why does it seem, that when confronted with the extraordinary, we choose to run and hide?
I heard a fantastical story on the BBC World News radio programme this morning. Someone is apparently dropping envelopes and packages of large amounts of money around Tokyo, Kobe and Kyoto - in bathrooms, public spaces, post boxes and from the sky. Included with the money is a note that asks the recipient to do "something good" with the money.
Instead, people are getting scared and turning the money in to the police. At first I thought this was a really fabulous social artwork (although a very expensive one). Others interviewed for the program suggested they thought it was maybe a gimmick for a new tv game show (which would be too bad). You can read the story here.
So why is it when confronted with an opportunity to take a great deal of money to 'do something good' people instead run scared and give it to the police? And what would happen in New York City? What would you do?
I am pretty sure I would in fact do something good with the money. But it would be also frivolous and fun. It wouldn't be donating to some organization or cause. Maybe I would buy lots of candy for a group of kids. Maybe I would just get a huge number of balloons and tie notes that say nice things and release them in the city. Or hire a band to march around Wall Street... I don't know but I think it would focus on bringing smiles to the faces of people.