Origins

Origins

The birth of my child was a joyous occasion and filled me with an overwhelming creative impulse that desperately needed an outlet. Being naturally predisposed to a distrust of artists and their lackeys (promoters, producers, gallery owners, etc.) and outright contempt for the paradigm of art as a commodity (combined with my fear of failure and rejection), I set out to create a work of art that would appear for a brief time in the public sphere, anonymous, unannounced, free of expectation, and open to the world.

I entered into this realm with no long term plan or vision, I just needed to create something and share it with strangers, friends or whoever happened to be passing by my little corner of the world. So I picked a random spot, a telephone pole on the corner of Salsbury and Parker in East Vancouver, (I lived in a house on this corner from 1997-1999). It has been 13 years now, I try to put up at least one work every year, sometimes I manage two. They only last for a few days at most, I put them up before dawn and take them down late at night when their store of goods has been exhausted. It took a few years before I settled on a theme; the works always contain gifts of some sort, an opportunity for exchange, or just a random trinket for someone to take away.

May 1998, the first one didn’t last long . I had worked at it for days prior to its presentation. Painstakingly drawing and painting, I even included some copper work in its final form. To describe it would be difficult; inside a small metal box, there was a Smurf with a chainsaw, against a background depicting a clearcut forest, stumps and logs scattered around the landscape. I believe I featured the words, “Coming Soon” as the banner to my creation. It was up for less than 4 hours. A person with no respect for public art?, or perhaps a zealous patron of the arts? Someone pilfered it, though I never discovered whom. I preferred to imagine that someone was so taken by it that they had to have it at any cost, even if it meant crossing the line into criminal activity. This thought made me very happy, and encouraged me to do more.

Please have a look at the works through the years, and if you or someone you know has had an experience with them, please comment. Tell me your story, what you found, what you left, how it affected your day or your life.

Friday, 21 October 2011

November 1998

This was the second offering, scaled down and simple.  Some black and white images I had developed which were pasted onto a copper awning I made.  The title was “Winter”, I left it up for a week.  At this time I had still not envisioned a multi-year project so documentation was minimal, this is the only image I have of this offering.  I did put up another photo using the same copper awning a few weeks later, it was a picture of my son suckling at the breast with the words “Babies need breasts” written underneath the image.  I did not document it.  These were the only two offerings that were not implicitly designed as objects of exchange, furthermore, in the future I documented much more carefully.


March 1999

This offering was the first of several to include an “interactive” component.   I took a metal box that I had made at work (designed to be a fire alarm cover), and filled it with soil, planted some flowers in the soil and placed a toy hippopotamus into the scene.

If you examine the images below, on the right hand side of the frame is what I would call an electronic song player (framed in red), that I cut out of a children’s book.  The book was an intro to Christianity for kids, so all of the songs that played were popular Christian “sing-alongs” (Such as “Rise and Shine” and “The bible tells me so”).  I have and Aunt and Uncle who are born again, they gave me the book on the occasion of my child's birth.  I replaced the religious imagery with pictures of my own to confuse the curious.  Each photo, when pressed, would play a ten second song.  

At one point during the offering some kind stranger put a safety pin through the hippo’s nose, I thought that was lovely.  I also overheard a couple of fellows listening intently to the songs, pressing each button, until one finally said “I think those are Christian songs”!

I began a habit of taking photos of my son in front of each offering with this box.  Watch how he grows throughout the years!  I love him so!

Box installed


My son, aged twenty months, with box.

October 1999

This was the first offering that had a very strong emotional connection tied to it.  The first of many “magical” occurrences that the offerings would manifest from time to time. 

The initial construction of this offering box took place a year prior to its presentation, when I toiled in Port Moody as a coppersmith.  I made it for my partner, who at the time was an art student, (I made two actually). She used them as part of an installation she did for school.  Sadly in September 1999, our four year relationship, that had produced one child, ended.  Depressed, lonely and in separation counseling with my former partner, I was in dire need of love and support.  We no longer lived in the house on the corner of Parker and Salsbury, the offerings were not on my mind.

