We live in an odd duality. On one hand, we’re inundated with a thought-numbing media din, but simultaneously, as individuals we’ve never had so much ability to get noticed — look at the infamous Mooninite Bomb Scare, the work of just a few people. This is guerilla art. When most people hear the term they think of graffiti or other putatively antisocial or destructive forms of self expression but the reality is far more complicated.
Enter the The Guerilla Art Kit by Keri Smith (Princeton Architectural Press). The ideas in Smith’s book are far more fascinating than merely defacing public or private property. The author, a self-proclaimed guerilla artist, frames her work as public art that actually improves the areas it touches. “Like a random act of kindness, guerilla art has the potential to make a ripple effect,” Smith writes. “Imagine the postal worker running through his day, stopping for a moment to read a quote you have chalked on the sidewalk. You have the power to enter people’s daily routines.”
Whether it’s marginalia, notes shoved in library books, randomly mailed postcards, moss graffiti, fortune cookie fortunes shoved into random locations, Smith has ideas for subtly touching the world around us. There are chapters covering guerilla etiquette, stencil making, rubber stamps, stickers, and formulating environmentally benign poster glue. I was bowled over by the chapter on guerilla gardening. Imagine beautifying a rundown neighborhood by scattering wildflower seeds in sidewalk cracks, empty planters, and fenced off industrial lots.
But there is a larger message beyond any of the activities you may or may not do — call it a mindset. In this era of online shopping and driving rather than walking, so often our public spaces are sterile and joyless. If there is any communication going on it’s either an ad or a sign telling you not to do something. The huge message this book tells us is to reclaim those spaces put some humanity back there, and ultimately, to make them livable again.
Guerilla Art Kit probably won’t change the way the world works, but it’s an enjoyable read and fun to think about. And you never know, you might find yourself scrawling a pithy quote on a sidewalk somewhere.