Cities are living – and lived in – spaces defined by exchange and diversity. This, in turn, makes public space one of the most exciting, but also tension-ridden places in town. In public space, people meet, mingle, clash, communicate, and interact, whether they intend to or not.

Along these lines, your Geodes sculptures, installed in the city’s remaining architectural gaps and interstices, experience chance encounters with city dwellers, according to a basic street art premise. Your work not only introduces slivers or symbolic nature to the city, but also highlights residual, and often undiscovered, urban scope and space. How does this change a city?

Urbanshit asks:
How can urban interventions improve everyday life in the city?

A Common Name answers:
Almost two years ago, in late 2011, I started doing a series of sculptural street art pieces called Urban Geode. These polyhedral paper or resin sculptures are puzzled together to resemble crystalline formations and then placed in the decrepit cracks and holes of buildings. The resulting pieces look much like the geodes found in nature. It is rare to find three-dimensional street art – more common media would be paint or wheat paste. I think that this 3-D aspect helped to make the project take off rather quickly.

Throughout 2012, I was able to continue the project in Los Angeles, around California, and within my state. In early 2013, I took my sculptural interventions to Madrid and Bali; I have enjoyed beautiful experiences walking around new cities and getting to know them intimately. The types of buildings you find, the colors and materials, how people interact with them, the way they interacted with me – all of these were unique each time. All over the world, I encountered mixed reactions to street art and my own work, so I have developed an interest in other countries and their relationship with street art and urban culture.

Last year, people started reaching out to me. They were interested in my art and wanted to participate. I decided to mail them care packages with geode pieces that would allow them to construct or install the geodes themselves. This is also why I introduced resin to my artwork: Resin makes it easier to compile the packages and extends the pieces’ lifespan and durability in countries with different or varying climates.

Recently, I sent out packages to several countries and project participants. We are currently exploring the reactions of their own communities, their experiences creating the pieces, and how all of this could possibly help or change local communities. As part of this series, I will share their Urban Geode stories and experiences. Our first protagonists are two women from Jordan and Turkey.

Amman, Jordan – Zina Hammad
Student of Design and Visual Communication, jewelry artist 

About Amman
Amman is a city that makes you feel like a stranger and local at the same time. There are so many places to explore, so many beautiful spots that I am unfortunately unfamiliar with. This is one of the reasons why I wanted to start this collaboration project – I thought that it would give me a big enough push to go out and explore the city.

Everyday life
Life in Amman is pretty noisy. All morning long, gas trucks play their music; walking around Amman you will be surrounded by the sounds of blaring car horns or gas trucks.

The search
The first few holes I found were in an art gallery. I wanted to ensure that my placement was appreciated as art and not considered random vandalism. After this first project I developed a keen eye for holes or cracks in the street. In Amman, these are very common, especially in the downtown area. I literally started to spot them everywhere and anywhere! So, while I didn’t actually go out of my way to search for holes, I would spot some when I was out and about, document them, and then return to them and take measure.

Did you notice any particular details or discover anything new on the way?
I certainly noticed tangible details like the actual shape and depth of the hole. I don’t think any of us usually pay attention to them. Not physical details like the beauty of holes or cracks in walls … We tend to perceive them as flaws that need to be fixed, while we could easily turn them into beautiful artworks.

What was the process like for you?
I don’t want it to end! All this time, I have been trying not to finish all of my materials, trying to use them wisely. Overall, the process was not hard, but some of the individual pieces proved harder to install. Especially those with very ‘organic’ holes like the ones at The Studio. In a way, the process eventually turned into a game of Tetris, placing each piece strategically to make the whole installation go easier.

If you could take away or learn one thing from this process, what would it be?
Imperfections and flaws shouldn’t be considered ugly. I used to view holes in the streets as imperfections that needed to be fixed. Now, I see a blank canvas for artists.

Istanbul, Turkey – Yağmur Ruzgar
Urban planner and designer

About Istanbul
Istanbul is a crowded and complex city. Sometimes, it can be too chaotic for me to get calm, but its non-stop energy and constant surprises are seductive.

The search
Starting out, I wanted my first installation to be in a crowded and well-known place. My overall intention, however, was to find deserted and forgotten places. In time, looking for holes and cracks in the walls became a bit of a habit.

Did you notice any particular details or discover anything new on the way?
I have always been attracted to design details in urban space. Yet this project made me focus on untouched aspects and senseless spaces. I tried to turn them into something meaningful, beautiful, and noticeable.

What was the process like for you?
It has been extremely exciting. I did my thesis on the role of urban art in shaping a city’s identity and studied it on an interface scale. This project gave me the chance to put my studies into practice on a very personal level.

What is your take on the actual art?
It has been great to leave a mark in urban space. Now, these locations feel a lot more special and personal to me.

If you could take away or learn one thing from this process, what would it be?
The whole thing made me realize that even within the limitations of what we can do in public space, it is possible to stage your own form of self-expression.

What about the feedback to your project? How did Istanbul residents react?
There has been a lot of feedback, especially on social media channels. I am getting a lot of support and encouragement from random people. Sometimes, I watch the reactions of people from a distance; some people don’t notice that the artwork is there. Others touch it, take pictures, and try to figure out what it is. A lot of people also asked me what I was doing when I was integrating the pieces.

So, how can urban inventions improve everyday urban life? Both women describe their cities as chaotic, busy, and a place they look forward to exploring more intimately. Their experiences prove that interventions can change the life of the artist and their perception of – or interaction with – the city. They felt connected to the locations and started seeing “flawed” or “senseless” spaces in a new light: as an opportunity for artwork and self-expression. In terms of limitations, they expressed a sense of claiming those spaces rather than overlooking or ignoring them. They also describe the reactions of passers-by who either don’t notice the pieces or react to their existence. Overall, they mention a sense of discovery and excitement when people come across these small treasures within an unexpected landscape. In the end, these positive thoughts or emotions improve the viewer’s everyday urban life.

Stay tuned for our next two stops: Seoul, South Korea, and Melbourne, Australia.

Header image by Zina Hammad