LivingArts: Asking Permission


I was invited to present an exhibition at Artcite Gallery in Windsor Ontario this summer. Given that it was summer time, this seemed like an opportunity to capitalize on the gallery’s downtown locale and do a temporary public art project.

I proposed a project called Sputnik Returned II, which consisted of a scale replica of the Russian satellite Sputnik installed as if it had crashed back to earth. In the past this work has been installed in public parks, where we dig a big crater to enhance the narrative. Artcite’s location on a busy downtown street made it possible to revise that presentation by crashing Sputnik in to a car (a 1993 silver Acura) parked in front of the gallery.  Obviously, crashing a large satellite into a parked car and leaving said car parked on a city street for two months required me to get permissions and permits from the powers that be (city hall, parking authority, city councillor, surrounding businesses).

The horizon where a creative enterprise crashes upon the shore of policy and procedure has always interested me. Most people, artists included, assume that if you approach politicians and bureaucrats with an idea for a project that is out of the ordinary their default answer will be a firm but polite no. There is a myth that creative people often tell ourselves that states that few people understand the value of what we do, and therefore that non-artists will put up roadblocks to our work.

In reality, all the levels of bureaucracy involved in Sputnik Returned II said yes and we were permitted to install the public piece with relatively little hassle. A few artists remarked at the opening that I was lucky that we managed to ‘wrangle permission’ for the project, as if we had pulled a fast one on City Hall. The truth is that I often need to get various non-art world professionals to buy into supporting ambitious projects that they could easily say no to. However, they always seem to say ‘yes,’ whether it is city hall issuing a permit to crash a satellite into the downtown, getting condo developers to let me use multi-million dollar cranes to perform a ballet in the night sky, or a private property owner letting a wooden sculpture of a Chevy sedan decay on their property – people always say yes. I always try to approach people with a clear and honest explanation of the project, and emphasize the value it adds to the community, and usually they get just as excited about the possibilities as I do.

Image: Sputnik Returned II, 2015, Stainless Steel, Acura sadan
Photo Credit: Brandon Vickerd