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Street Intervention

Muni's picture

 “Artists make words touchable, create palindromes, do street intervention, and even skywrite from airplanes to disrupt the everyday actions in the city.” Flanagan, 14

There is something defiant about Isaiah Zagar’s mosaics. Cities are built for efficiency, functionality, but not necessarily beauty. Yet, around South Street, a glimmer of light in the gap between two buildings could mean a mosaic of mirrors and color. Zagar’s art is a street intervention, playfully ignoring Philadelphia’s figurative and literal grids to bring a different dimension into its streets. 

Zagar’s mosaics are inherently spontaneous. He doesn’t always plan ahead where his next mosaic will be, what it will look like, or where he will get his materials. Many of his mosaics spill across alleyways and onto the back walls of houses, creeping along fence lines as if they’re no longer in the artist’s control. The mosaics fill cracks in alleys with seemingly random words and images. Looking at a map of Zagar’s mosaics is not like looking at a map of a typical art gallery. The mosaics make no distinctive pattern and many do not even appear on the map. In the magic gardens, the route you take is not restricted to a path. Zagar’s art defies the city’s nearly symmetrical grid pattern in its meandering nature. 

Although it may sound oxymoronic, Zagar’s mosaics are also intentional, deliberate. On the website for the Magic Gardens, there is a section about donating walls for Zagar’s mosaics. Some of the requirements are that the wall be accessible to the public, and not in any danger of destruction. Zagar’s work is made to be shared with the neighborhood. Each tile, be it an actual tile or a bottle or a bicycle wheel, is carefully aligned and placed in cement, each color matched to its complements. The artist uses the repetition of words and images in the magic gardens to make them relatable and meaningful to the observer.  Isaiah Zagar deliberately builds his mosaics in a playful manner, making for the sake of making and creating in a way that allows the public to interact with his work. 

At one point in the Magic Gardens, I heard what sounded like a brass instrument from outside on the street. Looking out through the gate, I saw a man on rollerblades ride by playing a horn, with no regard for the people staring. This was a slightly different type of street intervention, but it was also a spontaneous yet deliberate act in the city street that disrupted everyday actions.  As I exited the Magic Gardens, I noticed a knitted piece around a lamp post directly in front of the entrance to the Gardens. It was striped rainbow, and it seemed like almost a continuation of the brightness of Zagar’s mosaics, spilling out into the street. It is another spontaneous piece of what I consider to be art. It’s exciting and fun and playful to see a lamp post wearing a sweater, and it is intentionally in a place where people with an appreciation for street intervention are likely to be.

My experience in the Magic Gardens was that it was an almost separate world from the street, a street intervention. It was colorful and full of light that had been filtered through green glass bottles, but the mirrors reflected back buildings on either side, cars driving down the street, and the sidewalk. Smaller street interventions like Zagar’s other mosaics are fragments of this other world that break up the street into a more playful place. 

Like Dove Bradshaw and her fire hose, Isaiah Zagar has claimed South Street as his own. He has disrupted it from the grid of the rest of the city using fragments of tile, trash, and mirrors, and he shares it with the people who allow themselves to become a part of the mosaic.


pbernal's picture

Breaking the norm

Louise's approaches her experiences of Philadelphia through Flanagan's view on "intervention" and connects it with Isaiah's motifs for creating and at the same time breaking the norm of Philadelphia. She acknowledges Isaiah's work as expressive, distinct, and dramatic which add more to say about Philadelphia as a city rather than sticking with the same mundane words to depict a city. Isaiah's work crosses the lines and makes room for more enterpertation.

Clairity's picture

Louise's essay focuses on

Louise's essay focuses on "diruption" and "intervention" that Flanagan explains in Critical Play. In her opinion, Magic Garden is an intervention in the city, and a disruption among the grids of Philadelphia. Then She uses an oxymoronic approach, which seems creative to me. She thinks Isaiah's work is both spontaneous and also deliberate and gives her reason. In the following paragraph, she gives an example of disruption by a man on rollerbades ride who was playing a horn. This example furthers her point that the Magic Garden is a street intervention.