One afternoon, as I wandered despondently around Commercial Drive, I decided to stroll past the telephone pole on the corner where I had hung all of the offerings.  There, tacked onto the faded creosote pole, was a small, faded piece of paper with a note written on it, it read, “Hey, where is our fall box”?  I was dumbfounded, someone cared, someone was touched by the offerings enough to post a random notice in the hope that the maker might notice!  In that moment, I was cured! Literally! That one small act had washed the despair and sorrow from my heart.  I recall a session with my separation counselor the following day, I was ecstatic, I related the tale to her and proclaimed that her services were no longer needed.

Who was this stranger with the note that quite literally changed my life?  Surely they had no idea that their simple note could have had such a profound influence on someone.  The light went on for me.  Perhaps my offering boxes could have the same impact on someone, make their day, or change their life, it was possible.  We can commune with complete strangers, people you will never know or meet, we can exchange love and humble gifts with each other in a completely anonymous, non-commodified setting.  No expectations, no desire, what joy!

The following day, I feverishly set about creating my next offering.  I liberated the copper box from my ex, stenciled the words, “Offerings For Autumn”, upon it and hung it on the telephone pole.

Notice that the box has two doors on it, and inside there are two separate levels.  Inside each I placed the detritus of autumn: twigs, fallen leaves, faded flowers, various aged trinkets and gee-gaws that I had collected in my travels.  I also placed some incense and matches inside so that the curious could pause and make use of the ancient source of fire and scent to encourage reflection and the opportunity to make a blessing.

People responded, notable among the treasures left behind was a most mysterious and wonderful note,  from a kind and generous stranger(s).  They took the time to extend a heartfelt invitation to me (or whoever may have come across the note), to share in their community, to engage with complete strangers in music and costume.  I was, however, unable to attend the “birthday party of bobofet”, and I never did come into contact with 
the authors of that note (as far as I know).

Box installed

Party Invitation


September 2000

The impact on my life from this box is staggering, and has resonated through the trajectory of my life for the past decade.  With this box I began to formalize what would become the persistent theme for all future offerings.  I will explain:

I decided to create a medium for exchange with the curious that I could monitor and interact with anonymously.  As the images below indicate, this offering was a box with many small shelves laden with various trinkets gathered from my home.  A small sign accompanied the box and stated, in French and English “you may take one, but you must leave another”, “Vous pouvez prendre une, mais vous devez un laisser un autre” (I continue to make all signs/instructions bilingual).  For six consecutive days I visited the box a few times daily and photographed the offerings transformative process.  As is evident from the photos, the curious strangers that interacted with the offering dutifully took an object and left another, at no time during the six day period was a single shelf empty!  How miraculous, joy filled my heart, we were all playing together, though we never laid eyes on each other.  This gave me great hope for the future of humankind.

After I took the box down, I was so pleased with what had transpired that I hung it on my living room wall in the condition in which I had last found it.  I then surrounded it with all of the time lapse photos that are pictured here, it was a fine piece and made for lively discussion when guests came over and admired it.


Some interesting stats: 
  • Of the 24 original objects, only one was never taken off the shelf (though it did move to different shelves).  It is the picture of a lovely blond teenager (top shelf, second from the left in second photo).  This girl is from Alabama, she is the second cousin of my son’s mother.  The photo was taken in 1998 when she was 16 years old.
  • Two original objects were taken, then returned, then taken again.  The Eric Clapton pin, promoting his 1983 album “Money and Cigarettes” ( top left corner in second photo) was taken sometime on Sunday and then returned on Wednesday (middle shelf photo 8) and remained until the offering was taken down.  In addition, a little wooden bi-plane was taken on Saturday, returned on Wednesday and then taken again later the same day.


Box installed, day oneMy son posing.









The final incarnation
































But the story of this offering box was only beginning. 

I had begun to fantasize about the people that had interacted with the offerings.  Though I cherished the anonymity of the interaction, my ego did long for some sort of recognition.  I secretly harbored a fantasy whereby I would be at a party, or cafĂ©, or on the street, and I would overhear people talking about the box.  Perhaps discussing what impact it had on them, or what their perception was of who created it and why it was created.  Alas, this has been my hope for nearly 15 years and to date it has never happened. 

I did have another fantasy however, it involved the same scenario, but with the infusion of a romantic element.  I imagined overhearing someone effusively describing their wonderful experience with one of the offerings, I would interrupt, admit my involvement, we would share a moment, and then fall in love.  Silly, yes, but this thought was present during my more dreamy moments.

