Sunday, March 29, 2009

TIM DEVIN: An artist and writer who fights urban anonymity

(Poetry book left by Tim Devin on park bench)

TIM DEVIN: An artist and writer who fights urban anonymity

Tim Devin, a former Somerville resident, is a Boston area conceptual artist and writer. His focus is according to his website: “…humanizing public space, and combating what he views as the negative effects of urban anonymity (such as people’s emotional isolation, and lack of attachment to their environment)." He currently works as a law librarian at the New England School of Law, is a member of the Rise Industries creative group, and is the founder and former member of The Boston Typewriter Orchestra. I spoke with Devin on my Somerville Community Access TV Show “ Poet to Poet: Writer to Writer.”

Doug Holder: You are a self-described conceptual artist. Can you define that?

Tim Devin: For me it is a larger term that I hope conveys that I don’t make paintings or sculptures. I use the term to tell people I deal with ideas rather than objects.

“Conceptual” is a 60’s or 70’s term that gets thrown around. I think it is a more friendly term for the art I attempt to make.

DH: Your art, as you describe it fights urban anonymity. Are you or have you been a victim of this?

TD: What I try to do is create situations that people by participating in my projects can meet each other through the different objects I leave in public. It is natural in a city to be overwhelmed and ignored a lot. I think there is a problem as a result of this.

DH: You leave flyers, poetry books, in public space. Some might say, like Shepard Fairey—you are defacing the landscape. What do you think of Fairey? Is there any comparison between you two?

TD: I would be honored to be compared to Shepard Fairey, I think what he does is really wonderful. He also has a strong populist message that I agree with. What I try to do is to leave ephemera in public space. Part of that is philosophical. I have never been involved with graffiti. Flyers and poetry books are not permanent parts of the urban landscape.

DH: “ I left this here for you to read” is a project that consists of leaving poetry books around various cities across the country (including Somerville) for people to read. This is sort of like the “message in the bottle” concept. Do you have feedback that people are reading these booklets of poetry?

TD: So far we are on issue 20, so there are about 1,000 floating around. I have received maybe 10 responses. And these people are very enthusiastic about it. So I know I reached at least 10 people. I think a lot of then get thrown out before they are read. Frankly I have no problem with that.

I like to think of it as a message in a bottle—it’s a nice way of putting it. It’s a way to potentially reach people who don’t really read poetry magazines or art magazines. A lot of local poets were in it. I think it is a platform for writers to get their work out there.

DH: You created a fictional email exchange between a girl named Sue and her now ex-boyfriend Jay. You put out flyers with their dramatic exchange on the windshields of cars. Was something happening in your own personal life? What was the response to this?

TM: There really wasn’t anything happening in my own life that was similar to this. I wanted to create ways for people to recognize each other and think compassionately. I thought: what would someone think if they went out to his or her car and on the windshield there was a print out of an exchange between a man and a woman who broke up? And you can email both! I made up 200 flyers for each city that I distributed them in. It was really affirming—the amount of responses I got. However in L.A. I didn’t get a single response. But it was really great to read the advice and criticism to the guy and his girlfriend.

DH: You also had ten sites in Somerville where you distributed flyers that had a photo, a typed paragraph, and tear slips under it. The text had a description of the experiences you had at various sites. What were these experiences?

TM: One of them was about the experiences an old friend and I had during our younger “partying” days. We had these discussions on a park bench in the city. The bench had meaning. Each description, or flyer had a moral attached to them.

DH: Another project of yours is “What will the future hold for Somerville 2010-2100” You question folks: “What will you be doing?” “What are your hopes and fears?” Do you think Somerville’s hopes, fears, and dreams would play in Peoria?

TD: I think so. The reason I chose Somerville for this project is because I hope to move back here soon. Somerville is going under rapid change. I wanted to explore what people hope and fear, about the future of Somerville. And then I want to compile it into one history where people can compare people’s visions.

-- Doug Holder

* For more info about Tim Devin go to:

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