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Books, Cities, City, Creativity

Choose Your Own Adventure: The Active Fiction Project

Image from The Active Fiction Project

The Active Fiction Project brings active narratives into city streets. Very short stories are written by local authors about specific city streets so that the public can experience their narratives on the very city blocks where the stories take place.

Begun by a group of local residents living in the Riley Park area of Vancouver (Main and 24th) with writer Nicole Boyce at the beginning of May, the Active Fiction Project will continue throughout the summer with a variety of writers contributing stories that will allow participants to ‘choose their own adventure’ (a style of beloved tween novels from the 1980’s, I’ll admit that I had more than a few) with details left on bulletin boards and lamp-posts.

More walks created by writers will be announced later this year, but in the meantime, you direct a self-guided tour of the first Active Fiction Walk by following instructions left at the community bulletin board on East 24th between Main Street and Ontario Street.

Active Fiction Project Map

I’m planning to take my own self-directed walk this weekend, and I’d love to compare notes with fellow ‘readers’. Learn more about the Active Fiction project via their website at

Don’t live in Vancouver, but know of a story project in your city? Please tell me about it in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.

Cities, Graffiti, Street Art

Protest Through Design: Garbage Bag Graffiti

Madrid experienced a 12 day city garbage strike earlier this month when three private companies made steps to freeze salaries for street cleaners and motions to lay off 1,134 out of 6,000 workers.

Ana Botella Crew Garbage Bags on the streets of Madrid

While the streets were strewn with garbage, graffiti activists Ana Botella Crew (named after Madrid’s unpopular Mayor Ana Botella) made sure that they were also covered in commentary. The medium of choice: bags full of garbage printed with the face of the mayor.

Garbage graffiti on the streets of Madrid by Ana Botella Crew

The group’s official statement on their work? “Madrid smells bad. Smells like corruption.”

All photos are courtesy of Ana Botella Crew. 


Cities, Creativity, Street Art

View Finding: Thoughts on Real Life Instagram

A few days ago, I stumbled across this post by DesignMilk of the Real Life Instagram. Bruno Riberio has created ‘real life’ Instagrams by creating a series of posters that look the interface of the app. Each poster contains a photographers names, the location, a number of ‘likes’, the hashtags, and of course, a colour filter to influence end viewer’s experience.

There are layers of meaning Riverio’s project – one, just like Instagram, the posters guide one’s eyes to a cropped  vignette that shows us a detail or angle that would have ordinarily have gone un-noticed. Two, he uses a traditional camera – quickly forgotten by most of the Instagram set – to capture the area outside the frame and his poster. Three, he captures people with their smart phones taking a photo through the posters frame to create their own image, most likely to end up on Instagram. I couldn’t pass by this on the street and not be tempted to take my own photo to Instagram, could you?

To view The Real Life Instagram on the web in the context of art and design websites gives me some pause for thought and questions arise that probably wouldn’t occur to me if I encountered these posters on the street. In ‘real life’ I’d have the impulse to capture this interesting thing, but in seeing his photographs online, they make me question myself – How am I using my time? What am I contributing to? What is in our human nature to want capture all this? How are we living our ‘real lives‘? How are we showing them to the rest of the word? Why do we even want to do this?

As we move further into a human history where more and more of us live with smart phones, new apps, digital devices, and social media –  how we choose spend our time online is often criticized. There is a growing dissent around the demands that social media is taking from our time. Our digital apps are intrusive; information is being regurgitated, weakened and lacks quality; we simply don’t need one more photo of your lunch (unless you are a successful food blogger, that is); and a phenomenon of injury has started to emerge because people can’t look up from their smart phones long enough to safely walk down the street. Riverio’s project will make you question your own behaviour.

I was a late adopter to Instagram, and I use it in the most pedestrian of ways – to capture vacation photos, friend’s kids, my cat, and little oddities that I experience in the city. I too am contributing to an over-abundance of images, half exchanges by hashtags with friends, ‘likes’, and what could be perceived of the hyper-saturated, over-edited, over captured milieu of the social web.

But the longer I process these thoughts, they matter less to me. It is easy to be dismissive of our love for technology, now that we’ve gotten so used to our digital devices in such a short period of years. It is easy for someone to say ‘I don’t DO Facebook’ in a dismissive tone or to say that we don’t need a million photos of breakfast, or lunch, or graffiti. I say that we do.

“Charles and Ray Eames praised the use of a finder in their teachings. A finder is a small piece of cardboard with a one inch square hole cut out of the middle. Viewing the world through this hole greatly forces you to lose context and content, and to greatly shift your perception” – Keri Smith

You don’t need to be using a social network to appreciate the fact that everyone has a unique perspective to be shared. Instagram provides people the tools to do this, as does a guerilla poster campaign, as does an artists who provokes us into hyper-awareness of our online activities. What Real Life Instagram say to me, is that we are a million people with ‘artist viewfinders’ in our pockets. Some of us know our strengths, some of us have yet to discover them, but each of us have a unique voice. To generalize a collective activity dismisses the real life intentions behind each snapshot.

Cities, Creativity, Street Art, Yarn Bombing

Spidertag at 5 Pointz Long Island

Not another nail in the wall (of fame) / New York 2013 – Spidertag

“If I like it, it feels like magic. I jump for joy. And if I don’t like it, I forget about it.”

Every couple of months, I’m dazzled by a new video by Madrid-based artist/sculptor Spidertag. If I’m not enthralled by him jazzing up old cabins in the European countryside, he’s causing geometric distractions on the mean streets of NYC.

Watch Spidertag in action at 5 Pointz here:

Read an interview with Spidertag on his work with the mammoth graffiti site StreetArtNYC:

“These days nails have a hold on me”

Cities, Creativity, Writing Life

Where’s Your Cultural Homeland?

My friend, the brilliant poet Laura Farina, and I had a conversation once about the idea of a ‘cultural homeland’. She said that a cultural homeland is not the place that you were born, or even the place that you may want to live – but it is a place that you return to creatively again and again, if not in person, in your mind. It is a place that sparks your creativity and makes you feel emotionally sated. Your creative homeland opens you up to a bigger life.

There are places that I’ve never been to that I think could easily be my cultural homeland, such as Santa Fe, New Mexico; Savannah, Georgia; and Haida Gwaii, BC.

There are places I’ve visited that inspire me, where I’ve had fun, but they don’t linger much after I leave: Monterey, California; Tofino, BC; and Portland, Oregon. I think they must be someone else’s cultural homeland.

Central ParkThen there’s New York City, a entity that’s been lurking in my subconscious and has been teaching me about dreaming, channeling itself through books and movies to me since I was a small child. I’ve dreamed of building tree forts in Central Park; hiding out in the New York Public Library, and writing all night in a brick-lined cafe. In the three visits that I’ve had there; I’ve found all of the legends that NYC promises seem to be true. It is a city where skyscrapers and parks co-exist, the rich and poor mingle, where graveyards remain quiet on busy streets, and where the impossible seems to happen on a daily basis – New York is everyone’s cultural homeland. It belongs to all of us. There’s a reason locals call it, so matter-of-factly, ‘The City’. It is a place where history and the present day walk together hand-in-hand.


This year I decided that New Orleans –  a city of beauty and resilience; twisted tree roots and broken sidewalks; feather masks and painted houses; loud jazz and light rain; is my current cultural homeland. It is under my skin and I return to it in my thoughts over and over again.

What about you? Where’s your cultural homeland?