Thursday’s Tile: Public Art Out in Public

As we wind down to this last intended Thursday’s Tile post, we will get to enjoy some shots of the Five Senses Bench in use in the setting of the still-new Art Complex quad area of Cabrillo College.

It is safe to say that very few of the students presently attending know the history of this artwork, because it took eight semesters to be completed and five before it was installed. Instead, they are free to enjoy it for exactly what it presents itself as: a groovy, arty stopping place, especially on a sunny spring day. They are now writing the continuing history of the Bench.

The young man above, for example, was lost in his music and gazing at what’s called The Art Glen, a wild bowl of cypress trees and large bushes, likely dating from the days of the Sesnon family’s summer home.

I wish I had photos of the environmental dance troupe which used the bench as a prop at last October’s Cabrillo College 50th Anniversary Open House. They posed and leaped and shimmied all over it. Not likely to happen again soon, at least in such a trained way.

Another missed photo op was when the nearby preschool took a field trip to the Bench. Those tykes were crawling, exclaiming and pointing to everything they recognized, and being directed to new imagery by their teachers. (Wonder if they did see the pile of poo at preschooler eye-level in the Smell area?)

All this is what should happen to public art. It is looked at, used, commented on, photographed, adapted and experienced. It can also be graffiti-ed, “harvested” or in other ways defiled, although artworks are generally left alone, and ceramic tile is pretty bulletproof. (My dad said the life-sized statue of a Confederate soldier that stands in the town square of his tiny southern Alabama hamlet usually had a cigarette inserted in his mouth. When I was mentioning this to my mom, she said the statue of The Thinker at her Wisconsin high school did too. This bench has its own cigarette already, though…Whew.)

Instead of mooning over unique lost shots, here’s another more familiar sight: an elegantly perched reader, carried away by her book.

Plenty of times, too, the bench is a meeting place. It is sited in a crossroads location, yet off the traffic pathways, making it easy to locate and yet still have a relatively un-jostled private conversation, like I found these two friends below having. It just might be a defensible space. You can see how much room is around it.

It feels safe enough to stretch out and nap on, as in this completely impromptu shot below. With two distinct sides, sharing a common back and one connecting end, who knew it is also a horizontal love seat? And it’s up off that damp grass. (Although watch out if has rained recently, the back of each curvy seat does not drain!)

The loungers were not even disturbed when I asked a student I had not seen in many a day, LM, to point to the red onions and head of garlic tile he made for the Taste area. This thing will outlast us all, and every semester we told potential tile-makers they could bring their great-grandchildren to see it. LM must have really listened because he’s back sooner than that.

There’s no telling how many tiles are attached to this baby elephant. Thousands upon thousands, is my guess. But I can tell you accurately the twenty-six posts of Thursday’s Tile stack up like this: Hearing: 2, Sight: 2, Smell: 3, Touch: 5, Taste: 7, and General: 7, including this one.

And I can count one tile maker who stands out among the many hundreds, just because she worked long and hard all over this behemoth. From the “upholstery” pattern bottom edge, to the title tiles in each area, to design advice, to grouting the thing, she was there. You know her as the enthusiastic, opinionated, unsung “DP.” And there she is “standing out” right below.

When I was with DP last week taking this photo of her, she casually but earnestly said something like, “This bench needs some more things around it. It’s too bare over here.” The original plan did call for three pieces, two flatter table or hassock shapes beside the bench, but the bench proved enormously enough. At least until now.

DP drew in the dirt next to the Bench with her foot, outlining a shape, and her hands described an approximate silhouette. She talked of its construction and of it having both larger and planned-out tiles. She said she and her art partner would build the frame. She said it could be finished in place, right there in situ. She said there also needed to be a “carpet” of horizontal stepping stones around it all. She said.

I listened. I got kinda excited. I said OK!

We have plans…and as soon as they begin to actualize, I will be back, blogging about that whole process. In the meantime, I have a tiny vacation lined out. Thanks for reading Thursday’s Tile and the rest of Soul Ceramics.

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Thursday’s Tile: The Not Quite Finished Story of "Piece of Meat"

This is the sort of tile on the Five Senses Bench that probably looks better in a photo than in real life. Shot on the perfect overcast day, the photo provides framing and focus, which also helps us see the lovely juxtaposition of off-primary colors that lie right next to “Piece of Meat.”  (Heck, they might even qualify as off-secondary colors! Oh, and the orange-yellow squiggly things are ceramic Cheetos!)

You can find this uncooked classic T-bone steak tile curving slightly on the left end of the Taste area seat. There is really no image on the whole bench that is as blatantly raw, which was JMC’s impetus for including it. He said that the sashimi was too pretty. He was looking for defiant visual *POW* and maybe even meaty offensiveness. Well, as a Bench Curator who maintained detailed Wanted lists for each sense area, so was I!

He wanted to replicate the bright red Threadless “Piece of Meat” tee he had on. Who says art inspiration can’t be found literally right under your own nose? And whether your message is on your chest or left forever for folks to discover and contemplate, it’s just as valid, no?

As with most of the tiles we all made, we used a source photocopy, laid it over a leatherhard clay slab and traced the image with a slightly dull pencil, physically transferring both the outline and the main lines needed later when decorating. Then the shape was carefully cut out with a sharp blade, keeping it perpendicular to the image surface. No undercuts!

Ever so carefully the still-malleable tile was laid in position on the bench and gently curved to match the topography of its intended location. While in position, it also got traced around with a permanent marker, right onto the bench surface, so others would know that spot was taken! It might be weeks or even months before it was ready to be applied. Sometimes we even wrote the artist or image name in the outlined space so we would know who or what to look for if either seemed to have gone missing. Ah, group art projects!

Well, Mr. “Piece of Meat” stuck around for the duration and was thrilled with his contribution.

He told me not too long ago that he still loves that tile, but that the tee shirt is now too large for him because he’s clearly lost a few steaks’ worth of baby fat. He’d love a meat-tee that fits, but it’s “Out of Print.”

On anyone can vote to have a favorite tee shirt re-printed. With enough votes, they actually do it. Whaddya say we all mysteriously flood the request line and see what happens? “Piece of Meat” the tile will last forever and, with our help, maybe “Piece of Meat” the tee shirt can too.

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