Posts Tagged ‘stealth’

Photo: Richard Ankrom/Brewery Art Colony.
The Freeway sign with Richard Ankrom’s correction — a stealth project to warn drivers they had to get left fast if they wanted to go north on route 5.

It may go back to leaving May Day baskets for neighbors as a child — ringing the doorbell and hiding — but I do like stealth projects. For example, when I was working on PR for a production of the musical Sunday in the Park with George about Impressionist Georges Seurat, I placed greeting cards with his famous painting around a bookshop for customers to notice or buy. I have no idea what the salespeople did when they couldn’t find a shop code.

Today’s story is about a professional sign painter and artist who saw a highway sign that badly needed fixing. He didn’t call the highway department.

As Nate Rogers writes at theLAnd magazine, “In 2001, Richard Ankrom installed a fake freeway sign in downtown L.A. in order to fix a real problem for commuters. The sign is now long gone, but 20 years later, the stunt remains etched into the soul of the city.

“In the pre-dawn hours of August 5, 2001,” Rogers reports, “Richard Ankrom got in his pick-up truck and drove out to a downtown L.A. freeway sign. He parked along an off-ramp near 4th and Beaudry Streets, stashed two large sheets of aluminum in the bushes, and took a deep breath. …

‘I was scared,’ he recalled recently, perched on an overpass, staring down at the area where this occurred two decades earlier. ‘I stood there, just to kind of calm down, you know.’

“There was no turning back now, he remembered thinking. He’d already spent the time and money to manufacture a near-undetectable replica of two pieces of freeway signage to exact industry specification. And in advance of their installation, he’d prepared a decal for his truck that read ‘Aesthetic De Construction,’ created a phony work order in case anyone approached him, and cut his shaggy blond hair to a city-worker-appropriate length. 

“He’d also already enlisted his friends from the Brewery Art Colony … to get up at the crack of dawn to document what would later become known as his infamous ‘Guerrilla Public Service’ project. … And anyway, after the signage — an Interstate 5 emblem and an accompanying green placard reading ‘NORTH’ — had been made, it had to be put up. Otherwise, what was the point? …

“For many years, if you were traveling north on the 110 in downtown Los Angeles and were intending to go north on the 5, there was no easily visible signage to prepare you for the sudden interchange. And it’s not just any interchange, either — it’s a strange corkscrew of an exit on the left side of the freeway, sneaking up on you at the end of a tunnel. Without a decent amount of warning, you would very likely miss it. …

“A sign artist by trade, Ankrom wasn’t fazed by the initial part of his project. He downloaded a Caltrans manual, cross-checking the information by assessing an easily accessible freeway sign in person. He then cut the aluminum and painted the shield and placard, essentially by hand. On the back of the shield, he signed his name. … 

“There was one part he couldn’t make himself, however, which was the circular reflectors that had to sit on top. But he was able to convince the company that made them that he needed the reflectors for a film project — which was not untrue … ‘It had to be documented,’ he said.

“Just after the sun came up on installation day, with video cameras rolling from various vantage points, Ankrom put on a hardhat and safety vest, hoisted a ladder up to the larger freeway sign apparatus, and climbed up to the plank with his work. …

“There happened to be a Caltrans crew working nearby when Ankrom was up there [but] no one questioned him. ‘They say if you’re dressed correctly and carry a clipboard around, you can get away with a lot of stuff,’ he put it. …

“Some nine months later, after he posted [the footage] on a pre-YouTube video hosting site, the story was broken simultaneously by LA Weekly and the Downtown News. (The video — a bizarre and hypnotizing behind-the-scenes look at every step of the process — is its own work of art.) Almost immediately, he had a line of media teams waiting outside his studio to set up interviews for national news programs. …

“Caltrans also weighed in after it was reached for comment by various media organizations. In a shocking moment of humility, they noted that, while they didn’t approve of Ankrom’s methods, they couldn’t deny the quality of his work. Not only would they not be pressing charges — they were going to leave his handiwork up. One Caltrans representative jokingly told ABC that they had a job application for Ankrom to fill out. …

“These days, Caltrans is less amused by Ankrom’s story than it was in 2001. When reached for comment, a representative didn’t want to talk about the specifics — instead preferring to state that they ‘very strongly discourage unauthorized persons from trespassing onto Caltrans right of way,’ and that there are ‘legal penalties and serious personal liability’ for doing so. Should you have an issue with something like signage, the representative recommends you ‘simply submit a Customer Service Request.’ ” 

More at the LAnd Magazine, here.

