A garage full of treasures. A squirrel on a tightrope. A tree full of wishes. Here are some of the discoveries that await those who embark on The Exchange, an art exhibit scavenger hunt created by New Haven artists Suzan Shutan and Howard el-Yasin of SomethingProjects.
It runs now through November 1, and those who take the plunge can find themselves criss-crossing not only Elm City, but the state as well. Meanwhile, the art they find offers an opportunity not just for viewing, but, as the name suggests, for interaction and change.
Shutan and el-Yasin called on artists to participate in The Exchange in May, explaining in their guidelines that their vision for the project involved “a statewide art scavenger hunt with unconventional public display sites.” “. (Read about that here.)
“The artwork must be presented in an accessible location in your community, however, preferably on private rather than public property (not city or state property to avoid liability),” the guidelines continued. “We encourage you to consider creative ways to avoid liability issues, such as using a laminate QR code code or create a facility the size of a mailbox. After all, this is a scavenger hunt to engage the audience in a fun and meaningful way. All artistic mediums will be considered and there are no size requirements for The Exchange, but preference will be given to the feasibility of the artist’s proposal, including public access to the installation/site.
The exchange was intended “encourage artists to embrace and promote curiosity and precariousness as action, to support and explore”; “to encourage and challenge the communities in our landings”; “be the spark that ignites possibilities”; and to “encourage artists to go beyond their limits and experiment with the intersection of materials, production, presentation and means of engagement with the audience and the space”.
From among those who responded to the call, Shutan and el-Yasin selected 23 artists: Jeff Becker, Meg Bloom, David Borawski, Susan Breen, Joy Bush, Susan Clinard, Jennifer Davies, Sierra Dennehy, Ellen Hackl Fagan, Crystal Heiden, Allison Hornak. , Fritz Horstman, Joe Bun Keo, Judith Kruger, Susan McCaslin, Bailey Murphy, Adam Niklewicz, Jen Payne, Roxy Savage, Max Schmidt, Rosanne Shea, Kim Van Aelst, and Jo Yarrington, with projects across the state: to Beacon Falls, Easton, Fairfield, Darien, Bridgeport, Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Meriden, North Haven, Hamden, Branford, and Washington Depot.
On Saturday, this reporter and his son decided to look at three of them, somewhat at random: the Bailey Murphy and Maxim Schmidt project in Meriden, the Kimberly Van Aelst project in Hamden, and the Susan Clinard project at the Eli Whitney Barn on the border. of Hamden. and New Haven.
We first started by visiting the SomethingProjects website, which uses Google Maps to pinpoint the exact location of each project and give directions to it. We start with Meriden, our furthest point.
Directions took us down Route 15 and then onto local roads. We had been to Meriden before, but never from this address, and never to that specific part of town. We passed Neil’s Donuts (sadly closed, but we’ll be back) and a high school. Missing a turn, we ended up at Hubbard Park, which hosts the Daffodil Festival every spring. Regaining our sense of direction, we find ourselves climbing into a residential neighborhood. We saw the Murphy and Schmidt project around the corner.
Murphy and Schmidt together had turned a garage into a gloriously trashy wonderland in “Auto”, which they described in the attached signage as “two intertwined self-portraits, built from wild collections that represent social connection and a complete vision of personal identity”. The garage was filled with artwork by both artists, as well as a spectacular array of plastic and plush figures, from Beanie Babies to dinosaurs.
The artists also offered engagingly detailed instructions; each visitor, after soaking up the sensory overload of the space, was invited to take almost any object in the space. Visitors were then asked to write their name, a description of the item, and why they took that specific item in a visitor log. The log, already containing many entries, was quickly becoming part of the piece. Visitors’ explanations for taking certain items ranged from the immediate (“that’s great”) to the contemplative (“it reminded me of the items I used to nervously play with in doctors’ offices as a child”).
Murphy and Schmidt’s piece may have been a celebration of themselves, but it was very much a celebration of community. We laughed out loud at many of the pieces and enjoyed speculating on how the two of them had amassed so much great stuff. “Auto” was an opportunity to enter the minds of the artists and immerse themselves in a feeling of warm generosity, the kind of exchange that Shutan and el-Yasin spoke of.
We took a plastic dinosaur wearing a sweater and a party hat. Who could resist the partysaur? We do not.
In Hamden, at first I drove through the garden along the sidewalk, but when I passed, the squirrel caught my eye and I stopped. Unlike other squirrels in the vicinity, this one was carrying an umbrella on a tightrope. It turned out that Kimberly Van Aelst’s whimsical Great Squirrelini had a serious point to make. “My garden is made of plants exchanged by neighbors and friends,” an accompanying note read. “It is not only beautiful to look and smell, but also a silent protest of lawns and shop plants. A sculpted squirrel balances precariously on a tightrope to represent the balance between caring for nature and the demise of our planet. This piece is also intended as a means to encourage more renegade gardens instead of lawns and also because of my love of squirrels.”
The balance Van Aelst mentioned was on display throughout the piece. Stopping to watch the Great Squirrel also meant noticing how Van Aelst had created a lush sidewalk garden, one that still produced flowers, and still remained green during the drought, even as the grass around it burned brown. Van Aelst also offered something visitors could take with them: a packet of wildflower seeds for people to start their own gardens.
A couple of miles further, pulling into the Eli Whitney Barn parking lot revealed that the space had become the site of something that, even at first glance, felt a bit sacred, as the tree near the fence was already covered. of ribbons, the recipient of a ceremony.
“A wishing tree is an individual tree that has been chosen for offerings so that a wish may be granted or a prayer heard. Traditionally, people come from all over the community to decorate the tree… each one offering a different dream, a wish, a longing. This centuries-old tradition is found all over the world,” read an accompanying note from artist Susan Clinard.
Nearby was a box of markers and wish-making supplies that could be tied to the tree. “Leave your wish with words or silently with a ribbon. We collectively share our longings with a tree, swaying together in the breeze, read and experienced by others. It brings awareness and a shared sense of belonging.”
The explanation was an invitation to participate, but little explanation was needed. Among the multitude of wishes were hopes for big changes (end racism, homelessness, sexism, hunger) and prayers that loved ones can recover from the disease. Prayers for guidance. He hopes that we can cultivate a more nurturing relationship with nature. The cumulative effect of all those hopes and dreams in one place was moving and, at the same time, serene. It was a place to stay and savor the warm afternoon. Making a wish tape was one way to participate. The exchange was the knowledge that there were hundreds of others among us who had already come and made the same short trip from Whitney Avenue and participated in the same project, hoping for better things.
“The Exchange” will be in force until November 1 throughout the area and the state. Visit the SomethingProjects website for a map, directions, artist bios, and many other details.