John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Yoonjin Lee makes abandoned gloves and lip balm look like they're crying out for help.
Ever lose something of value on the streets of New York? Take solace that it might be enjoying a rich second life, thanks to a woman who's labeling such abandoned objects with paeans to their core worth (and by extension, to what a dolt you were to drop them).
Take this pair of MTA cards on the floor of the Union Square subway station: The label on the right is particularly pointed about the owner's wastefulness:
This wee sign asks, "Candy wrapper on the street is trash / But what do you call a full pack of candy on the street"?
And best yet, here's a teary-eyed music tribute to lost lip balm:
Is a pack of chastising leprechauns running amok in New York? Possibly somewhere – you never know with this city – but these specific objects are the handiwork of Yoonjin Lee, a 22-year-old attendee at Manhattan's School of Visual Arts. Since last autumn, Lee has scanned the sidewalks for castoffs like hair ties, single gloves, and cigarette lighters, then outfitted them with little paper arms holding notices like "Help! I'm lost."
"People just look at me funny but sometimes I stay around the corner for a little bit and see a few people stop and go closer to look at it," she emails. Here's how she explains her "Little Lost Project":
I wanted to humanize everyday objects that we do not think much of and leave them on the streets. When people lose their favorite lip balm, it really annoys them but it does not ruin their life. If you change the perspective, falling out of someone's pocket and being left useless on the street is life-changing. I wanted to show this through the messages on the cardboard signs and New Yorkers or online viewers can take a moment to relate with the objects or imagine the story behind it. I just wanted to bring some delight to people through this project.
You can find the complete "Little Lost Project" on Facebook and Tumblr. Credit the artist with an imaginative reuse of street litter – but even more for the courage to not always use gloves when picking things off New York's questionable sidewalks. Here are a couple more winners from the project: