When we visited Prague a couple few summers ago, I was particularly impressed with the John Lennon Wall. This was a backyard wall of a villa facing onto a small, obscure square near the river. The length of the wall, some 60 or 80 feet, was heavily graffitied over, was in fact, an ever changing public collage being extruded upon constantly, so that the day after I had added my semi-elaborate magic marker drawing, I returned to find it layered over, and the entire wall itself to be completely different from the previous day. An interesting experiment might be perhaps to measure how much thicker the wall grows daily in layers of ink, newsprint, magic market, bodily fluids, spray paint and industrial soot from upriver.
This has led to a lot of experiments in ways to implement large scale ephemeral art in the last couple of years, and I’ve settled on something which we’ll try out at the upcoming Mother Lode Episode this Memorial Day weekend.
The idea is to put up an 8 foot x 8 foot flat vertical surface (2 pieces of 4 x 8 plywood) covered with sheet steel, to use as the “wall”.
Close to the wall, a table will be set up with bins full of colored magnetic shapes and letters to apply to the wall, so one could write something or, in effect, paint something, on the wall. I don’t want to use a flat white surface with marker pens or spray paint, because not everyone is practiced with “craft” and using ready-made shapes or letters lowers the “barrier to entry” which mastery of hand craft might impose.
Once complete, “resetting” the wall to be blank is simply a matter of having an intern take down the couple or few thousand shapes and letters and returning them to the appropriate bins.
To this end I have been building up what must now be the world’s foremost collection of magnetic shapes and letters.
Because of the scale of the canvas, and the need to have enough of shapes and letters so no individual should reach into a bin and find nothing there, the collection of magnetic dealios now numbers in the thousands.
What’s more, it is probable that many a kindergarten or home schooling project has been ruined by virtue of what appears to be the cornering of the market in brightly colored plastic shapes and letters for this year’s experiment in ephemeral art.
And so it goes.
I experimented with a number of different “formats” of shapes and letters/words. The flat magnetized shapes and words from magnetic poetry kits are really great, but also really hard to put on sheet steel and take off.
The current vast collection of shapes and letters are using the more 3D format of 1/4″ – 3/8″ thick raised plaster moldings around the little rectangular magnets instead of the flat sheet magnets as a matter of which is easier for drunken, middle aged creatives to handle.
While I am really not in favor of the bright color choices available off the shelf, it is to be noted that the shapes and letters, from different manufacturers and suppliers, pretty much adhere to the same overall palette, so, yay.
In the course of experimenting with how things actually work when used, some interesting things have been learned:
- If you buy a plastic container with 72 or 112 letters mixed between upper and lower case, you quickly find that of all the letters, only 3 are the letter E which is the most commonly used letter in English and that you need about 10 gajillion units of their fine product to spell anything of any significance.
- If you assemble several hundred “magnetic poem” magnetic backed strips measuring about 1/32″ thick and 1/4″ high by 1″ wide on a sheet of steel, you will, after taking off 20 of them, and bleeding from under 3 fingernails of your dominant hand, rather be dead than continue in taking the rest off the sheet steel.
I have learned these things that you need not do so.