PITTSBURGH, PA., 2010
JUST BEFORE OBTAINING MY BFA, I had begun a long break from painting. During my tactical media studies, I was focused on creating work that illustrated the “utility” of creativity, and solution-based thinking, while continuing to produce an “art object”.
As I was doing a lot of environmental advocacy/community organizing at the time, I wanted to highlight the need for more urban food systems; Pittsburgh, while smaller and more progressive than a lot of cities, was still plagued like many urban centers by “food-deserts”, or areas with no access to good food, and much less access to green space capable of growing food. More specifically, I wanted to heighten the city-scape’s capability to grow food, in a decentralized and public way, wherein local citizens would care for, and in return, help themselves to the spoils of their laboring. Essentially, I wanted to provide more space to grow food in an urban center without having to tear up the paving stones. Further, I wanted to do this in a direct way that wasn’t impeded by the bureaucracy of the city-system. I decided to produce an iteration of simple planter boxes, but set upon utility poles. Thus, the “Utility/P.L.A.N.T.er Boxes” were born.
I crafted the planter boxes themselves out of actual utility boxes that I found in dumpsters around the city of Pittsburgh. The aesthetics of this work were important to me – generally, I wanted people to walk right by it without initially noticing anything different about the scene. I wanted to highlight that this work could be executed in a simultaneously unobtrusive and helpful way. Using available technological resources at CMU, I was able to keep an interesting balance between contrasting aspects of clean/sterile ‘government work’ and the more colorful/chaotic touch of the ‘citizen-artist-activist’. I used a plasma-cutter to rip the tops off the utility boxes, and used laser-cutters to generate professional-looking designs and infographics to decorate the box. I left certain areas more rough-hewn, while adding some polish to the rest of the box – I wanted the aesthetic to represent the marriage of a somewhat desolate situation, and the more hopeful circumstance of solution-based thinking.
The boxes themselves were a joy to design – P.L.A.N.T.er Box I was fully interactive, with an opening door and simple laser-cut instructions on how to care for the box. Inside of the box, there were as a clear plexiglass viewing window, through which one could watch the peas grow from seed, and even view their root systems. Below the viewing window was a cache of hand-made “seedbombs”, available to all citizens and filled nitrogen-fixing legume and wildflower seeds. Support posts were placed in the top of the boxes to help the peas grow, and drainage holes were drilled in the back of the boxes to allow production and discourage mold/rotting.
P.L.A.N.T.er Box II was less interactive, but more ‘expertly’ designed –
The outside of the box featured our ‘logo’ (a laser-cut image of a seedling growing) and the acronym “P.L.A.N.T.”, which stands for the “Pittsburgh Living Art Networking Team”.
In order to install this work, I had to be able to install quickly and without being seen. To do this, I went to the uniform store, purchased an orange vest, put on a hard-hat I found in a dumpster and, with the help of a friend, attached the planters to utility poles in different areas. To my recollection, one was placed on Highland Avenue, and another was placed somewhere on Negley. While Pittsburgh has a worthy food co-op system, as well as a few major grocery outlets, these were still areas that were devoid of affordable/healthy food, or space available to grow that food.
SORRY I DON’T HAVE PROCESS SHOTS, THIS WAS A TIME BEFORE SMART PHONES, AND IT’S VERY HARD TO HOLD A CAMERA WHILE YOU’RE USING A PLASMA CUTTER. DM @REDWOODINDUSTRIAL WITH QUESTIONS REGARDING THIS WORK, AND BECOME A PATRON AT THE $25 LEVEL TO BECOME A CO-CONSPIRATOR – YOU CAN HIRE ME TO EXECUTE A PROJECT, OR PRESSURE ME TO DO MORE WORKS LIKE THIS. THANKS, AND ENJOY!