Thursday, February 26, 2009

Street Art Rescue #3 - Elgin Flower Box Rebuild

Swap box season seems to be upon us. Woodsy has posted a blog entry about a damaged swap box she found discarded, and there's a new swap box by the Bridgehead on Elgin.

For those not in the know, a Swap Box is a piece of participatory public guerrilla art where you can leave or take a trinket in its little container. They originate here in Ottawa by an artist known by the pseudonym El Maks, who has also recently started up a "Swap Box Project" blog. See also other posts on my blog with the label "swapbox".

But swap boxes aren't the only form of street art. Maks also makes other public displays, which often refer to current events and political figures. One example is this "A Very Bailout Christmas" diorama posted on Slater near Bank in late December '08 (Kudos to zoom! for the tip on this one)

And other people make street art, too, such as this beautiful flower box on Elgin that went up in late August. [Edit Aug 2009: It's a Super Mario reference] It was initially installed with a nice red rose:

By early October, the plants had been replaced, but didn't keep too well.

After the flowers died, I was actually surprised that it stayed up for as long as it did. I guess the dark colouring kept it out of sight for anyone who would do harm to it. At some point in the winter, I put a fake rose on a piece of coat hanger wire and tried to stick it in the soil but I forgot about the part where freezing cold temperatures makes soil very stiff, so I bent the coat hanger wire and loosely propped it in the box. It was gone very shortly after, and I never got a photo of this.

The box survived on the hydro pole until February 17th. I was walking up Elgin when I saw that the box had been broken off:

Luckily, the rest of it was lying on the ground, and all of the pieces were there. Unlike my previous swap box rescues on Elgin and on Gladstone, an on-the-spot repair wouldn't do the trick, so I put the pieces in a bag and brought it home to my workshop to repair.

As a frequent visitor to and, I made sure to take photos of the construction process.

Fixing the box would be easy. But replacing a broken empty box with a repaired empty box wouldn't be very interesting. I'm not patient enough to try to plant some seeds in there and wait for something to grow, so I made my own flowers.

The petals are made from the slats of some horizontal blinds that someone had thrown out a couple years ago which I had trimmed to fit my window. I made two completely different middle bits for the two flowers. One is from a Kinder Surprise egg with some slivers of black plastic shaved melted in for stamen (the plastic came from a spare bike accessory part that I was probably never going to need).

The other is a knob off a cupboard or dresser or something I would have picked up on garbage night. I have boxes of fixtures of all kinds--hinges, handles, knobs--that I remove from old dressers that people are discarding (and which are too far gone for anyone to want to take home).

With my soldering iron, I poked some holes in the black plastic knob, and little lips formed around the holes (which I sliced off... I suppose I could have left them there). The lips looked like miniature unused condoms, especially when you click on the photo to see it close up.

I then decided the holes weren't interesting enough, so I tried melting some metallic pink glass beads into the holes, but they didn't stay. I then tried filling the holes little globs of (lead-free) solder, and it worked quite well. Below you can see a freshly-added glob in the middle, which is still shiny. The globs quickly lost their sheen as they cooled.

I attached them to coat hanger wire (with hooked bottom ends to keep them firmly planted) and wrapped the wire with green painter's tape to bulk and pretty them up. I then coated the stems with glue for protection.

I repaired the box, which didn't involve much special. I used glue and new screws, simply because I had them around for miscellaneous projects like this, and because they'd be stronger than the nails that failed to keep it together the first time. (Also because using used screws would mean drilling different-size holes and using different bits to screw in the different heads.)

With the box back in one piece, next came decorating.

I had some little label holders from a box that was with my great-grandfather's lathe (which is looking for a good home with a rich collector, by the way!). I fashioned a label out of another metal blind slat, inscribed something on it with a nail (I settled on the word "LIVE". Tip: clamp the nail in some vice grips for better control), crimped the edges so the label wouldn't fall out, then attached it to the box.

I then attached a bow (made from a piece of ribbon I had lying around. I actually had tied the bow quite a while ago and kept it because I hadn't expected to make such a nice bow on the first try) with an industrial staple that was in my containers. I probably pulled out of an old box spring at some point. Actually no, wait--it was from an IKEA Läde. (I know, that's no way to treat a Läde!)

Next I planted the flowers. Not "planted"--I actually had to plant them, with potting soil (and glue, for good measure).

Anyway, short story long, here's the finished product:

Remembering how hard it had been to stick the rose in the frozen soil, I put the box in the freezer overnight to help the soil freeze and the glue set (also so that the soil wouldn't shake all around in my bag during delivery). This would help prevent tampering.

I signed the repaired box and returned it to its former home, good as new.


It's actually depressing that, even with the flowers, most people don't even notice it. Their loss, I suppose.

Oh, and here's a shot of El Maks' lovely new swap box on Elgin:

Help keep street art alive--support your local swap box!

- RG>


Anonymous said...

You sir, are awesome.

RealGrouchy said...

Blame Maks for the awesome! I just did some finishing touches!

<3 Señor Happybear

jason said...

very nice.