May 2001.  Eight months passed.  The house I lived in just off Commercial Drive got some new tenants, they now occupied the top floor of the house, I rented the main floor.  One afternoon, one of the new tenants happened to be in my living room for the first time, looking around they noticed the box displayed on the wall, they commented “Hey, I know this box”.  I was stunned into silence, was this the moment I had been imagining manifesting before my eyes?  J (as this person will be referred to), had seen the box back in September when she was fresh to the city (having moved here from Calgary).  It welcomed her, she interacted with it, it made her feel as if this was a community that she could be at home in (she explained this to me in the living room).

Sure enough, we fell madly in love!  My fantasy had become reality.  For four years J and I were together (more or less).  Though tumultuous at times, our relationship was deep and fulfilling, and we both left it as stronger and wiser people.  We are still good friends, we still love each other (in a platonic way), and I imagine we will always remain close.

But there is more.

That same week in September, another lovely young woman new to Vancouver (having moved here from Winnipeg) happened to pass by the box.  C (as she will be referred to) had a similar reaction to the box as J.  Welcoming, interactive, warm, creative community, etc. 

August 2004, J and I had ended, I was friends with C, with whom I had a flirtatious friendship.  I pursued her, we briefly became lovers, and in the course of our amorous relationship we discovered the box connection.  Holy shit I thought, that box really has had an impact, the reverberations still echo in my life years later

But there is still more.

Today I am madly in love.  Her name is SF, she is the most incredible person I have ever met, anywhere, anytime.  She so completely dominates my heart that it is ridiculous.  We have been together for over three years and I hope it never ends. Fucking hell she is amazing.  But I digress.  Where does SF fit in with the box?

All those years ago, someone, a stranger, set out a clue that would bring me to this blissful spot in which my life now resides.  If you look closely at the photo, “Saturday 18:00, Sept. 23”, there, in the middle row, three shelves to the left, is a black and white photo of a woman screaming (she remained there for two more days).  That is SF!  She is a local dancer/choreographer, and at that time, back in September 2001, was presenting one of her shows in town.  Someone took down one of her promotional posters (from where I do not know), carefully tore out the image of her and placed it in the box! This is three years before SF and I would even meet.  Is that not incredible, I did not even realize this until several months ago when I began to compile all of the box photos for this blog.  SF and I had already been together for two years, and when I saw that I nearly shit myself!  So much love and happiness from this one box, my fantasy multiplied many times over.  Is life not mysterious and wonderful!  Yes it is!
April 2001

This offering box was poorly documented.  I put some effort into the box itself, nicely painted and held together with wooden pegs.  I can only vaguely recall what went inside as I took no notes nor did I photo document the contents (I began to meticulously photo document all box contents following this one).  I think I put large envelopes inside as gift packages; with each envelope containing a photo I had developed myself.  I may have put a line of a poem or song on the back of each photo, but I am not certain.  Oh well.

Box Installed

December 2001

This box was the first one for which I began to spend a lot of time making gifts which were meant to be taken and exchanged by the curious.  It was also when I began to include bits of text to accompany each gift, a theme that I would repeat often in the future. However, most significantly, it was when I began to collaborate and commune with my dead grandmother through the medium of her poetry. 

My grandmother was a well known and prolific Canadian poet, a two time Governer General Award winner and an Officer of the Order of Canada.  She published many books and has appeared in dozens of anthologies, the BC book prize for poetry is named in her honor.

I constructed the box at my friend’s house on Quadra Island one fall weekend.  The symbols on the exterior are a mix of Norse, and my own made-up runes, which can signify whatever you choose them to be.  I gathered dozens of film canisters and inserted a peculiar assortment of trinkets and gee-gaws inside of them.  A sample appears in the photos below.  I then gathered up one of my grandmother’s books of poetry, titled “The Phases of Love”, and set about dismembering it in order to include glimpses of her words inside the gift canisters.  A touch of colour was added to each parchment and then they were sealed up. 

