Friday, May 30, 2014

Art Abandonment Project
Random acts of guerilla art
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel

On a bench along the shoreline of Lake Balaton in
Hungary, Friedel Kammler dropped handcrafted
 jewelry made by Jenny Potter and Donna Furgason,
 Canadian friends that Kammler made through the
 Facebook group. They sent the jewelry to Kammler
 to be abandoned in Hungary so their work could
 “crossover the ocean.” (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
You’re sitting at the bus stop, anxious to get to where you’re going, and you notice a Ziploc bag with a small note inside and something else you can’t quite identify, resting beside you. The note has an elaborately penned letter “A” and the title, “A Gift for You.

You are intrigued, so you pick up the bag and squint to read the rest of the note: “Art Abandonment is a group of artists sharing what we love to do by leaving artwork in random locations across the globe for other to find and enjoy. Today the Universe picks you to receive this gift with the hope that you enjoy it or pass it onto someone else. If you wish, you can send a message to to let us know it was found.”

You turn the bag over to inspect the contents. You think, “Is this for real or some new advertising scheme? Nothing is free, right? What do they want?” There’s a bracelet made of strung beads inside the bag. You open the bag and slip the jewelry around your wrist. It’s kind of cool. You start to relax and feel kind of lucky, like the universe is smiling on you.

The founders of The Art Abandonment Project—Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng—want you to feel this way. It’s their hope that, through giving away art, the world will become a slightly better place. They created a Facebook page for the group ( and have just published a book, “The Art Abandonment Project: Create and Share Random Acts of Art,” promoting their concept.

Michael deMeng and Andrea Matus deMeng, married
authors of The Art Abandonment Project, teach
 and exhibit their artwork internationally. They live
 in Vancouver, British Columbia and started the so that
 others could share their techniques for making and
 abandoning art. (Photo of their artwork provided by
Michael deMeng)
In the book, Michael deMeng (a Canadian) explains, “Obviously, one could easily abandon art without becoming a member of the Facebook group. This [Facebook] page merely provides an opportunity for others to see the good deeds of the group members as well as share experiences and feelings about the topic.” So members use the page to post photos of their artwork at the drop sites, discuss creative topics, and suggest good locations for abandoning their art.

Michael also discusses the pros and cons of various drop locations:
·         Retail stores: Good for exposure, but the juxtaposition with items for sale might be confusing to shoppers, or unappreciated by store owners.
·         Planes, trains, boats and other public transit: Your art could travel far and end up on another continent, but unidentified packages aren’t popular among security personnel.
·         Nature: Remote locations make your gift that much more unexpected when found, but weather is a factor and discovery may take longer.
·         Adrift at sea: Romantic notion, but not worth the pollution potential (unless it’s biodegradable)
·         Hotels: Good chance it will be found, but may end up in the lost and found cabinet since housekeepers don’t want to be accused of stealing.
Joanne Archer contributed several photos of her abandoned art
 for The Art Abandonment Project book, including this piece left
 on a rocky beach, including one of the standard labels provided for the
 Facebook group. In the book she says, “Once I abandon something,
 I can forget all about it. I have no wish to know who found it,
 nor receive thanks. I only hope that the finder enjoys it.”
(Photo by Joanne Archer)
·         The Big City: Plenty of people in all walks of life, but avoid locations where it might just be perceived as trash.

On April Fool’s day, Friedel Kammler dropped a collage he created with
 parts from printed paintings, on a safety-ring in the Harbor in Fonyod,
 Lake Balaton, Hungary, which made a nice tableau. The second drop that day
—a tiny altered matchbox, with a golden stone inside painted with the
 words “Love is Forever”—was left in the clutched hands of two public
 statues—Adam and Eve. (Photo by Friedel Kammler)
Some abandoners prefer complete anonymity and leave their gifts without a note or even a signature on their art. But, those who leave a note of explanation with the opportunity to respond by email, can sometimes get encouraging validation for their efforts. One example: “Last night we decided to take the kids to the park just before dark, and there on a tree was hanging the most beautiful piece of art, with such an appropriate message, (live out loud) with a clock and beautiful flowers, it brought tears to my eyes, I feel so lucky to have found this beautiful work of art, how can it get better than that? Thank you!!!”

With 14,000+ members, the Facebook-linked group has spread all over the world. When I sent out a request to members for photos of abandoned art, the first response came from Friedel Kammler of Hungary. For April Fool’s Day, he made two “drops”—a collage he created from a painting, left on a life-preserver near a harbor; and a tiny, altered matchbox, with a gold-painted stone inside inscribed with the words “Love is forever,” left in the clasped hands of a naked Adam and Eve statue. Friedel also scatters the work of two Canadian friends he made through the Facebook page, who send him packages of their own handcrafted items to be abandoned in Hungary.

