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Ah tired talk—Public Art

Published: 
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Designer Kriston Chen, installing the first Toofprint.

Why are we so obsessed with ephemera? One can theorize that Carnival has had a role to play in this. Something of a short lived, high concentration of art and culture to last all year, till the next Carnival season comes back around. But what about the rest of the year? Where did all the art go?

Efforts have been made for public art displays and installations though. Take the People’s Canvas for example. It all begins with excitement and enthusiasm. “More art!” “Recognition and appreciation for our artists!” “Enrichment of culture!” Then the excitement dies down and we quickly turn a blind eye. The People’s Canvas, which covers the walls of the oval with local art and familiar imagery, was quickly neglected by the public. In fact, people were so possibly unenthused by it, that 19 of the 21 prints were vandalized, but to date, no images of any of the cricketers also sharing the space have ever been vandalized.

Other examples of this are the fact that we watched Pat Chu Foon’s sculptural tribute to Winston “Spree” Simon crumble and another get painted over by Cepep. Chu Foon also created a statue of the famous Indian statesman Mahatma Gandhi which went on display in 1969 at Kew Place in Port-of-Spain, it now rests in pieces at the Art Society, St Clair.

There seems to be two pre-determined outcomes for public art (excluding anything carnival related) of any sort in this country: neglect or vandalism. If you knew that this was to be the fate of work you did, wouldn’t you be at least a little disheartened?

Back to our obsession with ephemera. Pelt all the way back to 2006, when the Caribbean Contemporary Arts (CCA7) was still active and nine artists took to the streets of Port-of-Spain in an attempt to change the traditional narrative of contemporary art. This project, ‘Galvanize’, headed by artist, Mario Lewis and supported by CCA7 saw 21 events spread over six weeks. Galvanize caused quite a stir in the press, and sparked a lot of meaningful conversation about the relevance of art in the Anglophone Caribbean. Its ephemeral nature engaged people, and the fact that a lot of the work was shown in somewhat unconventional public spaces gave it edge. We got posters and graffiti on walls around Port-of-Spain, art hung in a tattoo parlour, as well as the entrance to a popular dancehall, and we even got a sculptural installation in the Savannah (which people vandalized, but the artist quickly responded and worked the vandalism into the narrative of the piece).

In 2009, a collective headed by Christian Alexis, Dave Williams, Richard Rawlins, Darryn Boodan and Terry Smith created Erotic Art Week. Woodbrook was buzzing over a ten-day period. People were walking from location to location, hungry for both art (and let’s face it erotica). EAW09 was a beautiful marriage of ephemera, and private spaces made public. This, too, sparked conversation and broke new ground much like the more recent, ‘Out of Place’ project curated by Artists Christopher Cozier and Blue Curry, a sequence of informal collaborations between various artists, who choose to engage the public art space, asking questions that sought to alter the public’s relationship to artistic investigation and experimentation.

While reception for these public-space-art interventions has been encouraging, the follow up has often been difficult. These interventions have vanished, like the public art that is hidden in plain sight all over T&T.

This brings me to Alice Yard’s current ongoing, always open to the public, interactive project: Toof Prints. Co-curated by Designers Kriston Chen and Eric Brandt the project explores contemporary art and graphic design in a public space. Literally a concrete slab co-opted to fit two wheat pasted posters, it’s been a great space for continuing the conversations that public art initiatives that came before started, as well as new discourses. Anyone can submit work to Toof Prints. Chen chooses what’s displayed and each print is displayed for two weeks, or until it falls off. It’s been so fruitful that artists and viewers alike have engaged with the prints by manipulating and even marking them, thereby changing the conversation and making new work. Toof Prints is another perfect marriage of ephemera, and public art in a public space that feels private.

Open call: artists and designers across the nation join the conversation!

Follow: @toofprints on Instagram and Facebook to keep up with the project.

Submit: at toofprints.person.co