Public art event by Pleasant & Stefan Eins 

It is possible, if you park your car and decide to do the unimaginable and walk through the streets of any city, to discover strange markings left by anonymous artists. In Bradford, a city in the north of England, I remember finding on my many walks, small red circles painted around objects that had been left lying in the gutter or on the sidewalks. No one ever discovered who had felt the need to point out this detritus. And in Chicago in the 1980s, large line drawings, brushed in white paint on the black roofs of buildings left “messages” for those passengers idly glancing out of passing elevated trains. This kind of art subtly transforms the poetics of space and draws attention to the insignificant object that would otherwise be overlooked, or the space remaining unused and unappreciated. There is another approach to this idea, an urban, guerrilla public art that is more obvious. This is the public event in which parts of the city are temporarily - perhaps for only a few fleeting hours - reclaimed and transformed. A tree, a building, a park bench or an empty lot suddenly takes on a new meaning. And, as Hakim Bey has written, “by the time the police arrive (or the critics) it’s gone, moved on, like the weather, leaving behind only a legend.” Anyone who happened to pass through Reynolds Square on Friday, August 26, might have observed two transparent paintings hanging from the thumb and index fingers of John Wesley’s outstretched hand and rotating in the breeze. For the passer-by, these works raised obvious questions: Who did the paintings and placed them there? What did they have to do with John Wesley? The first question has an answer, as they were never intended to be anonymous. The two paintings, one a red figure titled “The Shape of Form” (14” x 10”), and the other a blue untitled abstraction (6” x 11”) are the work of the Savannah artist who signs himself by his surname, Pleasant. The event that involved the hanging of the works was a collaboration with his friend and mentor, the New York based Austrian conceptual artist, Stefan Eins, under the auspices of Eins’ international art intervention organization, Fashion Moda, which dates back to its origins as his alternative gallery of that name in the Bronx in the 1970s. The question of what the paintings have to do with Wesley is more problematic. Pleasant has done numerous installations of transparent paintings on public monuments, mostly in Europe. As I understand his intentions, they are never site specific. They are expressionist works usually based on the figure and executed in the studio, never thematically or conceptually relevant to the monument they end up attached to. The day the works were placed on Wesley’s statue, the two artists had wandered through the squares until they found a suitable site. Now statues seem to call for such interventions - and the public parks in which they are set are also grounds that lend themselves readily to any kind of theatrical or artistic use - to instruct, amuse or charm the public. The seemingly chance choice of Wesley’s statue may have been guided in some way by the history of Pleasant’s ancestors. In 1735, John Wesley and his brother, Charles set sail from England for the new colony of Georgia. Wesley has written that the reason they chose to come to Georgia was “to save our souls and live wholly to the glory of God.” He intended to bring the gospel to the Indians, but apparently had little success. “I came to convert the Indians, but, oh, who will convert me?” By the time he left to return to England in 1737, he had come across slavery in all its barbarity (in South Carolina, as it did not exist in Savannah, due to Oglethorpe, until the British Parliament acquiesced to the settlers’ demands for it in 1749), and was moved to write one of the most eloquent denunciations of that institution I have ever read. He described in horrific detail what he had seen and pleaded to the English to see that the atrocity of slavery was outlawed in their colonies. It was left to the Methodists to erect the statue in honor of Wesley, in 1969. Promotion, career and résumé building are essential to the contemporary artist. Without them, they may as well not exist. And this drive to declare “I was here,” is perfectly understandable in a society of isolated individuals, where life is cheap and where everyone except the celebrity is expendable and reduced to a population statistic. Unlike Hakim Bey’s ideal of the secret artist, the critics were invited to the Fashion Moda event. But by the time most of us arrived, the police had gotten there first and removed the works. Presumably they remain “under arrest” somewhere. There are many kinds of urban public art, some of it city-sanctioned and some of it not. And it would seem that Pleasant, whose work neither defaces nor damages, but simply decorates, could be approved by the city and he could be given a permit to do his monument project. Meanwhile, as you are roaming the city in search of the mysterious messages that surely must be there, watch out for a tag that says “One” and will be found in an almost hidden spot. Eins is “One” in German and Stefan has left us his sign. Bertha Husband is a native of Scotland who has studied art at Oxford University and Ruskin School of Fine Art. She has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Her art criticism has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Somnambulist, and Left Curve.

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Bertha Husband

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Connect Today 10.21.2016

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