Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics…They are, I believe, the voice of the people." –Jack Santino

Archive for the tag “public art”

Washed away by the rain – street chalking and ephemeral memorials, Part 1

A colleague of mine from Columbia University’s Narrative Medicine program, Gillian Graham, sent me the following photos earlier this year:

 

–and a close-up of the chalking–

 

 

She also sent this explanation:

“So this popped up on the corner of 173rd/Haven Ave in NYC last week. I saw it in progress; I saw a woman find out for the first time that this woman had died through this shrine (she grew up with her), and then the next day it was washed out by a rainstorm.”

This New York City shrine is the perfect example of an ephemeral memorial.  I sometimes use the terms makeshift memorial/ephemeral memorial/spontaneous shrine/roadside memorial interchangeably, but in this case, I believe ephemeral memorial is the most appropriate due to the absolute ephemerality of the shrine.  Chalk, by nature, does not last on pavement for very long.  I grew up in the hot and dry suburbs, so as a child, a chalked hopscotch pattern could last for quite a long time (maybe two weeks).  In a place like New York City where there is extreme foot traffic and frequent heavy thunderstorms, anything that is chalked will probably not last more than about one or two days– if even that long.

A shrine like this makes me think of burning offerings for the dead.  You burn them and send them off away from the living to the dead.  A shrine that is made with the understanding that it will soon be gone is delicate yet powerful.  It has intense meaning for the fleeting moments that it exists and then it is washed away.  Like the person to whom it is dedicated, the shrine becomes a memory.

Tomorrow I’ll post about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire memorial project CHALK…stay tuned…

“When Newspapers Die, Where Do We Bring the Flowers?”

Hello dear shriners!

I’m very sorry for the long absence…April was a truly crazed month.  The long and short of it is I ended up leaving a job to pursue freelance journalism full-time, I’m in the process of getting ready to move, I’ll be officially graduating next week from my graduate program [for which this was my thesis, though it’s become much more], and I’ve been putting a lot of time into my part-time responsibilities– namely as an interviewer and host for a public radio station, program assistant and blogger for an education abroad trip that I’m totally excited about [it’s on Religion, Secularism, & Civil Societies!], and social media coordinator for a public radio news service.  Plus, New York City’s been a happening place to be what with all of the Occupy Wall Street action!

But, I’m excited to be back in the world of spontaneous shrines.  I’ve been collecting lots of interesting material to cover in the coming weeks and I’m looking forward to having the time to blog on a regular basis again.  I figured I’d start off with a more light-hearted post:

It starts with an empty newspaper/flyer box [like those found on many street corners] in Toronto and a person with a sense of urban art aesthetic who had a creative idea for a DIY [do-it-yourself] project.  This person took some plywood and constructed a flower planter inside the open flyer box.  Then, this DIYer posted the idea on a DIY website along with this picture:

I happened upon this photo of the newspaper box planter one day while searching for “makeshift memorials” online.  It was accompanied by an alternative press blog post entitled: “When Newspapers Die, Where Do We Bring the Flowers?”

I find it interesting that although the person who initially created the flyer box planter seemed to be only re-purposing and re-beautifying public space, the person who wrote the blog post transformed the flyer box planter from DIY project into makeshift memorial–and what a makeshift memorial it is!  Not only does it have the typical flower offerings, the flower offerings are planted in an aesthetically pleasing configuration.  It is a lovely example of public art and folk art.  The space calls attention to the newspaper stand, and it’s immediately apparent that the space has been altered.  Those print newspaper lovers among us (I’m definitely one) feel a pang of sadness at the loss of a newspaper, but the flowers help me cope with this feeling of loss.  They are beautiful and give me the physical space to deal with the change from what has been to what is now.  It also invites us to participate in this re-claiming of space–we can all make flyer box planters with simple plywood, dirt, and seeds 🙂

This is why I find spontaneous shrines and makeshift memorials such a fascinating topic.  There are so many ways in which public memorialization can be seen in everyday life–and not all of those ways are associated with such terrible topics as death.  People have a need to remember that which has been and memorials, no matter how small or playful, help us reflect upon and move with these changes that comes with time.

With that, I would like to thank you for reading and stay tuned for more posts in the near future!