The whole experience left me greatly satisfied and alert to the world.  I felt a deep connection to my grandmother (who had died four years earlier); a person whom I had often considered an amusing nuisance when she was alive.  I never went in for poetry all that much, and I will confess to having a paucity of interest in her works, having read almost none of her vast catalogue. 

The volume that I had cut apart was signed by her, in it she simply wrote “Love to my grandson at Christmas, 1987.  Love Dee”. The closeness I felt to her through this symbolic act, of physically cutting to shreds her work and words, and arranging the fragments. This completed my relationship with her, we were good friends now.

Otherwise, the box went up and came down without a hitch, I took no notes, but do recall that one of the film canisters was returned with a note and some chocolate inside (which I did not eat).  I also spoke to an older (late 60's) lady who lived at the corner and apparently enjoyed the offering boxes.  She told me that another woman who lived up the street had put the box up.  What!  Imposter!  Although through questioning it was revealed that she merely ASSUMED it was this other woman.  Therefore, no one was claiming my work for their own.  Why would they.

Box Installed



Offering content examples.  Bits of Grandma's poems.


April 2002

For this box I decided to share a little bit of the earth with the curious.  My original intention was to grow, from seed, around 80-100 flowers of various types.  I set about germinating them indoors in early February so that they would be ready by spring.  Unfortunately things went badly, I do not have a green thumb, and by mid-April I had managed to sprout only a dozen feeble, sickly looking plants that were in no danger of flowering.

Discouraged, but not defeated, I turned to the professionals.  I ended up purchasing all of the flowers to be gifted from a garden centre.  Not quite what I had hoped, but at least I had some flowers to present. 

This box was made from scrap wood found in an alley. I first constructed a planter box, filled it dirt and planted some violets in it.  I also made two shelves, one along the front of the box where I left gifts of flowers to be taken away, and another shelf on the side, where I placed incense and matches for the curious to light and say a blessing if they wished.

I made no notes about the events surrounding the box, although I do recall standing by the box while an elderly woman took a few containers of flowers.  I believe she said to me “more flowers, how lovely, you should take some”.  I left the flower box with the violets up for a week and a half, long after I had run out of flowers to offer.

Box installed, incense burning, flowers blooming


L and her daughter examine the offering

My son, and friends

September 2002

This box was fun to make.  I used it as an opportunity to honour my friends whom I love so dearly.  As you can see from the images shown, the box consisted of sixteen shelves stacked 4x4, each compartment was 7cm x 7cm, with a depth of 15cm.  In front of each shelf I placed a black and white portrait of one of my friends (varying in age from 3-58).  The photos were mounted on kitchen counter laminate samples that I liberated from IKEA.


Inside each compartment I placed a gift, which was contained inside a bottle.  It had taken me a couple of months to gather enough bottles. I had 48 in total, they came from a brand of Italian pear and apricot juice that I fancied.  Drinking all 48 bottles was the easy part.  Within each bottle I placed a black and white photograph that I had taken and developed myself.  I also wrote a line of poetry, a phrase, song lyric, maxim etc. on the back of each photo for extra interest.  The words did not necessarily relate to the image, but some did (more on that soon).  Here are some examples:

i’ve lived a thousand times,
i’ve found out what it means to be believed         


sometimes you win
sometimes you lose
and some days it just rains


the devil comes as many
and you won’t know him from any,
not so different from yourself


Instructions for hash tea:
1)boil water
2)burn hash
3)crumble hash
4)put hash in water
5)add tea of your choice
6)enjoy       
                                        
          
yet each one kills the things they love
by each let this be heard
some do it with a bitter look,
some with a flattering word,
the coward does it with a kiss,
the brave ones with a sword!    

Into the bottles I also tossed in some polished stones, or dried berries, leaves, twigs, what have you, just to make it more intriguing.  Finally, I purchased some sealing wax and corks, and sealed all the bottles up.  The final touch was my seal on the top of the bottle, the Hindu Swastika.  My partner at the time, J, knew how I identified with and loved the Swastika symbol, she had managed to find a swastika stamp, complete with a monkey figure on top (I was born in the year of the Monkey) at a shop in Chinatown.  I cherish it still.

I hung this box with particular pride, I was very happy with the “message in a bottle” theme.  The bottles went swiftly, my notes say that they were all gone in two days, some folks even took the laminate photos that hung on the box.  Others replaced the bottles full of gifts they had made, a circle of giving was achieved.

