Arts

Sculptureaday will teach you how to find art everywhere

Everyday items can create peculiar forms, and this project exhibits what rewards we can find by looking more closely at the world around us.

Everyday items can create peculiar forms, and this project encourages us to look more closely at the world

Sculptureaday. (Sara Graham)

Since the middle of March, when the pandemic shut everything down, I've tried to go for a walk each day. First, it was around the block. Then, a few blocks. Now, I'll regularly find myself wandering neighbourhoods I didn't know existed. While my partner and I made astonishingly quick work of Vanderpump Rules and a dozen seasons of Below Deck, the streets and trails around our apartment have become a sort of entertainment that's just about impossible for me to exhaust. That's because every time I step out, I discover something new. Maybe it's a funny piece of graffiti, or a gargoyle scupper wearing a dopey look. One day, it was a small community of birdhouses built into a roof gable that caught my attention; another time, a pair of security cameras that looked like googly eyes. I take pictures of my findings. They become like private landmarks. The discoveries are generally small and often fleeting, but the enjoyment they spark is genuine.

For the past seven years, Port Moody, B.C.-based artist Sara Graham has catalogued such moments of curiosity, wonder and playfulness found within the urban environment. Her project, Sculptureaday (or SAD for short), shares one daily photograph featuring a peculiar form, gesture or assemblage spotted outside of the gallery setting that appears sculptural nevertheless. One recent post, for example, pictures a pumpkin-shaped mound of spent tape and packing paper left after a paint job. Another shows a weaving made from crisscrossing pipes. About 100 Canadian artists have contributed to the project, including Graham herself, who also curates submissions. Sculptureaday exhibits what rewards we can find by looking more closely at the world around us. It is a gallery dedicated to tiny, everyday marvels.

The project began as an office gag with her colleague, the writer and editor Bryne McLaughlin. The pair brought the idea online as Sculptureaday in 2013 and began inviting artist friends to participate. SAD's "accidental art" premise seemed to have its own gravity, and a small community of contributors and fans developed around the project. When her co-founder stepped away, Graham continued to steward the project solo. A Paintingaday blog followed almost naturally, collecting kindred discoveries of a more two-dimensional variety. Graham operates both daily. New contributors get sent into the wild with this definition: "(A SAD) is a found sculptural circumstance, a spontaneous constructed intervention or an unexpected observation in the urban world." Though the target may sound vague, with a little practice, Graham says, you'll know a SAD right when you see one.

Sculptureaday. (Steven Laurie)

Oakville, Ont.-based artist Steven Laurie is a frequent Sculptureaday contributor. He characterizes the subjects of his photography as the "subtle," "poetic," and sometimes "spectacular" moments found in ad hoc repairs and the decision-making special to everyday handyworkers. A broken emergency button at Toronto's Union Station made an early muse; it had been repeatedly but unsuccessfully affixed with tape to a cinder block wall. A more recent photo shows a neighbour's carefully manicured evergreen, which looks remarkably like the artist Paul McCarthy's famous sculpture, "Tree" (which is also to say: it looks like a sex toy). Another image — lit dramatically by the moon, nearby highway lamps and some fog — pictures a break area with a pair of picnic tables fenced in on three sides.

The same wonder, curiosity and playfulness we find in the gallery is all around us.

Before Sculptureaday, Laurie was an artist who made intricate and highly-fabricated machines. His observational photography originated as study work to inspire future sculptures — but a new house and a young family meant the long hours demanded for the design and manufacture of precise machinery "kind of went away." He had begun submitting some of these shots to Sculptureaday, and slowly, the picture-taking became his focus. "If it wasn't for Sculptureaday," Laurie says, "I wouldn't have gotten into photography in the same way." Through this platform, he's overhauled his artmaking and refined a distinct photographic voice.

Sculptureaday. (Greg Snider)

East Vancouver artist Greg Snider is another one of the project's longest-running contributors. The Simon Fraser University professor emeritus says a good SAD sometimes exhibits a tic he recognizes from art history; other times, he's struck by something he cannot categorize, other than to say: "That's a thing! That's it! That's Sculptureaday!" One submission he points out roughly summarizes the whole endeavour for him. On a damp day, he found a glasses case that had been mashed into the asphalt of the street. In the photograph he made, some text printed on the case is still quite legible. It says: "Better vision for everyone." Sculptureaday has "sharpened" his vision, he says. He pays closer attention to where he is. He's seated better in the moment.

Another contributor, the Chicoutimi, Que.-based artist James Partaik, feels like he's "grown new antennas," a new "sensory input device" tuned acutely to his environment. Graham herself describes the Sculptureaday effect as a sort of mindfulness: "It causes you to be aware of your surroundings," she says, "but also to be aware that you are a part of your surroundings. As well as being an observer, you're participating in this moment."

Sculptureaday. (James Partaik)

The project trains us to bring the same close, critical and careful eye that we use to look at art to look at our everyday. If we can learn to do that, Graham says, we'll find that the same wonder, curiosity and playfulness we find in the gallery is all around us. So long as she and at least a few friends continue to encounter these moments so exciting that they demand a photograph, Sculptureaday will also continue — every day and maybe for the rest of our days.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chris Hampton is a Hamilton-based freelance arts and culture writer. His work has appeared elsewhere in The New York Times, the Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail, The Walrus, and Canadian Art. Find him on Instagram: @chris.hampton

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