January 10, 2011

Greenbombing the City

Logos for artist Tattfoo Tan's Greenade and Greenraid campaigns

New York artist Tattfoo Tan, known for his work promoting sustainability, has developed a clever method for greening the city. His Greenade and Greenraid campaigns involve guerrilla restoration of abandoned and neglected spaces that are fenced off or otherwise
prohibitive of entrance, yet are public eyesores.

Tattfoo’s greenades are a homemade mixture of clay, soil, and local wild seeds - in the form of an actual grenade - designed to be tossed over the fences of those abandoned lots, many of which sit for months or years without being touched. Greenraid involves employing a similar strategy, but with a fleet of seed-laden paper airplanes which can be flown deeper into the derelict sites. The planes are homemade from recycled paper products, biodegradable, and embedded with seeds of native wild flowers.

Greenades made from Red Malone clay

Tattfoo sees the fine line here between public service and vandalism and always stresses appropriate use of his artillery. “Bomb responsibly!” he declares. “Stay clear of parkland and locations that are maintained and landscaped.” The plants used by the artist are non-invasive, native species, and furthermore, the guerrilla wildflower “installations” are impermanent, easily removed, and a general beautification of the site. More importantly, they are community activated.

A selection of paper airplanes that might be employed in a Greenraid campaign

Tattfoo Tan is not some lone soldier, stalking the back streets at night, greening the city one lot at a time. His projects invite and encourage the community to become participants, empowering residents to make positive changes in their own neighborhoods. The artist provides the materials, but his campaigns are planned events that are open to the public. For his Greenade and Greenraid campaigns, Tattfoo extensively researches the communities in question, makes informed decisions about which sites to affect, and even hands out mapped routes to his participants.

“Wear your best camouflage!” he declares in his open call to duty.

Tattfoo Tan kneels in a gray uniform and is surrounded by his green army of participants

One participant prepares to "detonate" his greenade in an abandoned lot

The group always marks the spots where they have been active

However, when the artist is presented with an eager group of participants who may not be ready to hit the streets in fatigues, he adapts the idea. Recently, Tattfoo worked with a group of senior citizens, and instead of making paper airplanes, they made greeting cards, embedded with flowers and seeds. The cards can be sent to loved ones and eventually be planted to live a second life as a beautiful bouquet.

Tattfoo takes his missions very seriously, and he has the training to back it up. He has been certified through official NYC programs as a Citizen Pruner, Master Composter, and (as of yesterday) Permaculturalist and feels that it is his duty to raise and address environmental issues in the city. Tattfoo believes that more and more people are losing vital skills - such as growing food and foraging - and have in many cases become fully reliant on a food system that is not sustainable in the long term.

Many of Tattfoo’s projects unsuspectingly encourage community participants to consider our food system and even their own choices when it comes to food. He has no interest in raising awareness through intimidation tactics and doomsday hypotheses. Instead Tattfoo merely presents a situation that allows participants to form their own ideas about an issue and thereby make an informed decision.

The artist believes so strongly in the idea of education and community empowerment that he has founded an organization, the Sustainable Organic Stewardship, that will help maintain certain environmental standards in the city though the connection, education, and activation of like-minded residents who believe in a sustainable future. Tattfoo has even designed uniforms, patches, and a pledge – a la the good ole’ boy scouts – as a method to widely broadcast his ideas and connect with community kids, who he is especially passionate about working with. Or maybe he just knows when to have a little fun with ideas that are quite serious.

Tattfoo in his Sustainable Organic Steward Uniform

Detail of patches designed by Tattfoo

These projects are only a very small selection from the artist’s catalogue, which features a great range of concepts and mediums that always manage to intrigue new thoughts about urban life in unsure times.

Check out our previous article: DIY Utopia Workshops Hit the Fine Points

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