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A Poignant Love Letter to New York's Chewed Sidewalk Gum

An artist pays respect to the victims of the Japanese tsunami with cute, heart-shaped gum wads.

Niizeki Hiromi

Brooklyn artist Niizeki Hiromi loves bubblegum, just not in the normal way. She's only interested in gum once it's fallen out of someone's saliva-covered mouth and landed to the ground, where stomping feet flatten it into a variety of amorphous blobs. 

When Niizeki sees a piece of sidewalk gum, she'll scurry over to it and take a picture with her cellphone, a curious process recently detailed at the always-entertaining Spoon & Tamago. She's not looking for just any old wad, though – she specifically wants images of gum that's been shaped into cartoon hearts. These she takes back to her studio to turn into self-adhesive decals, called "GumHearts," which people can stick all over windows to replicate the scene of a drive-by spitting by Bazooka Joe:

(Niizeki Hiromi)

Fans of her work also have the option of wearing "GumHearts" temporary tattoos, like so:

And for the fashionista who has everything, she has crafted a line of wad bags:

Cataloging the former contents of New Yorkers' mouths is not just a weird hobby for the artist. There's real heart behind it: Through a Kickstarter campaign, she is hoping to stage an exhibit of "GumHearts" at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Queens, where it will serve as a reminder of the devastating 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. She explains:

If funded successfully, “LOVES” will be exhibited at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens, NY, from February to March, 2014, including Valentine’s day and March 11th, the 3rd anniversary of the massive earthquake, Tsunami, and Fukushima Nuclear Plant incident which have killed over 18,000 people in Northern Japan, where the majority of my family are from. I find this particular time of year to epitomize the reality of our life. Both drawing from the heartfelt and harsh ironies of our lives and directing our awareness to those things which embody both beauty+grit, bliss+sadness, pleasure+pain. Whatever happens, wherever you are, time goes by.

The artist currently has an international backing for her gum crusade, with people as far as Europe and Japan sending in photos of ABC nastiness. You can see the world's range of "GumHearts" on Facebook, which bear strangely poetic captions such as, "Very rare, such a fresh GumHeart from Japan. Jan. 28th, 2014. Yokohama, hatsune-cho, Under the train tracks. Finding dog poops around." You can even submit your own grimy capture there. Just don't mail Niizeki the real thing, please.

Images from Niizeki Hiromi on Kickstarter

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.