The Somerville Journal interviewed Pauline about the Geocaching Urban Shrines Project on 11/17/2011. This is the full-length e-mail interview.
This project started because I won an Artist Fellowship Grant from the Somerville Arts Council this year, and I had to come up with a Community Benefit as a condition of the award. I devised the "geocaching urban shrines" project, where only the GPS coordinates of each outdoor piece would be publicized, and if a visitor could prove he/she had been to each shrine, they would be entered into a drawing.
Somerville Journal: What is an urban shrine, to you? What is the whole idea behind this project? What was the inspiration? What are the objectives?
Pauline: Just by coincidence, I attended a workshop on "Psychogeographical Shintoism", a presentation by Ilyn Wong, who also was a Somerville Arts Council artist's fellowship winner and who was performing her Community Benefit obligation by giving the workshop. Psychogeographical Shintoism was about urban shrines, which crop up spontaneously and involve a bit of renegade behavior, with unplanned additions to the shrines as "offerings". We went on a "drift", an observational walk where half the people wore blindfolds and the other half guided them; Ilyn gave us all disposable cameras and we discovered shrines erected by residents of Somerville, ranging from odd birdbaths and garden ornaments to the good ol' Virgin Mary on the half-shell (in half-buried bathtubs). I loved the idea of people sanctifying odd corners of their environment, especially in a neighborhood where there might be a lot of otherwise unrelenting ugliness.
I had also been on a fitness kick and while listening to a podcast called "Fat2Fit Radio", I heard about an activity called "geocaching", which is where people publicize GPS coordinates and you have to go walking in search of a hidden treasure box. Usually you take a little offering, and when you find the cache, there is a little gift you can take with you; for instance, it can be a mix tape, or a little bottle of nail polish, or some other inexpensive trifle. I thought geocaching would be a good thing to get people outside and active. I think my project would best be executed by bicycle, as I spread the shrines over much of the city. The only drawback was that I kept finding myself attracted to bakeries all over town! I wanted people to be able to reward themselves for their labors by getting something tasty. I wanted to draw people's attention to neighborhoods that they might not frequent, so I wanted each site to have something pleasurable to offer. So it's not clear whether it will help people improve their health or fatten them up! I was going to contact Shape-Up Somerville and get them involved in my project, but as the calorie count got higher, I nixed that idea!
My other inspiration was traveling to European cities. In the past couple of years, I traveled to Rome, Paris, and the Belgian cities of Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven. There were so many gorgeous old buildings ornamented with random statues and paintings. I didn't even have to go inside to get a huge dose of art. It made me want to cover Somerville with beautiful outdoor art; I wish I could cover this city with the density of art that Rome has; unfortunately, everyone I talked to warned me that the shrines will probably be stolen! I'm going to take measures to make them hard to tamper with, but who knows what will happen? I hope potential thieves have mercy and enjoy the art in situ.
Somerville Journal: Why did you choose the themes that you did for each shrine? What do they pertain to? I am sure they are personal to you in some way, and if so, how and to what extent?
Pauline: Once when attending a meditation class at my employer (Massachusetts General Hospital), I received a handout that listed all these positive qualities. We were to meditate on some word from the list. I kept the list. I decided to assign a word to each shrine that had some positive quality. But my wise-ass side came up with a list of opposites, and they might be fun and funny to make, in the future. 2) How large are the shrines? What are the main materials used to creating them? How long did it take? Each shrine is about 8-1/2" x 11", and there are 9 in total (I finished one after the website went up; it's "Honesty" and will be posted soon). I started with wood planks cut in a gothic arch shape, and I used bits of tile, broken glass, rusty bits, broken mirrors, broken jewelry, some painting and drawing and collage materials. It took about seven months. Some neighborhoods in Somerville are troves of broken glass and rusty bits, so it seemed significant to hunt around those forgotten neighborhoods.
Somerville Journal: Is there only one of each? Are they for sale?
Pauline: Right now there is only one of each. They are not for sale, and I have to release them to the universe because they might get stolen! I do get some grant money from the Somerville Arts Council, but I'm considering it my tribute to a city I love. I have a vision of Somerville being as art-dense (on the outside) as Rome. We have enough artists that it could happen, if people just wouldn't steal/destroy stuff. I may sell the surviving ones in the future, if there are any. I considered putting a cable lock on each one, which, especially in the case of "Honesty", would be hilarious. Or a cage of razor wire around each one-- that would be a real statement.
Somerville Journal: After they are found, will they be showcased anywhere?
Pauline: To be determined! We shall see!
Somerville Journal: When will the "hunt" begin? And how long will it last?
Pauline: I'm showing them all in my studio at Brickbottom Open Studios, 11/19/2011-11/20/2011; after that my husband will help me install them in their outdoor locations. I hope it's all done by Thanksgiving weekend, but we'll see. I haven't yet figured out when the end date will be, i.e., when the drawing will occur [UPDATE: Drawing occurred on 2/24/2012]. As far as when they're coming down? My vision is to have them up permanently, but it depends on how the property owners feel, and how well they stand up to the elements.
Somerville Journal: How does the GPS tracking of the shrines work?
Pauline: I'll publicize the GPS coordinates, and you'll have to track them down using your own GPS.
Somerville Journal: How many people do you expect to participate in this particular project?
Pauline: I have no freaking clue. Maybe no one! Although a neighbor told me her niece liked geocaching, and another person I know of also likes this activity. I have never personally geocached.