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Monday, March 19, 2018

Mona Caron

Outgrowing, Mona Caron's urban weeds left unattended, though in this case grown for their medicinal qualities in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
There was a time when I was growing up during the 1950s and 60s when virtually every family in Stockport, Ohio, had a garden. I wasn't aware of it at the time, but the tradition extended back to pioneer days and the Victory Gardens of the war years. In any case, it was often my job to get out in the hot sun and "hoe the garden." Weeks were my enemy. They were an ugly invasion force which had to be carefully uprooted to die in the same bright sun that was also killing me. Yet the American mural artist Mona Caron would contend that weeds are beautiful. Indeed, hers are. Hers are also a painted warning as to what heights weeds might rise to if left to grow unattended. Hers vary from a fairly modest one or two stories in height to as much as fifteen stories high painted on the blank ends of high-rise office and apartment buildings (above).
 Collaboration with Liqen, Mona Caron, public art commissioned by the City of Vigo, Spain. 
Muralist Mona Caron has created a worldwide "Weeds" series, with colorful renderings of humble plants growing ever taller on buildings in cities such as Portland, São Paulo, Spain, Taiwan, and elsewhere. The San Francisco-based artist often partners with local and international, social, and environmental movements for climate justice, labor rights, and water rights. She selects plants, both native and invasive, that she finds in the cities where she paints. She combines the words "artist" and "activist" to form "artivist" in describing herself and her gigantic murals.
Taking Root, Mona Caron.
Hers is not an art for those
afraid of heights.
Taking Root (above), featuring the first tiny wildflower that made it back to the once barren piece of land it now stands upon, after its rehabilitation from industrial pol-lution. The roots contain narrative miniature paintings representing the land's history. Caron also integrates tiny details into the main visual elements of her murals, several of which contain intricate miniature details, invisible from afar. These typically narrate the local history to chronicle the social life of the mural’s immediate surroundings. Such images visualize future possibilities created in a process that incorporates ideas emerg-ing from spontaneous conversations with the artwork’s hosting communities while paint-ing. Caron regularly shares process videos and photos of completed works on Insta-gram. She also delves into the narratives behind several of her murals on her website.
Caron's Weeds series growing with time-lapse photography.

The Mission Blue Butterfly is the central image in Mona Caron's mural of Brisbane, California (below). This mural narrates the history of the small town within a display of the native flora of nearby San Bruno Mountain. The silhouette of San Bruno Mountain spans the whole background of the mural, while a number of native flowers (many of them butterfly host plants) are depicted in the foreground. The town of Brisbane is painted nestled within the large, protective shape of a Mission Blue Butterfly, a local endangered species.

The Mission Blue Butterfly, Mona Caron.
A series of smaller pictures within the mural depict moments in the history of Brisbane, in chronological order. These are painted monochromatically in sepia tones. The outside shape of these images changes gradually from a butterfly to a star. The star is the symbol of the town because of the oversize wooden pentagrams that homes in Brisbane traditionally display on their façâdes, so the butterfly changing to a star symbolizes the transformation of a natural setting into a man-made one. The star outline continues changing to that a book, which at the end transforms back to a butterfly. This represents hope in education and our younger generations, as modeled by the work of the local Brisbane Educational Support Team, who spearheaded this mural project.

Stream of Life, Mona Caron.A stream of water in the forest becomes a stream of people in the city. Both are the key to the vitality of their environments.
In addition to history, weeds, and butterflies, Mona Caron also paints current events in line with her activist tendencies. A prime example is her Bike Flower in Curitiba Brazil. The Mural was created for the 2014 World Bicycle Forum as they celebrating the blossoming of the city through its embrace of lighter-treading means of every-day transportation. In most of her murals that involve art for mass street actions, Caron worked in team with her longtime friend and comrade-in-art, the fellow artivist and puppetista, David Solnit.

Bike Flower, Mona Caron, Curitiba Brazil
Caron often joins Solnit in facilitating the collaborative creation of, portable images that are used to amplify the visual impact of rallies, while adding the experience of art making and the language of theater to the actions and struggles. The street art pieces are closely related to her other mural work, but are instigated by activist groups, or were made in support of a specific issue, during a moment of heightened public debate around it.

A Weed in Sao Paulo (Brazil), Mona Caron.

When asked why she paints weeds, Caron first lays claim to the pejorative term "weeds", owning it, as it describes not the plants' intrinsic value but their action. Whether invasive species or benign wildflowers, plants act as weeds when they appear clandestinely, autonomously, in surprising urban places. This is why she creates some of her murals as on-site animations: to let the paintings not just BE, but ACT like weeds. Although a large number of them are classified with the ominous-echoing term "invasive non-natives," all immigrant plants are native somewhere. If they are here, it's because the global environment has been disrupted. It's a consequence of globalization, which is part of the metaphor.

Manifestation Station, painted
utility box by Mona Caron.


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