Box Installed


Box showing sealed bottles inside

All that was left when I took it down

September 2003

This was a chance to use more photos that I had lying around.  I gathered as many as I could and framed them on paper. All of the black and white images were self-developed (see below), culled from the hundreds of images I had processed in my darkroom back before the digital age (Pre-2005 for me).  The paintings I included came from an artist and dear friend of mine, name of DJ. He gave me dozens of small prints that he had no use for.  Such a fine man to collaborate with, he lives in Seattle.  One of the paintings even depicted a girlfriend of mine at the time, J.

The images were adhered to cardstock, and on the back of each one I again put a line or two or three from a song/poem/prose that I fancied.  Some examples below for your consideration:

I wish you were
A walk through the park

-

The earth’s condition
Is receptive devotion

-

Sleep and love again
More sweet than I

-

In streams we bathed
In sunlight saved

I was in a thoughtful/romantic mood when I chose the words to accompany these images.  Normally I throw in a number of rude, salacious, sarcastic lines, but I could find none in the list I recorded, how odd.  I guess I am just an old softy sometimes.

I did receive a lovely handwritten note from someone named Erin (Thank you Erin).  She tore a piece of an envelope off and wrote the following: (see below). 































The images then went into plain, unmarked manila envelopes.  The box I made myself from some scrap wood.  I added a few well aged pieces of copper to the box to make it extra fancy.  I have no further notes or memories of this box.

A sample of the gifts that accompanied the offering box.


Box installed


December 2003

Christmas time!  For this offering I put together a solid wooden box, complete with a miniature Christmas tree inside.  I chose to cover the box with a woven place mat that had been hanging around in my kitchen for many years.  I have no idea where it came from, the design seems to suggest the South West of North America.  I attached it to provide shelter for my gifts from the inevitable winter rains.

Many gifts were exchanged.  I received some straws, action figures, a lovely die-cast toy car.  The gifts that I left in the box were all contained inside 24 separate boxes that came from a Playmobil advent calendar set.  What I put inside the boxes I cannot recall, damn why did I not takes better notes!  The symbol I painted on the side of the box came from a book titled “The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom”  The symbol itself is known as – The Awen - which is said to be the name by which the universe calls God inwardly. The Awen is said to represent the letters OIU, from which all the others are obtained. The O relates to the perfect circle of Gwynvyd, the  I to the mortal world, Abred, and the U to the cauldron of Annwn. They relate to earth, sea and air; body, mind and spirit; and love, wisdom and truth.

The three foundations of Awen are:

To understand truth
To love truth
To maintain truth.





My son gazes at the offering

The gifts I left

The things people leave behind

September 2004

I loved this box, it was a joy to make and featured a very amusing push button toy song box.

This one took a few months to make as I hand constructed approximately 80 original books to place as offerings in the box.  I am an avid photographer, and as such I have thousands and thousands of photos in my collection, most of which never see the light of day.  This always troubled me, so I took the opportunity to use up hundreds of photos in the books I made. 

As you can see from the accompanying images, each book was small (approximately 10 centimetres by 13 centimetres).  Each book had 10 pages, on each page was one photograph, or a cropped part of a photograph.  Each book also contained some text, most had just one bit of text at the back, but a few had some other bits scattered throughout the book.  As usual I took bits of songs, poem, prose I fancied and used them as the “messages” within the books pages.  I also worked with my Grandmothers poetry extensively, even composing a few lines with her, such as:

Like light your kisses hover                             
Under darkness
Bodies supine discovered

~

Return                                                         
Earth to her ancient privilege

~

I cannot recall who wrote which lines, which makes me glad.

The books were bound using Chicago screws.  They were placed on the offering box, which was bound on each side by miniature columns that had Nordic runes burnt into them.  I also added a small tray filled with sand and incense at the front of the box so that passers by could make fire and scent. The song box was attached above the offering box and covered with wood so that only the buttons were visible.  I cannot recall what the song box “said”, but it was a mish-mash of words which I can assure you were utterly hilarious.

Unfortunately, on the third day of the offering, some grumpy soul smashed the song box open and stole the electronic voice box!  How dare they!  Perhaps it was a neighbor who had grown tired of the sound, or a curious thug. Damn them, that box was so funny!