Art Abandoner Gari Vibber says she left this parcel
 on the Oswegatchie River before ice-out. The April
 Fool’s Day challenge put out on the Facebook page by
 Michael deMeng was to make a drop in an unusual place.
 She says the gift was a photograph with an inspirational
 saying, “double-sealed in a waterproof container
 and set free to find its way.” (Photo by Gari Vibber)
Another artist I heard from—Gari Vibber—who creatively abandons jewelry and photographs in icy locations in upstate New York, said, “First, I must tell you that this is such an enlightening, upbeat, encouraging group. I have long been an anonymous, pay-it-forward, random-act-of-kindness kind of gal... this growing movement has insisted I step out of my comfort zone and try new things.”

Besides this drop on a car wash change machine, Gari Vibber of
 upstate New York sent photos of her artwork left on a
 windshield while the owner was out on Lake Ontario ice fishing,
at a restaurant counter with pasta and spaghetti sauce for sale,
 and on a “take me” table at a local church. (Photo by Gari Vibber)
After hearing from these artists and their generous pay-it-forward attitude, I decided it was time for me to step out as well. But deciding what to leave seemed as challenging as finding the right location. Should the gift be not too gender specific? Should it be something practical, such as note cards or jewelry? Should I make my first drop locally or further away? I wanted to be anonymous, but I also wanted the finder to know that this was an intentionally abandoned item, not just forgotten. Maybe too, it was a little hard for me to let go.

Finally, I put the standard AAP note inside a Ziploc (along with my gift) and asked my husband to make the drop. He chose a picnic table near a church parking lot. The gift was gone by the next day, set free to find its own way.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vivian Maier and Jon Sarkin
Artists by strange circumstance
Also: Cabrillo Extension, Aromas Garden Tour, and Bay Area Maker Faire
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel May 2 and May 9, 2014

“Finding Vivian Maier,” currently showing at the Nickelodeon Theatre,
 is the critically acclaimed documentary about a mysterious nanny, who
 secretly took over 100,000 photographs (including this self-portrait) that
 were hidden in storage lockers and, discovered decades later. Some consider
her one of the 20th century’s greatest urban street photographers.
Finding Vivian Maier
I’m hoping I have the chance to see “Finding Vivian Maier” (currently showing at the Nickelodeon) at least one more time before it’s gone. I loved this documentary about a mysterious woman, who knew she was a good—maybe even great—photographer, but kept her massive body of work hidden away until the day she died. She worked in New York and Chicago as a nanny for over 40 years, had no close family or friends, and even the families she lived with were unaware of her passion and unusual talent for photography.

She was born in New York in 1926, moved back and forth to France with her mother, and returned to New York as an adult in 1951 where she was hired as a live-in nanny, and purchased her first serious camera: a Rolleiflex twin-lens reflex. On her days off she wandered the streets of New York, documenting urban America. 

When she moved to Chicago in 1956, Maier was nanny to three boys, and had access to a darkroom, which allowed her to develop film and make prints. After the boys were grown, she bounced from family to family, accumulating hundreds of rolls of undeveloped film. By all accounts—from her employers and the now-grown children she helped raise—she was an eccentric, fiercely opinionated, intelligent and intensely private person. Some implied that she may have been mentally imbalanced as well. Making photographs must have been Vivian Maier’s way of understanding the world, and finding her significance within it. She didn’t need any more than that.

Maier’s massive body of work—kept in delinquent storage lockers—would come to light when, in 2007, cardboard boxes of her negatives were purchased at a local thrift auction house by a Chicago real estate agent, John Maloof. Ever since his remarkable find, Maloof and others have dedicated themselves to collecting her work, constructing and printing an archive, and promoting her rare talent through the making of a film and gallery exhibitions around the world.

View her beautiful black and white street photographs and read more about Vivian Maier at

