Public art

My footprint

A couple of years ago, the city delivered a couple of composting bins – green bins – to my building. Until then I’d only been recycling paper, glass and plastic. But once I started using the green bins, my garbage shrank a lot. I was putting out about one small grocery-store bag a month and working on cutting that down to half.

It was all going well until I started working on an art installation.

The project was to make public payphones more visible and useful. Yanis, a fellow artist, and I decorated all of the Bell payphones in the neighbourhood and added lists of free 1-800 numbers to important social services inside.

We did a test phone to see how the materials we chose would hold up:


Outdoor art installations have to withstand brutal exposure to weather – which often means using materials that don’t break down.We used adhesive wallpaper, which we cut to size and painted. The panels held up to ice, rain and blistering sun, and they were removable – all requirements. So we went ahead and, over the course of a year, covered 17 phone booths – and generated a lot more garbage than my target of one small bag every couple of months. It was an eye-opener.

Now I’m thinking about changing the way I work, and how I explore my themes. Maybe I’ll work with ephemera – with materials that breakdown, dissolve and wash away. These are early days and I still have a a lot of thinking to do about this. And especially a lot of research into materials (it’s amazing how many things I’ve used in the past have been toxic and totally environmentally unfriendly).

I did find some really delightful work of an artist who has environmental impact on her radar: Ruby Silvious. In one of her projects, Tea, she paints on used tea bags.



Public art

Artist-run street library

Artist, writer and now street librarian Laura Moulton runs the amazing Street Books project in Portland. Her library cart folds into a compact box that she pedal-pushes around town to loan out books to people on the streets. It reminds me of the library bus that used to come to a parking lot in a suburb on the outskirts of Toronto where I lived when I was nine years old. I loved that bus – waited for it in the parking lot every week. Whenever I climbed  into the bus, I remember feeling huge anticipation and gratitude. Thanks to librarian and friend Lee Anne for sending this my way.