Guerilla Art comes to Woodstock

It’s the summer of 2011, and strange things are appearing on and around the Village Green in Woodstock, New York.  A loosely gathered group of local artists is challenging residents and visitors with randomly appearing events and creations that seek to shake up their everyday experience of places and public interactions. Walk around Woodstock, open your eyes, and see if you can find some surprises.

The first project was called Tourist Trap; a bear trap was welded open (so no one would actually get trapped) and inside it were placed a film canister, an ice cream spoon, and other items that a tourist might use.  Its creator describes the event:

I set up the tourist trap on July 4th, 2011, a Monday.  I chained it with a padlock to a stone bench on the Village Green.  I set it on a section of a log so that it would be off the ground.  On Tuesday I went back to check it out and it had been removed and set on the ground by a tree. The roll of film was not attached but I found it on the ground. I re-glued it on.

The stone bench it was chained to was very heavy and could not be moved by a strong man. It must have taken several people to move it and I noticed the entire bench was a few inches from where it had been. The log section had been moved to rest on some plastic snow fencing covering the curved stone bench. Over the weekend someone had driven into the curved stone bench and destroyed it. I figured various town employees had been by to see about the broken curved stone bench and moved my tourist trap.

I put the tourist trap in a new spot near a small tree and fastened the chain. It was now on the ground on a stone and away from foot traffic. When I went back the next day, it was entirely gone. Someone would have had to cut the chain to remove it.

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To sit or not to sit?  A bench on the Green was decorated with post-notes, grouped into “sit” or “don’t sit” areas, on July 10.  The creator’s description follows the image.

The post–it project was created through a collaboration. My daughter and I planned the idea together and wrote up the post-its together, using various colored post-its, gold ink for the dark ones  and black ink for the light colored post-its.

In the morning there were some street people who watched us set up the piece. One fellow asked, “What are you doing? Is there something unsafe about the bench?” he seemed to think we were town employees and were putting all these post-its on as a message to the public that the bench was unsafe.

Another fellow in the morning offered to help. I said, no thanks, we have a pattern we are working with here. But thanks.

We saw K. and he did not look at it. We described it to him and he said, just like Woodstock, people will sit on the no sit side.

When we went back later during the drum circle time:

The first person we saw sit down was an elderly woman who sat in the Sit area first.  She was eating an ice cream and was with family and a friend. They stood while she sat. Later she moved to the no sit side of the bench, still talking with the standing friends.

Later, another elderly woman sat on the bench and said to my daughter and me, what else are you supposed to do? It’s a bench.

A number of young boys came by and checked it out.  The three of them looked at the bench and talked together. The youngest sat on the sit side and then in the middle. Later he came back, and with a big grin on his face sat on the don’t sit side.

Many people came by and just smiled. Some people took pictures.  I talked with a couple who were sitting across from the bench when we first arrived, and they said, it’s a Woodstock thing, ying yang, and the fellow gestured with his hands in a balancing motion. They said they had been there for a while and no one would sit on it.

Later a woman sat on it and came away with one of the post-its on her hand. She went back and put it back in its spot.

We talked to that couple later and they loved it. She had taken pics to bring back to her art teacher, she explained. He told various stories about Pete Seeger and Woodie Guthrie.

G. came by and said it represented what he might be thinking, should I sit down, well, maybe, no I might not, only I’m tired, maybe I’ll sit for a bit, etc etc. in the dilemma of sitting or not.

More people came by and took photos: one took a close up of the seat of the bench. Others just smiled.

For a while three people were sitting and after they left one of the post- its was folded back. Otherwise the post-its moved in the wind but stayed stuck.

The next morning my daughter and I went back to the bench and every post it was gone along with the scotch tape. We asked some gardeners at the green and a street fellow and no one had seen it in the early morning. We checked the garbage cans for traces of it but the cans had been emptied earlier.
This project was the subject of a Letter to the Editor of the Woodstock Times: This project was the subject of a Letter to the Editor of the Woodstock Times:

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On July 16, a Non-Yard Sale was held, to the delight and bewilderment of bargain-hunters.  Expectations were challenged as each was given (free) a single paper airplane.  Their comments follow the photos.

At 9 am the first customer came, a man who stopped his car and said from his car, “You having a yard sale here?” I said, “Yes – this is it. He said, “What is it? I said, “You kind of have to see.” He got out of the car and looked and asked, “What’s the catch?” I said it was about expectation. He read the plane and said it was cool. “Why are you doing this?” he asked, and I said, “For fun”. He said it was great fun, took the paper airplane and left.