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Oh, I do love kindhearted stealth projects. This worldwide campaign promotes reading. Chayanit Itthipongmaetee filed a report about it at KhaosodEnglish in Thailand.

“ ‘A Little Prince’ was hiding at BTS Siam [Bangkok Transportation System, or Skytrain]. A ‘Cat in the Rain’ was discovered at BTS Sala Daeng. …

“Fairies hid copies of these books and more in public places [in early August] as a local launch of The Book Fairies project, an international initiative in which people leave texts for others to discover in cities around the world. After readers finish a book, they are supposed to pass it on to others.

“One of the Bangkok book fairies said she learned about the book-drop project a few days before attending Saturday’s TedxBangkok. At the event held inside the KBank Siam Pic-Ganesha Theatre, she sneakily dropped five copies of best-selling memoir ‘Tuesdays with Morrie.’

“ ‘I was really excited for my first book drop, hiding one book at a time, mostly on breaks throughout the event,’ said the woman. …

“She was delighted to hear from one of her book beneficiaries a day later.

“ ‘Dear #bookfairies, I found this at #TEDxBangkok and took it home with me. I don’t know who you are but thank you for passing it on,’ wrote Facebook user Awm Has Standards. …

“Asked what kind of books she wants Thais to read more, the Bangkok book fairy said it would be literary publications for youths.

“ ‘This might sound strange, but I would love to recommend everyone to read English children’s books. … They are doors to creativity, language learning and life lessons. With or without pictures, the exciting stories for children always allow you to be free with your imagination and color them wild. They are also a good start for those who want to practice English.’

“The Book Fairies campaign was originally launched March 8 on International Women’s Day. The campaign became world-famous when British activist and actress Emma Watson, best known as Hermione Granger in the ‘Harry Potter’ film franchise, left copies of books with feminist themes around cities such as London, Paris and New York.”

More here.

Photo: The Book Fairies Thailand / Facebook


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Art: Vita Wells
‘Flights of mind,’ 2007. Book, hair, lights, fan, key, screws, hinges, glue.

Maria Popova’s website, Brain Pickings, is a never-ending source of inspiration, and my only regret is that when her e-newsletter arrives each week, there never is enough time to savor it.

In a recent one, she was a reviewed Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed, which she got at the library. The pictures are terrific and remind me of other items we’ve featured. (Remember the lead from Asakiyume about the stealth artist in Scotland who made sculptures from books and left them in libraries? I wrote about that here.)

“As a fervent lover of papercraft, book sculpture, and creative repurposing of physical books,” writes Popova at Brain Pickings, “I was instantly taken with Art Made from Books: Altered, Sculpted, Carved, Transformed (public library) — a compendium of extraordinary artworks from the around the world, using the physical book as raw material for creative contemplation and cultural commentary.

“Sensual, rugged, breathtakingly intricate, ranging from ‘literary jewelry’ to paperback chess sets to giant area rugs woven of discarded book spines, these cut and carved tomes remind us that art is not a thing but a way — a way of being in the world that transmutes its dead cells into living materials, its cultural legacy into ever-evolving art forms and creative sensibilities.”

Read more here, and be amazed by the other pictures of book art.

Art: Jennifer Khoshbin
“Prove It,” 2009, cut book.

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I like reading about — and sometimes initiating — little stealth projects like buying a box of Georges Seurat note cards and putting them one at a time on shop shelves so folks will get a subliminal clue that the Players are putting on the musical “Sunday in the Park with George.”

In 2012, I created the Stealth Poetry Project. Read about that here. I have also blogged about the reshelvers, who move bookstore volumes around  (if they think a politician’s autobiography belongs in the fiction section, for example).