Lastly, a most wondrous gift was left behind in this box, a gift that still pleasantly torments me to this day.  It was a poem, a message complete with someone’s name and phone number.  Written in Farsi, the poem is shown here as written.  I do not speak or read Farsi, but I had an Iranian friend (S Sadr) who attempted to translate it for me.  He had some troubles, as, according to him, whoever wrote the poem used very poor grammar and spelling.  He was only able to do a rough translation (shown here as well).

Apparently the poem was written by a Megan Foroogh (according to S Sadr), as she had signed her name.  I called the number and left a message but no one ever returned my call, oh woe, who was this person, my soul mate perhaps?  Who did this, someone please tell me!



Books prepared

Box installed

Incense tray in front

The song box

March 2005

A lot of work went in to this box.  As the images show I constructed a two tiered box that held a number of bottles.  The box was made from a wooden orange crate that I found in the Coquitlam River.  Each bottle contained a topical solution made from a base of grape seed oil, seasoned with various essential oils such as: lavender, pine, eucalyptus, palmarosa, cinnamon, spruce, fennel, tea tree, lemon, lime, grapefruit, and bay.  The result was an aromatic “remedy” that could be rubbed into the skin.  Each bottle listed the ingredients, had instructions for proper use, as well as listing what the remedy could treat. 

A few examples of the remedy labels:

For Union:  Stand facing your chosen partner. Both
take four drops and gently rub them into the heart
region of the other.  Focus gaze into partners eyes
until you are both overcome
Ingredients: Lime, Grapefruit

For Grieving:  With hands crossed over each other,
rub five drops into the pectoral region while in
the fetal position.  Assume this posture until sleep
takes you.
Ingredients: Grapefruit, Palmarosa

For Voyages:  Rub one drop into your forehead
and then go for a walk in the forest. Collect a
handful of moss, a bud from a shrub, and a creeping
insect. Apply four drops to these items and hold them
in your palm while meditating for ten minutes.
Ingredients: Spruce, Palmarosa


I made approximately 60 of these bottles and displayed them in the usual spot.  I also added another sound effect.  This time I pilfered the “quacker” from the belly of one of my son's stuffed animals (A Mallard), and placed it in a tiny box with the instructions “Press here for spring sounds”. Unfortunately someone smashed the little box and stole the “quacker”, (visible in one of the photos following it’s destruction).  I also found a couple of the bottles smashed upon the pavement. Some oaf had destroyed them along with the quacker (this happened sometime in the first 10 hours of putting up the offering box).  Disappointing, but such are the risks of random objects erected in a public place with no oversight. 

My notes say that I received one Loonie, and two notes (see scanned image) from some mysterious people who were moved by the gesture.
































There was one very special surprise that I placed in one of the remedy bottles that was unlike all the others.  Instead of an elixir, I put this note:




Greetings.  Please contact this email 
address: P----------------- @yahoo.ca
to make arrangements for a meeting,

a gift from the heart and the continuation of

this story.



Happily, someone contacted me a few weeks later, and I gave them a series of instructions (via email). They were to go to Uprising Bakery on Venables St. at a certain time on a certain day and speak to a small woman named N____a.  She would reach behind the counter and give them a brown paper bag with a gift inside.  When the stranger arrived, N____a gave the person the bag and remained silent.  When questioned, she revealed no further details to the stranger, and then bade them farewell.



What was the special gift!  It was a handmade book, bound in wood and linen full of original photographs that depicted a fierce struggle between two matriarchal figures set in the alleyways around Commercial Drive. It was amazing!  In its execution it made the works of Roy Arden, Stan Douglas or Jeff Wall look like images taken by a senile old grandparent armed with a disposable camera.



I received an email from the recipient of the gift a few weeks later (after some prompting by me).  They appeared to be unimpressed by the gift, and did not seem to share my unbridled enthusiasm for it.  Oh well. Nevertheless, I was extremely gratified by the whole exchange.  They had carried through with the gambit and now had in their home something of great personal joy to me.  Who were they?  Are they you?

Box prior to installation

Box installed, taken after vandals had disturbed it.

Box with damaged "quacker"