In early Fall 2011, Evan Blondell and Chris Carl, both second year MLA students, created a unique sculpture garden from an under-utilized site in downtown Urbana, Illinois. Entitled “The Boneyard/Saline: The Aesthetics of Engagement,” this project (now dismantled) encouraged people to recognize past and potential transformations hidden in a former auto repair shop by “looking at the margins” (i.e. oft-overlooked objects or spaces) of the site.
Initially, when Blondell and Carl applied for an “Envision 365 Grant” from the Public Arts Commission of the City of Urbana, they conceived of creating a new kind of garden. “Envison” grants are offered annually for projects that enrich people’s lives through engagement with the arts. Successful applicants are notified of their award in March and have one year to complete their project. So, after receiving the grant in March 2011, these two designers wasted no time in beginning their project.
Equipped with an old canoe (the Lincoln) that they had fished out of the creek itself, Blondell and Carl explored the Saline and Boneyard Creeks looking for materials, and documenting various elements they found along the way. During the eleven-mile trip along the Saline creek from Urbana to St. Joseph, the pair discovered no less than 57 shopping carts lodged in the banks. They realized they could use these “marginal” materials for their installation (pictured here). Reinforced with a second canoe (the Scan), it took several more weeks for them to rescue the carts from their hiding places.
The design phase of the project began when an exhibition space was secured in downtown Urbana, in the narrow fork between Main and Springfield Streets. Formerly the Flat Iron Building (destroyed in a 1940s-era fire), the site now houses Allman’s Auto Repair shop (closed). Blondell and Carl chose the site based on its close connections to the creek itself, because “[Allman's] was created by relocating the Boneyard [Creek] 500 ft. north to its current course thus creating viable pieces of real estate on which to build the Flat Iron Building.” The site thus offers an “interesting subtext as it represents the human necessity and drive to manipulate the environment for practical as well as aesthetic reasons.”
Installation of Blondell and Carl’s “sculpture garden” opened on August 26th and 27th during the City’s annual Sweet Corn Festival. The exhibition utilized both the interior and exterior areas of the former auto repair shop. Inside the shop, a video projection system displayed images recorded during repeated explorations of the creek. Both canoes (used to navigate the creeks and collect materials) were placed in front of the projection screen, along with plaster casts of what might be described as mortar shell casings (also discovered embedded in the creekside). A thin slit, indicating the creek’s alignment, was cut into white vinyl sheeting covering the building’s façade —permitting, and yet limiting, visual access to the interior vignettes. Meanwhile, outside the building, a unique sculpture garden had been created. Shopping carts rescued from the creeks were constructed into six gabion-basket-like structures filled with soil, rock and plants, suggesting the shopping carts’ role in stabilizing the banks of the creek.
Although the video projection played for only the weekend of the exhibition’s opening, the garden was maintained for several months and only dismantled in late Fall, 2011. For more detailed information on the project, visit the artists’ blog and read about their process from beginning to end: http://boneyard-saline.blogspot.com/