I want to create an installation in a public place. Ideally, I want to make it large, or at least occupy a large space significantly. It must be temporary and leave no trace. It must be non-littering, not interfere with ordinary site use and not require permission. This last is not because I am not prepared to apply for permission, submit plans, risk assessments etc, it is a practical consideration based on timescales.
Ideally, I would like to create a piece of graffiti driven by the sketchbook and screenprinting work that was generated by the ‘found drawings’ project. I have considered drawing with an instantly removable medium such as clay or chalk but even these might need a power-washer in the current dry weather. I could draw using a natural substance, leaves say (but its spring) or grass. I could walk on dewy grass to leave a drawing, but this might be very difficult to photograph (referencing Richard Long). I had lots of ideas but none that I felt would be practical to execute in a public space.
Adjacent to the amenity area I used in the last project, is a bus shelter and I thought that it would make an interesting project to bring the bus shelter and its users closer to the wilder environment. I can’t fill the space with sticks etc but could I draw a landscape the same size as an advertising panel, tape it to the glass, and then extend it in some way into the space to draw in the people? Can I make a bus shelter more interesting?
Just at the moment, the apple blossom is lovely, and the pavements and grass are covered in a confetti of petals. It is a beautiful, ephemeral moment in the seasons. I thought that it would be fun to share this with folk using the bus stop and using petals to extend a drawing into the environment. I don’t think petals can be construed as litter, although a drawing on paper might be. It would have to go up one night and be removed the next, without trace.
Initial preparation involved collecting apple blossom from under a tree (each petal collected by hand from the ground!) and storing it in the fridge for later use once I had a drawing. The other step was to measure and photograph the bus stop so that a drawing the right size and scale could be made and its position planned.
I drew over the images to assess scale.
Envisaging a poster sized drawing, mirroring the existing panels.
It is tempting to use the advertising frame and stick a drawing over the existing poster, but I think TFL might be justifiably irritated. This size looks a bit insignificant. There is also the problem of how I might stick petals to the glass as if cascading out of the drawing.
Envisaging larger scale drawing to ground, fed behind the seats.
I think the larger drawing would work better but there would be a problem that it could no longer be flat but would have to travel over the raised, grey bar in the glass. It would also be harder to fix. I would have to use paper roll which has a memory of curling, so plenty of double sided tape would be needed which might come off the paper rather more easily than the glass. I am keen not to make a mess.
Maybe the tree should be a bonsai?
I quite like the idea of the drawing being discrete, having to be noticed by the observant, rather like Slinkashu’s ‘little people’ installations, but I am not sure that it serves the purpose of creating a dialogue.
It occurs to me that this whole idea is less about a dialogue between the drawing and the place, as trying to provoke a dialogue between this deeply urban structure and its environment.
I have decided to commit to drawing a large tree which will occupy all the space the left back of the buss stop. I did consider taking it right around the corner but this would have obscured the view of busses arriving for anyone occupying the seat. The panel is 7 feet high, 4 feet wide.
I found a local small crab apple tree with interesting body language and sketched it.
I then considered where it should be placed in the frame, how it should be depicted and on what sort of background. A charcoal drawing was out because of peoples clothes and because the surface needs to be robust. The pale backgrounds in my ipad sketches are too much like an ordinary poster so I experimented with dark backgrounds against which apple blossom should show up. A naturalistic background was rejected because I do want an element of startling the observer with something out of place.
A lot of this project was revolving around practicalities. To produce a drawing of this size, I need giant paper. Two 7 foot long sheets of heavy duty lining paper were joined to create a sheet 7′ by 4′. Whilst the glue was drying and the paper flattening under weights, I considered how to create a dark background on that scale and decided that the most dramatic and practical way would be to use drawing ink. Various experiments were done to test how the ink took on the paper to create a large scale wash. I used water washable ink which is cheap in volume and which can be manipulated with water to good effect.
Small scale experiments to test media and approach
Scaling up, trying different approaches for blossom
Testing things at a small scale was only so useful when it came to work on the actual paper.
The basic design was painted with various densities of ink.
Just using water and ink was quite effective at creating bark and blossom but I did want to include a blush of pink to link the drawing of the tree with the real petals, so tinted gesso was added.
I wanted to get the feeling of curdled masses of petals ready to drift down. Water was dripped into the ink and wiped off to create an impression of petals in the air, although the drips were rather more linear than I wanted.
Double sided tape was generously attached to the back and the drawing installed. Once in situ, real petals were glued on using Prit but, unfortunately, having been collected of the floor and stored in the fridge in plastic, they were damp and wouldn’t stick reliably. The remaining petals were distributed over the seat and pavement.
In order to photograph the bus stop, I had to cross the road to the opposite bus stop at which people were waiting (why I chose the other). They were intrigued and grinning broadly. They said they particularly liked the petals.
This project has brought together the small interventions I made in the landscape with natural material with trying to grab someone’s attention and involve them in their environment. In this case, that isn’t just this piece of urban street furniture but the wider environment around it and also the moment in time.
To capture the eye of the people using the place, I have introduced the unexpected with a shower of petals, seemingly falling from a tree within the space. For the idea to be fully realised, I could have done with a much greater volume of petals and with being able to add more real petals to the drawing.
The scale of the drawing it appropriate for the idea but could perhaps have been even wider to completely fill the glass on the left, and perhaps have reached right down to the ground. The drawing itself is a bit crude with the delicacy of the trunk and branches lost in the process of scaling up. The size meant working flat which made it difficult to stand back and assess the drawing.
The drawing was installed in the morning and taken down in the evening. I do not know how many people saw it, but I hope that it altered the mundane experience of a bus shelter. Perhaps, every spring, all bus shelters should be dressed in petals, like well dressings.