So imagine my delight when a website I subscribe to, Good.Is, sent a message about an international group of people doing similar projects. They call themselves Creative Interventionists.

“The League of Creative Interventionists,” says an e-mail I received this week, “is here to insert the creativity and unexpected back into our cities. The League is a worldwide network of people working to build community through creativity. We create shared spaces and experiences in public space that break down social barriers and catalyze connections between people and communities.

“Each month we will get people together to carry out a creative intervention around a theme. We will also share our inspiration and the template for others to replicate the intervention or create their own intervention in their community.

“The League is launching in San Francisco on February 12 with an event and group creative action around the theme of love. We will be creating an installation in public space where we will share the stories of our first love on postcard-sized stickers. Random passersbys will be able to enjoy these stories and participate by adding their own story. We will also place these stickers in random places to be discovered by unsuspecting strangers who will then be invited to add their story to the installation.”

More at www.Good.is.

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I do love creative stealth projects. This one is not quite stealth because, although the perpetrators act under cover of darkness, they are known — and willing to be interviewed.

Taryn Plumb writes for the Boston Globe about graffiti artists with knitting needles in Ashland, Mass. “Armed with clews of yarn, they transformed a series of utilitarian light posts into colorful, whimsical, eye-luring structures.

“It’s called ‘yarn bombing,’ ‘guerrilla knitting,’ or ‘graffiti knitting’ — wrapping and otherwise decorating everyday structures with yarn under the cover of night. …

“It is a worldwide movement — the first international ‘yarn bombing day’ was observed on June 11, 2011 — that has emerged in the last decade, with elaborate designs hitting bicycles, statues, trees, steps, parking meters, phone booths, and subway interiors, filling potholes, and even draping entire buses and military tanks in various countries.

“In its local application, though, Ashland Creative wasn’t completely rogue. Organizer Andrea Green sought approval from selectmen.”

Plumb explains that the group’s main motive is to help reenergize the downtown as other local community-building initiatives are doing.

“And the response? Curiosity from both adults and kids, the latter of which have named their favorites and been more than happy to explore their texture.

“ ‘People have just been delighted to see the way ordinary functional objects have been transformed into fun, interesting works of art,’ said Green …

“ ‘People often have the perception that art has to be seen in museums,’ Green said, ‘but amateur artists can create it, and it can still entertain.’ ”


Update 2/10/14: Got to add another great yarn-bombing story here, courtesy of Mary Ann.

Photo: Ashland Creative
Ulie Nardone participated in Ashland’s recent Wrap-It Up Art Project.

Update: Beagling sends along this version of yarn bombing.

Photo at the NY Times: Olek
“Charging Bull,” near Wall Street, was covered in crochet by artist Olek in December 2010.

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Last year around Christmas my husband visited Southeast Asia on business and came back with descriptions of Christmas trees decorated from head to toe with written words on strips of paper.

That got me thinking about a new stealth project, one I hinted at here.

I printed out the quotes below and covered the paper with sticky plastic. I will put one set of quotation strips on our Christmas tree, but the first strips are now posted here and there around town. We’ll see what happens to them.

Feel free to use the lines here for a stealth project of your own, with or without sticky plastic. Or send some other quotes that I can use. If you are really ambitious, you might put strips of poems at the bottom of a poster headed something like “Help Yourself to Poetry” so people will be encouraged to take one.

“The roses had the look of flowers that are looked at.” T.S. Eliot

“The endlessly changing qualities of natural light, in which a room is a different room every second of the day.” Louis Kahn

“God inhabits the praise of his people.”

“Flowers have their agendas.” Mark Jarman

“I’d like to have a hand in things, what’s going on behind the screen.”  Kate Colby

“I don’t know where I’m going but I’m on the way.” Carl Sandburg



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Loved this Wired article about an unusual artist underground in France that preserves antiquities under cover of darkness.

