Saturday, November 05, 2005

SUMP - Public Art Project Wrap Up

Looks like SUMP made the Commercial Express (Vicksburg’s local paper) over the weekend. The writer did a wonderful job explaining this public art project in her article. Since more people will be exposed to SUMP (due to the article) I thought I should provide a synopsis of how SUMP all came together. (Sometimes blog entries can be tricky to navigate making it difficult to get the full picture).

This was the original plan for the VOTE SUMP Public Art Project. Create a fictitious character to run for a fictitious public office in the Village of Vicksburg. His name was to be SUMP and he was going to be running for the position of Vicksburg Sewage Commissioner. He would then be promoted just like a real candidate. That meant promoting him with yard signs, flyers, posters, a web site (complete with a SUMP game) and two very large cardboard cut-outs.

Had things gone as planned, on Monday morning, October 17, visitors and residents of Vicksburg would have been greeted by two, large cardboard SUMPs (each one was going to be attached to the “Welcome to Vicksburg” signs on the way into town). So as people drove by trying to figure out what they just saw, they’d then encounter numerous VOTE SUMP yard signs stuck around town. In addition, many Vicksburg businesses and factories would begin finding small hand bills taped to their windows and doors. It was the goal of these little hand bills and yard signs to drive people to the website where people in the community could read more about the SUMP public art project and hopefully place their vote for SUMP online.

Originally the project was going to be promoted for a week. That meant each night I would be placing different SUMP campaign items (posters and handbills) around town (for people to find in the morning). In this way, I’d hoped by weeks end to have saturated the main areas of Vicksburg and created some buzz in the process.

Well things didn’t work out quite the way I’d planned. The evening of SUMP’s big roll-out the project came to a screeching halt. Since I like to place my art anonymously and without permission there’s an inherent risk my projects can go down in flames quickly. Normally I try to be subtle placing my art around town. So as not to draw a lot of attention. Since this project was definitely meant to be seen. It was seen rather quickly by the police officer on duty…. (Through most of the evening my buddy, “Kelp Mango” and I stayed one step ahead of the law). But, as “Kelp Mango” and I were getting ready to place our last hand bills around Main Street the officer noticed us. I immediately greeted him and explained to him the entire public art project. Emphasizing that VOTE SUMP was for the enjoyment of Vicksburg residents and was family friendly. I also told him this was my way of giving back to my community that I love. And finally I mentioned residents, students and business owners have been responding favorably to my public art I leave around town. That didn’t fly. He pointed to the trunk of the cruiser showing me he had cut down the two large SUMPs "Kelp Mango" and I attached to the welcome signs earlier. Even more, he told me he had removed the 11 cardboard paintings I’d placed on benches around town a week prior. I was also told my art was considered to be litter and possibly graffiti. (Personally I think SUMP is more closely related to Litter than graffiti). Well that's the risk I run by not having permission. I was then told to remove everything I’d already placed around town and that I could pick up SUMP at the police station in the morning. As he drove away we could see SUMP’s legs hanging out the back of the police cruiser. (Be sure to check out the 10/20/05 blog entry entitled "SUMP Goes to Jail" for photos and video clips)

So first thing in the morning I bailed SUMP out of “jail”.

Over the next couple days I did what I could to try and get the project back on track. That meant contacting the right individuals (So much for my anonymity). I explained my goals for this and future Vicksburg public art projects. All that went pretty well. Of course “Vicksburg” can’t endorse any of my public art projects. That may seem negative but, it’s actually makes a lot of sense.

However, for quite awhile I didn’t know if it was going to be possible to promote SUMP in Vicksburg at all. I didn’t want to see the SUMP project end on that note. So I decided it’d be fun to take SUMP on the campaign trail. Unfortunately that required I remove all references to Vicksburg on the yard signs, hand bills and even the website. After a considerable amount of reworking the campaign items I loaded up SUMP and we hit the road. SUMP campaigned actively in Leonidas, Scotts, Colon (for the obvious reason), Mendon and Schoolcraft. At about the same time, my buddy, “Kelp Mango” placed yard signs throughout Kalamazoo and Portage. So if you happen to see rows of candidates yard signs, look closely because VOTE SUMP may be there too.