Cabrillo Extension SummerArts Program
May EL Wire Class Land Sharks (photo by Tina Baine): Todd
 Williams, who will be teaching in Cabrillo Extension’s
 SummerArts Program, likes to take his remote-controlled EL wire
  land sharks to Maker Faire Bay Area each year, thrilling the
 crowds as them “swim” around one of the darkened exhibit halls.
EL Wire expert Todd Williams shows his Cabrillo Extension class, how to 
work with electroluminescent wire. Explorations in EL Wire 101 is just one 
of 33 community art classes being offered this summer at Cabrillo College.
 For a tour of the amazing art facilities, exhibits student work and
 demonstrations, come to the “Art Party!” at the Visual Applied & 
Performing Arts (VAPA) Open House on Saturday, May 17, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
In order to make the impressive Cabrillo College visual art facility more available to the people who paid to build it (see your property tax bill), and to offset the fact that CabrilloArts (community courses) will be taking a one year hiatus starting next fall, Cabrillo Extension is offering an unprecedented 33 SummerArts classes beginning this June, including 21 new classes that have never been offered before. The selection is broad and tantalizing, and includes stop-motion animation, handmade teapots, stained glass and steel-based furniture. I took the Explorations in EL (Electroluminescent) Wire 101 class from Todd Williams last year, and I can attest to the high-quality of the facilities and equipment available at Cabrillo, and the value of learning from a professional, experienced artists.

Workshop Coordinator Patrick Stafford says Cabrillo Extension is also offering something new for teens this summer. “There will be 2 one-week sessions in which [middle and high schoolers] will be able to experience a sampling of most of the different media taught in the art department,” says Stafford. In DiscoverArts Camps, teens will have the opportunity to experience ceramics, jewelry making, woodworking, collage, screen printing, painting, 3D assemblage, blacksmithing, camera-less photos and hacking toys (ala Sid from Toy Story). To register go to

Maker Faire
The next Maker Faire Bay Area is coming up soon, May 17 and 18 at the San Mateo Event Center. If you’ve never attended this making-frenzy-fest before, I promise you won’t be disappointed. There is so much to see and do—from high- to low-tech DIY—so plan to arrive early and spend the entire day (or two). For details and advance tickets go to

Candy-colored irises stretch over a broad hill-side at one of the stops on the Aromas Country Garden Tour, held Saturday, May 10 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Aromas Garden Tour
Sponsored by Aromas Hills Artisans, this year’s garden
 tour held the day before Mother’s Day, will featur
e artists in each garden, demonstrating their talents.
If my mother lived nearby, I would treat her to a day of exploring country gardens and art on the Aromas Garden Tour, held May 10, the date before Mother’s Day. Local artists will be stationed in each garden, painting irises, carving or weaving guitar straps, with some of their wares for sale. In my opinion, the three not-to-miss gardens are the iris gardens, where you can see hundreds of these candy-colored rhizomes in bloom and pick out ones you’d like to own; the protea farm with these incredibly large and extraordinary South African flowers, blooming on a lovely hill overlooking Aromas; and—because it’s time to replace your thirsty lawn—the brand new, drought-tolerant demonstration garden behind the Aromas Water District, with drip irrigation and all plants labeled. For details, go to
Jon Sarkin: When Brain Trauma Results in Art
I just finished reading “Shadows Bright as Glass” by Amy Ellis Nutt, the remarkable story of a man who became an artist overnight, with an obsessive need to create. In 1988 Jon Sarkin was suffering from tinnitus, hearing a continuous, high-pitched screech that grew louder and shriller every day until it was nearly deafening. After months of seeking treatment, he resorted to radical brain-surgery, from which he suffered a major stroke. To reach the clot and save his life, his surgeon had to carve away thin layers of his brain. During surgery his heart stopped twice, depriving his brain of oxygen. When he awoke later, he was a completely changed man--emotionally detached from his wife and child, and, although he tried, unable to return to his normal working life as a chiropractor.

Jon Sarkin is described on his website as “a prolific, 
even compulsive, artist who creates elaborate drawings
 and paintings cluttered with words and images.” Sarkin
 became an obsessive artist overnight after complications
 during brain surgery. (Courtesy of Princeton Day School)
The transformation was very difficult for his family, but even harder on Sarkin, who not only knew that he lost a part of his brain, but that he had lost his identity as well. Nutt’s book chronicles this prodigious alternation in Jon Sarkin’s personality and sense of self, and how making art became the bridge back to a meaningful life. For me, the transformation of Sarkin from a hard-working family man who occasionally sketched and painted, to someone who had become completely consumed with the need to make art, says a lot about the brain’s belief in art’s ability to provide answers.

For Sarkin, his brain was working overtime to solve the essential problem: Who was he? “He knew he was consumed with getting his thoughts and sensations down on paper, as if only then, looking at the colors and shapes and words, would it all come together into a pattern and make sense of his past and his present,” writes Nutt.

Jon Sarkin’s cluttered, stream-of-consciousness, crazy quilt style is anything but linear, but it has caught the attention of the art and publishing world, where his work has been featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, ABC Primetime, This American Life, GQ, ArtNews, and galleries in New York, Los Angeles, and around the world. I encourage you to see Sarkin’s work at