Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…
Sayraphim Lothian is a craft and visual artist interested in exploring playful and participatory experiences. She co-runs Pop Up Playground, a Melbourne pervasive and social games collective; recently participated in a playful residency at the National Gallery of Victoria and some of her work can be found in the archives of the NGV, the collection at MOMA and on streets around the world.
Yesterday morning I was feeling pretty excited. I’ve been making artificial cupcakes on and off for the past couple of days and yesterday they were ready to be distributed in the CBD. They’re all in colourful patty pans, with purple ‘icing’, sprinkled with different coloured glitter and a cheery red bead on top. Threaded through each bead is a glittery paper tag, printed with a hand carved stamp that reads “For you, stranger <3 sayraphim”.
I went into the city and left them all out in various places for people to find and take – I’m exploring random acts of guerrilla kindness – and I was really excited to see how it went. My ultimate goal was to make someone’s day a little brighter by gifting them with a fun fake cupcake. By the time I was back on the train heading home I’d already gotten my first response, someone on twitter telling me that finding a cupcake had made them smile and that they were so inspired by the project they were planning to do something similar.
My current body of work investigates kindness and loveliness as art. I create fun, magical moments for people to experience and enjoy. Sometimes these take the form of games to play, in the street, in theatres, in parlours or out in the open, and sometimes they are joyous craft pieces, installed in the street. Along with the For you, Stranger project I’m also working on Gilding the City, which installs reworked pieces of found and broken jewellery in cities around the world, and Street Pests, which places pigeon and rat softies sewn from material found in the streets back in the suburbs they came from. I see all these pieces as little bubbles of joy or surreal moments for passersby to notice.
There are two main influences on my current practise. The first was my grandmother, Marge. She tirelessly created toys for charity throughout her life. She had a wardrobe filled with material people had donated to her, a garage full of yarn and she knitted, sewed and created hundreds of dolls and toys for charity and gifts. She would also teach anyone who asked and freely gave of her time and expertise whenever she saw a need. At the end of her life, while in a high care dementia home, she was still knitting scarves for the hospital and teaching the nurses to knit. She shared her skills and knowledge freely to anyone and she made the world a better place for hundreds of people.
The second person is a British gent named Tassos Stevens. He co-runs the playful society Agency of Coney and just over a year ago he visited Melbourne to invite people to rediscover their playful side. He inducted us into Coney’s world of play and its principle of loveliness via games and challenges. In one challenge he asked us to gather into pairs and suggest someone we thought might like a lovely, possibly anonymous, surprise and what that surprise might be. Another challenge was to get together in groups and chat about a group of people who are normally ignored, or who do crappy jobs for little pay, and what we might create as a nice experience for them. Nurses, public transport drivers, cleaners and people living in old folks homes were some of the people nominated for loveliness and some of the experiences brain stormed were quite touching.
I fell in love with this idea – niceness’s organised for people who might need them – a little bit of kindness to improve someone’s life. During the week, through these challenges and some physical games out on the street, Tassos taught us that making lovely experiences for people is actually a Thing. Which sounds silly when you say it out loud, but sometimes you need stuff pointed out by other people to fully understand it.
The whole experience made me want to do that too, so I started a new direction in my work, making niceness’s for other people in all manner of ways.
My first project was called A Moment In Yarn. It took the craft skills and generosity of my grandmother and mixed them with the personalised kindness experiences that Tassos teaches. It’s a one on one experience in which the participant tells me a cherished memory and, as we chat, I translate the memory into a granny square for them using different coloured and textured yarn. It’s a really beautiful experience and I always feel really honoured that people trust me with a memory that’s so precious to them. I love hearing their stories and I love the challenge of re-creating them in yarn. It’s a big responsibility – you’re being lent a treasured moment of their lives and you don’t want to do anything to sully it – but it’s always so heart-warming at the end to see their faces when they receive their Moment In Yarn; their memory made solid, something warm and soft they can hold. What I knew would happen at the end of each Moment is that the participant would get a craft object based on their memory (which they all seem to love) what I didn’t expect was the awesome feeling I’d get that I’d made something that meant so much to someone.
The next project was called Gilding the City. You can read the post I wrote about it for Whipup here. It’s a street art project reworking found bits of broken jewellery into little art pieces for cities to wear. It started out in Melbourne and quickly spread around the world. They’re usually pretty small, often they don’t stand out from where they are installed, instead they are little rewards for people who take the time to look around and really see the city rather than just going about their daily business. I love the city, I love peering around corners and scanning the ground to see what I find and, with Gilding the City, I wanted to encourage other people to see the city the way I do. I’ve sent Gilds to people all around the world to install in their own cities and they tell me they love the thrill of the hunt (to find the right place) and the excitement of installing the piece. One lady, who installed a little figure with her son, wrote to me to tell me that he waves to it every day and has named it ‘Lollipoloser’.
Some of these projects take a little bit of time to create but I love doing it. I love the idea that someone stumbles across one of the street projects and it brightens their day. I’m always thrilled to see interesting art out in the streets and I want to share that experience for other people. I create tiny moments of joy for people in the city; out-of-the-ordinary moments that transport them, if only for a second, to a world filled with magic and wonder. I get such joy out of making each item and I’m always chuffed when people contact me to let me know they found one.
My advice is keep an eye on the streets around you, you never know what you might see…