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June 2, 2020

Subtle art interventions across Austin offer small creative gestures

Organized by Northern-Southern Gallery, a dozen artists leave small interventions in unspecial spots

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I had to hike a bit to find Meghan Shogan’s “Real Estate,” one of the 12 outdoor art interventions that art part of “Left in Leaves,” a project organized by the Northern-Southern Gallery.

Blunn Creek Nature Preserve has a rugged trail through scruffy, untamed woods. It’s less a developed park than a spot of wilderness in the city, accessed at an unmarked trailhead that’s at the dead end of residential street.

Shogan, who collaborated with Danny Hernandez, made a charming hand-drawn map to find her project. It came with an email from Northern-Southern.

MapsToLeaves-May2-MeganShogan

Each of the projects is announced in a rolling fashion via a mailing list you must sign up for at northern-southern.com/currently/. The art interventions will remain in place until May 31, though some are more ephemeral than others and may not remain in tact throughout the project.

Shogan is stone carver and founder of the art space Vault Stone Shop. She carved a piece of limestone she found on the Blunn Creek path, and then returned it, placing it at the highest point in the preserve, a lookout crest that offers a stunning tree-top view of nearby St. Edward’s University.

On the smooth stone, Shogan carved “If you lived here you’d be home by now,” the cliché slogan now with a new veneer of meaning in our time of sequestering at home and social distancing.

Philip Niemeyer, who runs Northern-Southern, told me in an email that the intention behind “Left in Leaves” is to “unite a group of artists to make a vector of odd beauty. To have fun and create a together-apart community of sorts. We hope that people come across the art and are delighted. Not a scavenger hunt. More a bundle of free, creative gestures.”

Amy Scofield intervention
Amy Scofield’s art intervention, part of “Left in Leaves”

Recently, in an empty lot in East Austin, Amy Scofield found a roughed-up antique table. She reset it, leaving it in the spot she found it.

“One concern we had was to not to make any big spectacles at a time when we aspire to be responsible, that is socially distant,” Niemeyer said. “These are little spectacles, disbursed.”

Rachel Freeman Heron Totem
Rachel Freeman, “Heron Totem,” Waller Creek

Rachel Freeman made “Heron Totem” for a spot in Waller Creek. No, not the stretch of Waller Creek that’s getting the slick, multi-million dollar makeover, a project trumpeted by city leaders and civic philanthropists.

Rather, “Heron Totem” is where the creek bends behind Reilly Elementary School, along Denison Drive in North Austin. A Texas Department of Public Safety office is across the street. Nearby light industrial buildings are home to a culinary institute, an air conditioning service company, Blue Genie Art Bazaar.

Freeman also drew a map, her “Heron Totem” the star attraction of modest place in Austin’s cityscape.

The COVID-19 pandemic, terrifying and devastating as it is, holds the potential to change our relationship to art, to our cities and how we experience them. A “bundle of free, creative gestures” left in ordinary and overlooked urban spots, is a nice small way to begin thinking about that change.

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin
Jeanne Claire van Ryzinhttps://sightlinesmag.org
An award-winning arts journalist, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the founder and editor-in-chief of Sightlines.

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