Last Sunday, I spotted the most amazing work of art on my way to my local coffee shop. Someone had created elaborate designs with flowers on the sidewalk outside Horizon Books, the used bookstore in my neighborhood. There were several central medallions, joined by a trail of petals, and a garland on the sidewalk around the bicycle rack.
I was curious about the purpose of the art. A friend suggested it might have something to do with the rumored closure of the bookstore (and if so could flowers ward off such a fate?) but the bookstore isn't closing. A woman apparently thought it was a memorial to the store's cat and rushed inside, only to discover the cat is very much alive. I asked Nick, who works at the bookstore, and he says it was a performance art project. Which reminded me of a homework assignment I once gave the students in an Artists Way class I was teaching.
Inspired by the art of Andy Goldsworthy, I asked the students to create a transitory work of art in nature. For all of us, it opened up new ways of thinking about art: as mystery (what is it? What does it mean?), as temporary (How long will it last?), as collaborative (created with free materials, provided by the earth). It was also for many of the students, the first time they had ever displayed their work to an unknown audience. One woman who constructed a sculpture of tree branches in a public park had an audience as she worked. Others imagined people coming upon their work and wondering about it.
I loved the piece I created. I used a piece of chalk to outline the shadow cast by a young tree on the sidewalk. As the sun shifted overhead, the shadow changed and I enjoyed watching the way the actual shadow overlaid the chalk traces of the former shadow. I also eagerly waited for the next day to see if the shadow would fill in the same chalk outlines, which lasted a surprisingly long time (several days) before they disappeared.
The flower art outside the bookstore also evoked the fabulous flower carpets created as part of Corpus Christi processions, primarily in Italy and Spain. An incredible amount of effort, design and labor goes into creating these gorgeous carpets, which are then walked upon by the procession carrying the sacred Host (the Body of Christ), so that all that is left behind is a blurry vision of what once was. And yet I find this design as beautiful as the original, and perhaps more evocative of the nature of flowers, processions and life.