August 26, 2005

Filling in the Gap

By Geneva Gamez

Local artist and UCSD student, Shannon Spanhake, tells us about one of her current projects.

Geneva Gamez: What is ‘The Garden of Convergence’ project?

Shannon Spanhake: ‘The Garden of Convergence’ is a community garden inhabiting the negative space of potholes around Tijuana. Flowers and vegetables are planted with a note inviting members of the community to add, change, take from, and care for the garden. The act of filling in this negative shape is intended to create an urban landmark of exchange, to activate both the tectonic space and the social structure of the city.

I have always been fascinated with potholes - their capacity to reveal what the concrete hides, the organic nature of their shape and how they are made, and also, how they represent a flaw in the over-all system of urbanization - and simply, they are such an interesting container to make use of. The first realization of this project took place in Chicago, where I filled potholes on Dearborn Street with plaster and embedded sound chips that played audio from historical race riots that took place on that street.

Garden of Convergence

GG: Who is involved in the realization of this project?

SS: I came up with the initial idea, however Camilo Ontiveros [local artist] helps me to actually make it happen, but more importantly are the members of the communities actively engaged in the project.

GG: When and where is ‘The Garden of Convergence’ taking place?

SS: This is an ongoing project and currently the garden sprawls from the border into potholes downtown. However, it is constantly changing.

GG: Why did you choose Tijuana?

SS: This iteration that takes place in Tijuana was prompted by an unfulfilled promise made by the city to grant a certain amount of land to its residents for personal use. This combined with the small amount of access that residents have to vegetation made this an ideal location for a second iteration of the project.

GG: What do you hope the outcome will be?

SS: This project seeks to interrupt the monotony of the everyday. The many rectangles that make up the city are often constricting both in space and time. They are everywhere, defining our past while in a horizontal position; they establish an edge of the horizon - an abstraction of the fundamental position of our origins. And when vertical, they become an indicator and measure of us – raising awareness to our upright position on the earth between the ground and sky. Used repetitively and in different sizes, this creates the tectonic structure of the city, which plays a large role in how we orient ourselves and our interactions with others. Urban landmarks are typically limited to attractions for tourists, but there are also landmarks created and used by local residents that really help to define the urban fabric of the city. In much the same way as the payphone became a landmark for drug dealers, a dumpster for prostitutes, or a hot dog stand for business deals, the ambition for this project is to create a landmark with the capacity to alter behaviors, perception, and orientation, while making proactive use of a space otherwise considered a flaw.

  GG: How are people responding?

SS: So far the most interesting response has been the way vehicles carefully avoid this space, as if the lines on the street have changed - they turn slowly and the passengers peak their heads out to see what it is. And how when pedestrians walk past, they stop to look and ask each other questions. The pothole really changes how people move through the space and their actions while in it.

GG: Aside from the actual locations, where else can people experience ‘The Garden of Convergence’?

SS: Photographs of some of the potholes will be on display in October at the MCA [Museum of Contemporary Art] in downtown San Diego. I hope to begin organizing ‘The Garden of Convergence’ tours sometime in the fall.

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