Sidewalks: A Love Letter

Candy Chang Sculpture

Sidewalk Psychiatry, detail, Candy Chang, 2004

“Under the seeming disorder of the old city, wherever the old city is working successfully, is a marvelous order for maintaining the safety of the streets and the freedom of the city. It is a complex order. Its essence is intricacy of sidewalk use, bringing with it a constant succession of eyes. This order is all composed of movement and change, and although it is life, not art, we may fancifully call it the art form of the city and liken it to the dance — not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole. The ballet of the good city sidewalk never repeats itself from place to place, and in any one place is always replete with new improvisations.”

― Jane JacobsThe Death and Life of Great American Cities

The Jane Jacobs quote above links life on the world’s sidewalks to a mass performance piece that unfolds everyday, everywhere.

Yes Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris, a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation Over Public Space says, “As public space, sidewalks are everywhere and link everything, and no one seems to notice them”.  

Jo Hanson Sculpture

Jo Hanson, Art That’s Sweeping The City, San Franciso, 1980

Sidewalks As Participatory Art Installation 

When we install sidewalks, we confirm the importance of walking and of interaction within our communities. Though this is by no means a complete list, here are some artists who have paused to appreciate the lowly sidewalk and to use sidewalks as a method of engaging the public in their unique social practices:

In the 1970’s, artist Jo Hanson acquired a house on Buchanan Street in San Francisco. After restoring it, she began a daily campaign of sweeping the 180’ sidewalk out front.

According to the Women Environmental Artists Directory, Hanson said, “ Soon my cleaning extended to the whole block – one to three times daily. City trucks

came one to three times daily to haul (what I was sweeping) away. City workers and I became buddies and collaborators, which led into unanticipated collaborations down the line”. This public art happening later became a citywide anti-litter campaign, with Mayor Dianne Feinstein participating in “the sweeping of sidewalks as Art”.

In 2006, (well before her famed installation Before I Die), artist Candy Chang created Sidewalk Psychiatry to “encourage self-evaluation in transit”. Chang uses this Soren Kierkegaard quote describe the project:

“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts.”

The project consisted of temporary questions on the sidewalk, such as ‘Do you think that went well?’ ‘Does she know how you feel?’ and ‘Does it have to do with your childhood?’ Chang called it “Public therapy, free of charge.”

Admittedly, Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo tends to install her work on steps, but her audience views it from the sidewalk and her work is too good not to include here.

Nele Azevedo Sculpture

Melting Men by Nele Azevedo, photo credit: chelleliddlekiddle.blogspot

Azevedo installs small human forms made of ice on the steps of public squares. The work becomes a performance piece as the public stops to watch the forms quickly melt away, evoking a kind of poignancy through its impermanence.

According to Azevedo’s website: “The Minimum Monument project is a critical reading of the monument in the contemporary cities. In a few-minutes action, the official canons of the monument are inverted: in the place of the hero, the anonym; in the place of the solidity of the stone, the ephemeral ice; in the place of the monumental scale, the minimum scale of the perishable bodies”.

By Elizabeth Keithline

Other artists who have worked with sidewalks include:

Anne Peabody:

Alexander Calder:

Francoise Schein:

Ken Hiratsuka:

George Zisiadis:

For Further Information:

Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris:

Jo Hanson:

The Green Museum:

Candy Chang, Sidewalk Psychiatry:

Nele Azevedo:

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