All images by Kirsty Hall Since January 2011, UK artist Kirsty Hall has been making a small piece of art every day and then hiding it somewhere in the world. This year-long project is called 365 Jars, because each art piece is housed in or based on a glass jar. Her intent is to place art “in the wild” in hopes that people will find it, enjoy it and report the find on her website. Making and placing art every day would be a feat for anyone, but for Kirsty, who struggles with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, it’s a major act of commitment. This isn’t her first foray into daily making, either – in 2007, she conducted The Diary Project, in which she made a drawing on the back of an envelope each day and then mailed it back to herself. As of this post, Kirsty is 229 jars into 365 Jars. She talked with me about how this daily act of art-making affects her creativity and her health, and what people are saying when they find all these jars.
Where did this project idea come from? The project is really a cunningly-disguised exercise plan. Towards the end of last year, I was spending far too much time in front of a computer screen so I decided to do an art project that incorporated a daily walk. I was also thinking about how we interact with the urban environment and what it means to give away art instead of selling it – and those aspects have evolved as the project has developed. I knew that I wanted to make and release art for people to find and the jars were just a simple practical solution that allowed me to use a far greater range of materials in the project. But I quickly realised that the jars also act as a convenient signal to people; I’ve now got a whole gang of locals who are constantly on the look-out for jars because they know that jars mean art. I love that. What kinds of art are you enclosing in these jars, in general? Anything that fits. There tends to be lots of drawing because that’s an easy option for me and some days I really need that ease. My training is in sculpture, so I love to make three-dimensional pieces and I’ve also used photographs, found objects and text in the jars. I particularly enjoy making jars that have a kinetic or a sound aspect that only becomes apparent when someone picks it up. I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve used paper as a sculptural material in the jars. I’ve always liked fragile materials in my art but there’s a limit to how fragile I can make the contents of the jars. They have to withstand being carried around in my bag and then survive whatever might happen to them while they’re outside, so paper is appealing to me because it has those connotations of fragility while being surprisingly robust. I invested in some wonderful paper yarn and twine from PaperPhine and that’s been very inspiring to use. Have you found it difficult to create art and then release it every day? Do you find yourself forming attachments to any of these pieces? Yes, yes, and yes! For me the whole project has become very much about the concept of ‘letting go’ and even now, it challenges me emotionally, physically, and intellectually. Some days the making is almost impossibly difficult but thankfully I’m not making everything from scratch. I’ve been doing a lot of recycling in the jars by using up drawings, prints and little objects that I’ve had lying around for years. That’s felt very emotionally freeing. My word of the year is “movement,” and ironically I’m now facing a completely unexpected house move, so I’m quite relieved that I’ve already spent months decluttering my old art and using up my art supplies. I also allow myself to make jars ahead of time, which gives me some much-needed wiggle room. When a I release a jar that I particularly love and it goes missing and isn’t reported, I find that difficult. Even after months of releasing a daily jar, it can still be challenging to lose them, especially when it’s a one-off that I can’t replicate. I find that on average about a third of the jars aren’t reported and just vanish completely, although occasionally a jar will reappear months after it goes missing, so there’s always hope. Are you finding it any challenge to keep finding new locations to place these jars? Again, yes. Unfortunately my health isn’t great, so I can’t always walk far and I’ve used up a lot of the appropriate spots in my local vicinity. However, I found that when the plants started growing in the spring, spots that were previously far too obvious suddenly became viable – I suspect some jars that are currently overgrown by hedges will start reappearing in the autumn when everything dies back. I do try to get further afield but that can be tricky with my health and also in terms of the time it takes to get to places – the project usually takes up several hours of my day and if I make the effort to go further afield, that’s even more time gone. But I try to integrate the walks into my daily life, so I’ll often combine a Jar Walk with other errands. You’re no stranger to daily art projects. Why do you do them? What benefits do they bring you? I find they’re a great way to kick my art up to the next level. Although they’re invariably challenging and exhausting, I always learn so much from doing them. I describe myself as “artist & purveyor of mad obsessive projects,” so obviously the repetitive aspect appeals to me but I enjoy the discipline of forcing myself to have a daily practice. That said, I think I’ll take a good long break from daily projects after this one – in retrospect, this was a lot to take on and never giving myself a day off was a mistake! Have you heard from anyone who’s found one of your jars “in the wild?” What have they said? Oh yes, I hear from people all the time. I’ve got a core gang of regulars who obsessively hunt the jars but many people find them accidentally. There’s a form on the project website where people can tell me about their finds, and I post these submitted jar forms on the blog so that everyone can enjoy the stories and adventures that seem to spontaneously arise. A lot of people re-release their jars, so sometimes a jar can accumulate a lot of stories. I’m now actively encouraging that with The Big Jar Adventure – we’re on a mission to get a jar into every single city in the UK. I’m also hoping that some jars will be sent abroad so that my Jar Fans around the world can take part. Most of the responses I get are very positive and people often tell me that finding a jar has made their day. One of my favourite responses was from a five year old who was so delighted with his jar that he took it into school for show and tell. I thought that was just brilliant because I do regard this project as a conceptual art project that’s exploring some deep issues, even though the format is accessible. People often feel that contemporary art is “not for them,” so I was thrilled that my art could reach out to a child in that way. In fact, kids usually adore the project because it’s basically a treasure hunt – I’ve got one family with four kids who have turned Jar Hunting into a hobby for their whole family and they’re having a whale of a time. I love that I’m making a tiny difference to peoples’ lives.