Visualize Homelessness

Untitled Quilt (rolled), 2010,
Found clothing, sleeping bag,
Collaboration with Recovery Cafe and Path with Art

Untitled Quilt (rolled), 2010
What does art offer the homeless? When we think of art, we often think of objects on walls, or objects that hold space in a room or hallway. How does it feel to look at objects that have a home if you yourself are homeless?
Those are the questions I often asked myself, when I first moved to Seattle and my father was just getting out of a 3+ year prison term.  He was promptly homeless, and I was dismayed at all of the art in the city that had more of a home than he.  Museums, galleries, private collections, even the temporary art in cafes seemed to have more of a shelter than my father (cramped in a tent in Atlanta).  These artworks had physical addresses or even paid staff to look after them, but my father had neither.

During my father's sentence, I painted a self-portrait for him, promising to send it once he had an address.  Sadly, that portrait still hangs in my apartment.  What this highlights is that much art is accessible and "have-able" only to those who have a home to put it in.  The transient lifestyle is not conducive to art; you can't tack a painting in a tent and you probably won't put a sculpture in your pocket.  So the homeless go without art...


This sculpture eliminates bench sleeping.
...save for public art: accessible to all people regardless of where they lay their head.  Public art lives in the streets and in the parks.  Public art is, in some ways, homeless art.  It's a tougher art; it holds up to the elements (or doesn't); it has no privacy or place to hide; it has no protection from the birds, the bums, the vandals.  And the homeless seem to be attracted to public art because of this, eating lunch on it, sleeping under it, peeing on it, etc.


If the homeless are kindred with public art - then why are public sculptures built with the specific purpose of shoo-ing the homeless away? The Fremont Troll was designed to attract tourists and drive away the homeless. Publicly-commissioned, downtown benches consistently defy a good sleeping position and any project that would provide shelter is automatically torpedoed.

Untitled Quilt (Unrolled), 2010,
Found clothing, sleeping bag,
Collaboration with Recovery Cafe and Path with Art
Since the homeless are unable to experience art in the way that most do - at home or behind paid admissions - the homeless have a unique vision of art.  Recently I taught a Path with Art class at the Recovery Cafe: a haven for the homeless, chemically dependent and mentally disabled in Denny Triangle.  The class, called "Contemporary Quilting", made a collaborative quilt from found clothing in our neighborhoods and a sleeping bag. The quilt "blocks" form a bird's eye view of the Denny Triangle neighborhood.  The project addressed the question: "How can we make art that addresses homelessness, when, conversely, art predominately takes up residence in homes?"

These and more topics will be addressed Friday, when I will be giving a talk on how the homeless interact with public art.  There is an admission price - so how do I make this accessible?  Seattle Art Museum gives free admission to the first 50 people wearing neon.  So I'll be handing out 50 neon shirts to the homeless.


What: Looking Homeless: a public art tour from the homeless perspective
Where: Olympic Sculpture Park by PACCAR Pavilion
When: Friday Aug 27th 9:45 pm (during SAM Remix 8 - midnight)