The ghost bike for Liz Byrne

For the next few days, I’ll be posting photographs from the 7th Annual Ghost Bikes Memorial Walk and Ride.  I participated in the walk, so the photos will be primarily of that portion of the event.  This first set is of the ghost bike for Liz Byrne.  It is located on the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Kent Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn:

Liz Byrne, age 44, was killed while bicycling on the busy street on Friday, September 23, 2005.  Her sister, Annie Byrne, requested that a ghost bike be installed in her honor.  You can read more about this particular memorial on the ghost bikes website.

Here are pictures of Liz Byrne’s ghost bike taken on Sunday, March 18, 2012:

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Photo by Shady Grove Oliver

Where They Left — Roadside Memorials & Descansos

I found this video on youtube posted by user ‘bridgesoflosangeles’.  It is a series of photographs of roadside memorials in Los Angeles, California with the song “Corre, Rio, Corre” by David Lanz in the background.  I’ve come across several amateur videos featuring shrines and soothing or sorrowful music.  What interested me about this one was the written blurb beneath the video:

“The Mexican tradition of the road side memorial – or “Descanso” – has spread to Los Angeles County. It is common to see these home made alters at the spot where someone died, usually in an automobile accident but for other reasons as well. They are of course sad but they are also symbols of love. For me, they are a kind of home made folk art, something assembled with a passion and power beyond the limits of the materials used. They are on a road from sadness to healing.”

‘bridgesoflosangeles’ describes spontaneous shrines as a type of folk art, stemming from the Mexican tradition of descansos.  I like the fact that this video locates itself in a particular time and place.  The photographs featured in the video excellently portray some of the characteristics typical of California shrines.  As a native Californian, these are the types of shrines I grew up passing frequently on the roadsides.  Many of them are constructed by and for Mexican Catholics and often have devotional candles for patron saints.  Keep an eye out for these tall, glass candles as you watch the video!

Roadside to film to canvas – artwork and shrines of the Southwest

I’m back in my hometown of Riverside, California for the holidays and I’ve seen some unique roadside memorials along the highways.  There is a particularly vibrant shrine culture in Southern California and throughout the Southwest due in part to strong Catholic influences.  While I work on tracking down information about a few of these local memorials, I’ll share a site that I came across a while ago.

The people at Barhead Goose Studios drove from Cerrillos to Taos, New Mexico and recorded many of the roadside shrines along the way.  They use the Spanish term descansos meaning ‘resting places’ to describe the memorials.  Their photography is beautiful and captures some of the most exquisitely decorated shrines I’ve ever seen.  But the thing that caught my attention about their Descansos project was the series of gouache sketches they did of the shrines.  It is rare to find such evocative artwork of descansos.  Below is their video of the project which includes live footage of the shrines, their photos, and their drawings  which wonderfully illustrates the careful progression from roadside to film to canvas.

 

Return, Remember: Ephemeral Memorials in the Legacy of September 11th

Walking around DUMBO, Brooklyn during the week of September 11th this year, I saw a number of what looked like spontaneous shrines and public art tables set up between the Brooklyn Bridge and the Manhattan Bridge.  I talked to the people running the booths and found out that the Brooklyn Arts Council [BAC] had come up with the idea to have an exhibition of ephemeral memorials co-created by members of the Council and the public, who were invited to participate in an activity at each of the booths.  I walked from one activity to the next and did a wide variety of things including painting a small canvas the color of the sky that morning, creating a bundle of memory herbs, placing a marble on a clay-covered table to represent 1 day since September 11th [there were enough marbles for every day in 10 years], and writing a note for a community spontaneous shrine.

During the week prior to the 10 year anniversary, BAC invited anyone to make an “ephemeral memorial” [often a spontaneous shrine] in memory of September 11th.  One could make it at home, at a public place, at the office, or anywhere else they chose.  Photographs of these homemade ephemeral memorials are now on the BAC website.  You can see the online exhibition here.

I find it very interesting that the Arts Council chose shrines and memorials as the medium for their anniversary commemoration.  Personal yet public, for the living and the dead…

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Spontaneous Shrines

"We who build shrines and construct public altars or parade with photographs of the deceased will not allow you to write off victims as regrettable statistics...They are, I believe, the voice of the people." --Jack Santino

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