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Mushroom Man

pialikesowls's picture

Perspective is everything. When you throw out your trash, you don’t see it as art or something to play with. Those glass bottles you’re about to throw out are probably going to go to the landfills, lost within other glass bottles or dirty paper towels. That broken bike you can’t trust anymore will also make the trip to the landfill, as will those outdated wall tiles that once decorated your home. Isaiah Zagar sees the glass bottles, broken bicycle, and wall tiles as art. He sees them as parts of his art. One man’s trash is another man’s artwork. The Magic Gardens in Philadelphia show us that our trash can be beautiful; it isn’t just stinky junk that we don’t want anymore. When you throw out your trash, you don’t think that it can be a part of a mosaic that people pay money to visit.

Flanagan says that artists “created “situations” and performed art actions complete with instructions.” We use play and art as “a way to rethink issues of authority, politics, and the notion of a cultural status quo.” As a result, I feel as if Isaiah Zagar is using these mosaics to show us that some trash can be used as art and that it can be beautiful. In addition, the use of trash could also be a commentary on the consumer culture of today and how much we waste and throw away. I thought back to where I live, Singapore, and how desperate they are to clean up the streets of the city only to dump this trash onto a small island close by. To me, playing in Isaiah Zagar’s mosaic garden has me rethinking how the Singaporean government, the authority, would view these mosaics: as art or as trash. Would there be an in between?

According to Flanagan, play is “an integral and vital part of mental development and learning” with two parts: voluntary and important to class structure and socialization, and play in natural settings that contribute to communication. I discovered this during First Friday, when a street full of art galleries stay open until nine and people selling their art and crafts on the street. Perhaps the distinction between those selling art in galleries and those selling art on the street convey Flanagan’s definitions of the two parts of play. People sell their art on the street voluntarily as a way to make money, and to maintain the class structure, whereas people in galleries use art to contribute to communication through the discussion of art. I found playing around First Friday to be fun and educational, as I had never been in the city at night. I also love art and worked in an art gallery this summer, so I got to see what other galleries were like.

After a trip at the Magic Gardens, I wandered around Southern Philly for a little bit before realizing I got too hung up in looking at people’s food down the street and missed the turn to get to Market East. I didn’t mind since I had plenty of time before the train. I walked at a good pace but not too fast to miss something interesting. One street reminded me of the more residential and quiet areas of Manhattan, with townhouses and cute little cafés cramped onto corners. As I walked down a street, I saw a used bookstore. Needless to say, I immediately went in. The week before that, I had also found a used bookstore, which I wrote about. It felt like such a similar kind of serendipity. I love the used bookstore concept. This was nothing like Zagar’s work because people do know that the books they don’t want are going to have a second or even third life.

However, when I went into this store, I found a little box full of photographs. I saw photographs of people’s babies, weddings, and vacations. I thought back to the Magic Gardens and Isaiah Zagar. Did these people donate these photographs, or were they thrown out somewhere? Just as the bicycle wheel on top of a ledge, how did a photograph someone’s baby end up in a box? It intrigued me how the intimate moments from someone’s life could end up in a complete stranger’s possession, possibly as house decoration. It was like Zagar’s trash, but more private.

Does today’s cultural status quo allow us to use other people’s moments as decoration? We have been doing this for a long time; paintings of families from centuries ago could end up in a house completely foreign to the original family. The more powerful the family or more prestigious the artist, the more expensive the painting is. More privileged people with expensive art might use art for authority, as Flanagan says. Some might argue that the rich people who buy art do it simply for showing it off, for the sake of having art.

Art is used to make a statement, whether it is to show the personality of a person or demonstrate the stupidity of a government. We use this art to decorate our homes and lives, making it a part of us, and making ourselves a part of the art. Art can inform and start discussions, and can also leave people speechless. When you mix play and art, you think about how art is through your personal viewpoint and it becomes an experience, whether you see it as trash or see it as a masterpiece.


Student 24's picture

'play' and 'work' in the intro

In this first paragraph, Pia introduces the concept of perspective by taking me, the reader, through a kind of microscopic presentation of objects and the kinds of perspectives I could have on them, then using that to transition into the artwork of Isiah Zagar. Because Pia uses the point of view of “you” in guiding the reader through these images into the introduction of perspective, she is using my perspective as the reader to start focussing on this idea. This feels like ‘playing’ because I feel like I am directly interacting with and being drawn into this essay. However, as a reader, I am also ‘working,’ because I’m consciously re-evaluating my actions and behaviour in relation to the writer’s propositions, and seeing if I agree or disagree with them.

Taylor Milne's picture

Pia brings up the ideas of

Pia brings up the ideas of art, and what defines art, and how does art change based on the audience. She is playing by pondering the idea almost of "one man's trash is another man's treasure" where in Zagar's art is actually made out of the trash that other people have discarded. She is also playing the idea of where peoples trash go, and how their discarded objects are often reposessed, for example in the form of photographs. As a reader we are working to follow her progression from the different forms of art to the different forms of audiences.