Disrupting Everyday with Agitating Art Projects

Art shouldn’t be an elite thing made by a specialized class of people and then cut off in a museum or traded between rich people. No, we’re all born artists. I’ve never identified as an artist, but increasingly, I’ve been realizing that my self-definition as “non-artist” actually makes me a better artist, if that makes any sense at all.

Even though we’re all born artists, our culture tries to beat the artist out of us. And our culture alienates most people from art. The elite get to enjoy art, while common people are supposed to exist in a mass produced, soul-less environment in which all forms of expression are utilitarian or are designed to control us or Sell Product.

I’m not sure what the best definition of art is, but I think of it as any form of expression which is designed primarily to evoke emotion, thought, reaction, contemplation, or self-observation.

Every moment and every place can be an opportunity for art and the agitation and tension that goes with the best art. My favorite forms of art are when we create situations in which it is unclear where the art creator’s work ends and the art “consumer’s” role begins — in other words, where there is less of a barrier between creator and observer and where everyone gets to participate.

I especially like making art part of everyday life, or rather making one’s life itself art. If you can concentrate on doing that, then you start to live life in the moment — breaking down a focus on the future and goals and replacing those forms of being with a fuller experience of the present and the way things are right now.

In times like these, we need to figure out as many ways as possible of strongly protesting business as usual — of saying “this state of affairs is unacceptable!” We need a vast diversity of tactics — from protests, to direct action, to sabotage, to very strange life participation performance art. Here are two art projects I’ve been working on — maybe these will give you ideas and inspiration to make your own art projects, or maybe at least you’ll think they’re strange and funny.

Gate of Nails — It all started when my housemate wrote an article for Slingshot denouncing cell phones a few years ago. It seemed like everyone was getting them, and they are such an unfortunate technological development — to always be reachable, to have everyone around you talking to themselves all the time, to hear ringing no matter where you go. We posted a sign on the gate of the house: “Please destroy cell phones before entering.” People thought we were odd and ignored the sign. Cell phones kept going off during dinner, around the hot tub, in the bathroom . . .

So a few months ago, we started collecting old broken or abandoned cell phones and nailing them to the gate with huge, thick, scary looking nails. Suddenly, we were getting really strong reactions from everyone who saw them. To physically put a nail through a cell phone — an item considered a sacred necessity of modern existence — How dare you! The gate is right on a major street, so the art piece gets a lot of exposure.

The other day, I talked with some kids walking by who asked “why are you doing that?” I explained that it was an art project, that it was designed to create strong reactions, and that it had worked. They stared at me like I had two heads.

Ever since we started nailing up phones, I’ve realized how much I would like to nail up a bunch of other forms of technology. I still have to find nails big enough to crucify a clock, a computer, a TV set, our refrigerator, our dryer, and a few cars.

Lecternette Theatre — We also recently got a fold-out portable “lecternette” with a built in PA system. It was originally created for the US military, and how we got it is another story entirely. Anyway, we set it up on the porch and have been practicing public speaking — making addresses to the passing cars and random people walking by. It turns out, it is really hard to get comfortable with having your voice amplified. I was in a band and I got used to singing into a microphone after a while — public speaking is a whole other thing. On good days, this is really good art because it make me feel uncomfortable, it makes the passing random people hearing it feel uncomfortable, and it is all about expression. We’ve been discussing having a box on the Lecternette with a bunch of different subjects so that you would go up there, draw a subject, and then have to talk about it for a while. Another idea is that you could be in disguise to talk on the lecternette to free you up to speak frankly since it wouldn’t be you, but a character doing the talking.

On a typical day my voice booms out over cars stopped in traffic: “Your way of life trapped in those steel boxes — going from a meaningless place where you earn money to a meaningless place where you spend it — this is not life! Don’t lose touch with the meaningfulness and the miracle of your life.”

A couple of weeks ago, we managed to combine the lecternette with the gate of nails by conducting a nailing ceremony narrated on the Lecternette, including amplifying the sound of the nail getting pounded through the cell phone. It’s great to reclaim art for the people!