A few days after taking SUMP on the campaign trail I did what was required, of me, to promote SUMP in Vicksburg (finally). There were definitely restrictions that didn’t allow for a high visibility campaign. So the grand roll-out I’d envisioned wasn’t going to happen. Instead the campaign was fairly subtle. You really had to be paying attention to your surroundings to notice it. The most significant restriction I encountered was not being able to place the two large SUMP cut-outs anywhere highly visible. As a result I wound up attaching one to a flag pole in my yard. Not the best spot but it was fairly visible. So that worked… for awhile.

Here’s where the story gets really interesting.

SUMP had been attached to my flag pole for about 3 days without incident. Then on the fourth day he was gone!!!! There was nothing left but the plastic ties that held him in place. But, I didn’t find out he was missing until I got to work and checked my email. In my email was a strange message stating “we have something (or someone) who belongs to you…. If you want him back you‘ll have to follow our instructions”…. I immediately called home and asked if SUMP was still attached. HE WASN’T! SUMP had been kidnapped. I honestly thought that was great! He’d already been to jail and this certainly added another fun dramatic twist to the whole project. So as the day wore on I finally received new email instructions from the kidnappers. They told me SUMP was being treated well and that it was up to me to get ten additional people to comment on the “SUMP Goes to Jail” 10/20/05 blog entry. I got busy emailing friends and family telling them of the new kidnapping development and that I needed them to comment on that specific date. It took awhile but, I got the 10 people required.

A day or so later the kidnappers, seeing that I met their requirement, sent me a photo of SUMP wrapped in chains and blindfolded. Sad but funny. They also provided their list of new demands. (I’m paraphrasing their demands) These demands required I stand in front of the Vicksburg Fire Department handing out “FREE SUMP” items during trick or treating (it was Halloween). They said at some point I’d be approached by “The Unknown Comic”. I was to give him a “FREE SUMP” flyer and he’d give me something in return. I thought it would be SUMP.

I immediately emailed them saying I wasn’t going to do anything that public since the nature of my work is supposed to be anonymous. I told them I’d meet them, instead, at Sunset Lake Park at a predetermined time of my choosing. They agreed. I arrived a short time before the meeting time in order to set-up a hidden camera. They arrived in their vehicle. The “Unknown Comic” got out and handed me an envelope with a hand written note inside. You can view the video clip on the “Kidnappers - First Contact” 10/31/05 entry. He quickly returned to the vehicle and it drove off as I was left reading the note. The note included more instructions for the following day. SUMP wasn’t coming home that night.

So the next day I got to work and there’s an email waiting (from the kidnappers) depicting bruised and bloody SUMP photos. The photos were sad but funny. In the email they explained how they got in over their heads and that SUMP was just too much for them to handle. They also mentioned they dropped him off at a local business because they wanted nothing to do with him anymore. In one of the photos SUMP was depicted leaning against a business sign. That sign read Diversified Technologies. I wasn’t immediately familiar with the name so I looked them up. They happened to be on one of the main streets running through Vicksburg. I immediately left work and headed over there. Actually, before I left work I grabbed (or rather printed out) a few band-aids and a head bandage.

Sure enough when I arrived at Diversified Technologies there was SUMP leaning against their sign. He was definitely looking a bit ragged. The folks inside didn't seem to know how he got there or why. They actually didn't notice SUMP until I pointed him out. Fortunately for me they were somewhat familiar with the VOTE SUMP project. (They saw a window flyer in town and visited the site). So, I didn't have to explain much (other than the kidnapping). They were actually amused (and of course puzzled) that they were chosen as a dumping ground for SUMP. They were going to do some asking around to see if one of the owner's kid's friends had something to do with the kidnapping.

Well I told them I was going to tend to SUMP's wounds, get a few photos, then take him home. They said fine. However, while I was putting the Band-Aids on SUMP, some of the employees gathered to see what was going on. So I thought it might be fun to ask if I could get a picture of them with SUMP. So the friendly folks at Diversified Technologies (all of them), without hesitation, agreed to pose for a photo with the newly bandaged SUMP. They even offered to let SUMP stay attached to the sign in order to let the community know he's fine.

I thought that was an excellent way to bring closure to the kidnapping and VOTE SUMP Public Art Project as a whole.

Hopefully this synopsis will help you navigate through the October and November blog entries. There are plenty of photos and video clips documenting the project's ups and downs.

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