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

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 café, 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!

1 comment:

  1. I loved your original offerings box and made a few contributions and took a few as well. I was very sad when one day I went over with a new offering and the box was GONE!
    I carefully scrutinized your photos to see if I could discover things I'd left and only recognized one thing, the fascinating buffalo horn nut. I have another one, which I would be happy to give you as a souvenir of that wonderful time!
    I cannot remember where I got the nuts.
    Your artworks have given me much happiness! Thank you! on Napier Street...