The second guy looked homeless with slurred speech, perhaps from brain damage. He read the paper airplane and said, “You know about Mark Twain, used to have a house up by Tannersville.” He talked about that for a bit and then said, “I don’t have any money.” I said, “I’m not selling anything.” I gave him a paper airplane and he was happy to have it. “I’ll save this,” he said, and I said, “Or you can give it to someone else.”

One woman came who knew E., who was hanging out with me She said, “Oh, one of a kind, I get it,” and laughed and laughed. She said, “It’s about expectations and yard sales,” and laughed some more.

One woman stopped her car across the street and walked over and said, “Is this the yard sale?” I said yes. She said, “Is that all you have?”  I said, “Come see.” But she made a face and turned back to her car.

A couple came along on foot. They liked the plane all right and said they did not have many expectations. She said she made a point not to. Except for Congress – then she talked a long time about how angry she was at the games they are playing with the economy and thus, our lives.

Most people who stopped were on foot. Cars would slow, look at the one table and go on.

One guy said, “ I guess the questions is where to fly it.”  I said, “Why not fly it here?” He said, “I’m going to the movies on Tuesday. I’ll fly it there.”

One pedestrian just said thanks and went on.

One person said I’m trying to get rid of expectation and anticipation and focus on intention.

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On August 3, a large sheet of paper appeared on a Tinker Street sidewalk, labeled Art by the Foot, with instructions to “Walk All Over Me”. Water-soluble powdered pigment was placed at each end of the paper, to enhance the effects, and passersby young and old were invited to walk, crawl, hop, run, ride or dance across it.

We put the paper and the black powered tempera on the sidewalk about 1:15 pm.  Some of the black powder spilled onto the paper. We sat on a nearby bench that was near enough to watch but far enough away to feel separate. Very soon a fellow came along and took off his sandals to walk barefoot across the paper. He purposely walked in a pigeon toed manner and was deliberate.

A number of people walked by and walked around the paper. Some people came up to the paper and looked, trying to decide what to do. We encouraged people to walk across.

A mother with a stroller and a young girl very carefully walked across the paper. We had some concerns about the black dust staying on people’s shoes and looked to see that it did wear off in about ten paces.

The owner of the nearest store, a shoe store, came by and said that he was worried about the black dust getting into his store. We reassured him and he was OK with it.

One paper-walker said, “It’s not even Ash Wednesday and they already have the ashes out!  They’ll do anything for a footprint!”  Another asked, “How much is it?”

Various people continued to walk both around the paper and on it. Families with small children seemed to take the most delight in creating their footprints.

The number of footprints became dense enough that it became hard for individuals to see their own prints. Some people purposely chose the remaining white on the edges of the paper.

Meanwhile a woman came to shop at the shoe store who could not get out of her car. She explained that she had hip problems. The salesman brought shoes out to her to try on in the car.

A little before 2pm we sprayed the paper with fixative. We had to move the paper away from the woman shoe shopping from her car due to the fumes. Then, we rolled the paper up and swept the sidewalk to remove most of the black dust. A little remained but it rained within the hour.  However, a note from the shoe store owner appeared in the Times the next day, asking for the remainder to be scrubbed away, which one of the creators did immediately.

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The most recent project was titled “Shadows for the Day.”  Artists and their friends gathered on the Green just after dusk on August 11, armed with chalk and charcoal, and proceeded to trace the shadows of people, benches, light posts, fire hydrants, etc.  The next morning pedestrians were greeted with artful shadows competing with those created by the morning sun.

photo by RIchard Edelman

What will come next to our outdoor “gallery?”  Be sure to keep watching, and we’ll post updates here as they happen!

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4 responses to “Guerilla Art comes to Woodstock

  1. I live close to town but rarely walk near the green. I drive by a couple of times a week.

    Now that I have read about these wonderful, creative, playful happenings around the green I will be more aware of it; it IS after all the center of the town. My town.

    I am reminded that it is where I was arrested. Arrested for sitting on the green in the 70’s. There was grass then. It was a long time ago. My friends and I probably thought of it as an act of defiance against totalitarian restrictions; but I think we pled innocence of the ordinance. Charges were dropped.

    I hope next time I am arrested it will be for a more important protest and I will have a stronger conviction.

    P.S. Bravo for those in black who stand for peace.

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