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What is a street intervention?

Muni's picture

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 subversiveness and spontaneity to 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. The art is there “to disrupt the everyday actions in the city” by giving people a chance to think for themselves about what it could mean (Flanagan 14).

Although it may sound oxymoronic, Zagar’s mosaics are also intentional. They are deliberate acts of subversiveness. The artist uses the repetition of words and images in the magic gardens to make them relatable and meaningful to the observer.  And because of the repeating patterns, colors, words, and images, it seems as though Zagar is pointing out certain things to his audience, pushing us to think about the words and images and why he is showing them to us. I read on the walls in the magic gardens, “Philadelphia is the center of the art world.” I would usually think of the center of the art world as a museum somewhere in Europe full of historical paintings, but Zagar’s quote undermined that notion, which had been pushed on me by what other people consider important. Philadelphia is the center of Zagar’s art world. From my perspective, Zagar was encouraging his audience to consider the way society sees art. I agree with Flanagan that there is a “particular potency in subversive acts through participatory play” (Flanagan 173). Zagar’s work is made to be shared with the neighborhood. By being intentional about putting his art in public places, Zagar allows the public to play and participate in his art and be influenced by his questions about society.

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. I experienced Zagar’s art as a subversive act, prompting me to rethink preconceived notions, but also as art that allowed me to interpret it for myself. Other people might not have seen those questions that I thought Isaiah Zagar was asking about society; perhaps Zagar himself didn’t intend to ask them.

Part of what makes a street intervention a street intervention is that it gives its viewers freedom to decide what they want to make of it, but also intervenes in their thinking, and gives them the chance to consider what the artist is trying to ask through the art. Because street interventions are  subversive and expressions of ideas, I consider them to be artful as well.

Like Dove Bradshaw and her fire hose, Isaiah Zagar has claimed South Street as his art. 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. 


Claire Romaine's picture

Muni is drawing attention to

Muni is drawing attention to the contrast between what a city is expected to be and what Zagar is able to turn it into.  She works to describe not just the mosaic itself but the physical impressions that one receives upon noticing a piece.  In doing so, she urges the reader to take part in this moment of realization and shares her own delight in discovery.  Simultaneously, she makes the reader work to understand the meaning behind the contrast of the mosaic and the larger city.

Mindy Lu's picture

In the first paragraph, the

In the first paragraph, the writer emphasised that Zagar's mosaics are a kind of beauty which is unique in the city. When I read this paragraph, I am curious about how different the mosaics are from other stuctures around them. I think of my trip in the magic garden and want to find out the difference between my experience and the writer's. And the writer was playing with the uniqueness and beauty of the mosaics and enjoy herself.

Muni's picture


Whoops, forgot my bibliography!

Flanagan, Mary. "Introduction to Critical Play." Introduction. Critical Play: Radical Game Design. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 2009. N. pag. Print.