John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Russian artist Daria Makarenko slips hidden messages into the cracks of the city.
Russian artist Daria Makarenko must be nuts at Tetris. She's been playing a real-life version of the game for a couple years now, quietly filling the gaps of urban walls with custom-made ceramic nodules.
When Makarenko, who's based in St. Petersburg, spies a missing hunk of wall, she'll head to her studio and press out a lump that snugly fills the hole. She then stamps these blocks with cryptic messages such as "This stone used to be my heart." In doing so she's performing admirable work as a stone mason – perhaps prepping for a career in the public-works industry? – and as an urban beautifier.
Because the ceramic blends into the gray walls, it would seem that many passersby would stroll right past Makarenko's teensy interventions without noticing them. They're not blinging all in your face like the crevice geodes of Paige Smith. For folks who enjoy rooting out the city's hidden treasures, though, that just makes finding these things a little more special.
The artist began her war against voids to satiate her puzzle-solving obsession and express herself in the public realm. On her website, she explains that the phrases are meant to "tag my presence at the particular place." As for their meaning, they could be "random thoughts," metaphorical musings or "sudden phrases which appear in a casual talk, argument or emotional conversation." (If that's true, she must have really weird conversations.)
Some may even be inspired by people's response to her art. In the series of fake stones below, which Makarenko installed in Stockholm in 2011 and 2012, there's one message that yells that it's "not a chocolate bar!" Could one hungry member of the public have appreciated this artwork a little too much?