Jon Lackman writes that the Urban eXperiment (UX) “is sort of like an artist’s collective, but far from being avant-garde — confronting audiences by pushing the boundaries of the new — its only audience is itself. More surprising still, its work is often radically conservative, intemperate in its devotion to the old. Through meticulous infiltration, UX members have carried out shocking acts of cultural preservation and repair, with an ethos of ‘restoring those invisible parts of our patrimony that the government has abandoned or doesn’t have the means to maintain.’ …

“What has made much of this work possible is UX’s mastery, established 30 years ago and refined since, of the city’s network of underground passageways — hundreds of miles of interconnected telecom, electricity, and water tunnels, sewers, catacombs, subways, and centuries-old quarries.” Read more.

I’ve been collecting stories of people doing good by stealth. In fact, if you type the word “stealth” in the search box in the upper right-hand corner, you will find five other stealth stories I have blogged about.

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The phrase comes from the carol “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.”

Somehow, the words “when half-spent was the night” instead of “in the middle of the night” (a choice doubtless made to fit the rhythm) makes one think about the meaning more. Something about a gift arriving unexpectedly halfway through a time of darkness. Something surprising and curious.

A nice gift I received Friday was an expression of gratitude for being there for someone through her first year at my workplace. With tears in her eyes. Golly. Something surprising. A welcome surprise.

Then today, tucked in the back door, a stealth gift. Hmmm. No note. Swedish colors. For Erik? I think I recognize the cookie style. It suggests Suzanne’s longtime friend, a buddy since kindergarten, known for — among other things — her mother’s cookie-painting parties at Christmas.

Suzanne is being remembered, and being reminded of fun times, at a busy season when her friend is visiting town for only a short while. These are gifts that make people feel good.

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A while back I wrote about stealth — in particular about a sculptor of paper dragons leaving works of art in libraries around the UK. I also mentioned a few of my own stealth projects.

Here is a stealth project I haven’t yet tried. It requires a camera. The idea is to move a book in bookstore to a shelf that you think suits the topic better, then take a picture of what you have done and post it to the “reshelving” group on Flickr. For example, an especially opaque tax-preparation book might go in the poetry section. A wildly imagined novel about, say, Jane Austen could get moved to biography. And a nonfiction book by a politician you don’t admire could be moved to the fantasy section.

You probably don’t want to mess things up in libraries, but just one book in bookstore … how bad can it be? Come to think of it, when my friend Paul Nagel’s biography of John Quincy Adams kept being put in a less prominent location than David McCollough’s book on John Adams, a malignant spirit took hold of me every time I entered that shop, and by the time I left, the Nagel cover was facing outward on the top shelf.

Even if you don’t sign up to post stealth photos of reshelved books, at least take a look at the Ministry of Reshelving site here.

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Asakiyume has alerted me to a great story about an anonymous library patron in Scotland who creates sculpture from old books and deposits them in libraries by stealth. The artist makes reference in his (her?) sculptures to Scottish mystery writer Ian Rankin and dragons and all sorts of literary things. You will flip over the pictures here.

Asakiyume says she likes the quotations that the mystery artist leaves with the sculptures: “I liked ‘Libraries are expensive,’ corrected to ‘Libraries are expansive,’ and also the quote from Robert Owen … (founder of some utopian communities) … ‘No infant has the power of deciding … by what circumstances (they) shall be surrounded.’ ”

The messages remind me of the mysterious tea cups of Anne Kraus, which I described here.

Now although Asakiyume knew I would love the book art, she may not have known that I have a family reputation for stealth projects, like secretly leaving a small Zimbabwean soapstone sculpture of parents and baby in John’s house after Meran gave birth.

Recently, I was telling Erik about a few of my escapades, and he got a look on his face suggesting that he was a little worried about the family he had married into.

When I was on the publicity committee for a local theater producing a musical about George Seurat, I purchased Seurat greeting cards and left them in stores’ card racks around town. They got sold, but the sales staff would have had to wing the price as there was no price on them.

Then there was the year that I sent a series of postcards from different cities under different names to an ice cream shop and in each card suggested a type of frozen dessert the shop should carry. Every card had a different reason why customers might want that dessert.

It worked, and the shop must have made money off the dessert as they stocked it for years afterward.

Photo: ThisCentralStation.com

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