When I was very young, one of my favourite books was Pippi Longstocking, the strongest girl in the world. One of the many things she did to occupy her time was to play a game called Turn Up Stuffing. This is where you walk along and keep your eyes firmly on the ground, and anything that turns up, you stuff in your pocket. As a small girl, I was entranced by this idea, and so walked around with my eyes on my feet, wondering what I would find. I’m pretty sure I rarely ran into trees and in playing this game I started a lifelong habit.
When walking around the city, you see an awful lot of broken glass, leaves and trash, but you also notice a lot of broken or lost bits of jewellery, pendants that have snapped in half, twisted rings that don;t fit anymore, stray beads that have made brave leaps off bracelets and necklaces, fake jewels that have come loose from their moorings and random items that you can’t really place but have clearly come off something, somewhere. So, I collected up all these tiny, shiny, interestin’ bits I spotted but for years didn’t know what to do with them.
There are a number of threads to this story. Stay with me!
A few years ago I started noticing little guys made out of trash nailed to walls, posts, fences and all sorts of other places around town. A bit of internet sleuthing helped me discover that these are all Junky Projects, the work of Daniel Lynch. You can see a collection of photos of these awesome little guys here. I saw an interview with him where he said that he picked junk off the streets and created these little sentinels, who watch over people and remind them that what they throw away is still around. He mentioned that he was not introducing anything extra to streets already overcrowded with rubbish, but that he was just refashioning the trash he found into little silent warnings to humanity. I loved that idea, of making art from things already in the streets, rather than introducing more.
About mid 2011 I came across the work of Melbourne jeweller Caz Guiney. She has had two projects which fired my imagination. The first was in 2003 called City Rings, where the artist embedded 14 of her handmade rings in places around the CBD. People could find them and take them away, or not. As Caz was funded by the Australia Council for this project, there was the inevitable beat up in the media about ‘wasting tax payers money” and branding it as a “treasure hunt”.
My interest in this project stemmed from the idea of creating something beautiful and then leaving it behind for people to find. It’s why I also love The Toy Society, but I can’t talk about that now as I need to wrest this post back to it’s original point.
The reverse of Caz’s City Rings is her 2008 project, Precious Nothing in which the artist took casts of textures of the CBD and things she found in the street, including broken safety pins and pigeon poo, and cast them in gold. The one image that stuck with me was the texture of the steps at Flinders St Station, turned into a bright shiny (but pitted) wide gold ring. It was incredible to see trash and the very pavement I’ve walked on recontexualised as precious. It was a beautiful thing (and I really wanted to own the ring!). Caz’s website has gone but you can find the original listing on the Craft Victoria website here.
The last influence on the Gilding the City project was at the end of 2011 I was lucky enough to see Magda Sayeg do a talk in Sydeny. Magda is the lady who invented graffiti knitting in Texas about ten years ago. She spoke about the origins of the work, and how she viewed it. She talked about how graffiti is seen as a male dominated art form and that by introducing hand knitted items into this sphere, she is reintroducing the feminine and delicate, the hand made and heartwarming, into what was, back then, an art world dominated by flat, if colourful, brick walls. It was a massively inspiring talk, she’s a highly intelligent woman who has thought a lot about street art and her art form, and listening to her talk about her adventures installing knitted cozies on street signs a whole bunch if ideas and inflences crashed together in my head and suddenly I knew what to do with all that busted jewellery I had been collecting for so long.
Graffiti jewellery! I wanted to take all those broken and discarded items and create beautiful things out of them. I wanted to make them as gifts for the city, to give the city itself something to wear. I wanted to reinstall those broken bits of jewellery from the streets I had found them, but refashioned and recrafted into something wonderful.
And thus, Gilding the City was born.
Check out the Gilding the City page here for images from this project.
Caz Guiney image from here