Worshipping At The Altar Of Geocaching

Artist Pauline Lim hasn’t just taken a shine to geocaching, she’s created nine shrines to the sport.

Over America’s Thanksgiving holiday, the Massachusetts resident installed all nine creations around her hometown of Somerville for her new Geocaching Urban Shrines Project. And she’s now offering a prize for one lucky person who locates them all using the co-ordinates listed on her website.

Although she doesn’t cache herself and isn’t sure if she will “take it up”, the artist hopes her combination of art, meditation and exercise will boost the health of her city and its residents.

From her studio in Brickbottom Artists Building, Lim told It’s Not About The Numbers that her project began earlier this year when she received an Artist Fellowship Grant from Somerville Arts Council.

“I had to come up with a ‘community benefit’ as a condition of the award, so devised the Geocaching Urban Shrines Project, where only the GPS co-ordinates of each outdoor piece would be publicised, and if a visitor could prove he/she had been to each shrine, they would be entered into a competition drawing.”

That prize is a stainless steel waterbottle from CafePress.com depicting her painting It’s My Goddamned Birthday, worth US$19.99.

Lim’s own geo-trail began with a workshop by fellow grant recipient Ilyn Wong on Psychogeographical Shintoism – “urban shrines, which crop up spontaneously and involve a bit of renegade behavior, with unplanned additions to the shrines as ‘offerings’.

“We went on a ‘drift’, an observational walk where … we discovered shrines erected by residents of Somerville, ranging from odd birdbaths and garden ornaments to the good ol’ Virgin Mary on the half-shell (in half-buried bathtubs).  I loved the idea of people sanctifying odd corners of their environment, especially in a neighbourhood where there might be a lot of otherwise unrelenting ugliness.”

At the time, Lim was on a fitness kick and, while listening to a podcast by Fat2Fit Radio, “heard about an activity called ‘geocaching’, which I thought would be a good thing to get people outside and active”.

“My other inspiration was travelling to European cities.  In the past couple of years, I have visited Rome, Paris, and the Belgian cities of Ghent, Antwerp and Leuven.  There were so many gorgeous old buildings ornamented with random statues and paintings.  I didn’t even have to go inside to get a huge dose of art.  It made me want to cover Somerville with beautiful outdoor art; I wish I could cover this city with the density of art that Rome has.”

Each of her shrines is a Gothic-style arch cut from a wooden plank that honours a different virtue. It took Lim seven months to complete all nine of the  8-1/2″ x 11″ artworks using broken tiles, mirrors and jewellery alongside “some painting or drawing and collage materials”. “Some neighbourhoods in Somerville are troves of broken glass and rusty bits, so it seemed significant to hunt around those forgotten areas,” she says.

Lim’s chosen imagery is secular, rather than religious; with her Patience and Loyalty shrines depicting a dog, while Restraint features a cupcake.

A fortnight ago, she and her husband installed the series in a “big loop around the city”, recording the nine co-ordinates on her Garmin GPSr. Because of the distance involved, she recommends travelling by bicycle. “I wanted to make people explore the far corners of the city, maybe some forgotten neighbourhoods.  I discovered some neat places I’d never known about when scouting out locations.

“The only drawback was that I kept finding myself attracted to bakeries all over town.  I wanted people to be able to reward themselves for their labours by getting something tasty after I’ve drawn their attention to neighbourhoods they might not frequent. So it’s not clear whether it will help people improve their health or fatten them up!”

Originally, her endeavour involved geocaching in name only but Lim has since listed all nine quests as official challenges on GC.com (with a little help from kjwx). And site co-founder Jeremy Irish has been in touch with the artist to congratulate her.

While Lim plans to draw her competition winner in late February, she has no idea how long the project will last or where it will take her. If her shrines survive the urban jungle, she may make the series permanent –  with new additions in “tribute to a city I love” – or hold an exhibition with a view to selling the surviving pieces.

“I’ve taken measures to make them hard to tamper with, but who knows what will happen?  I hope potential thieves have mercy and enjoy the art in situ. I have a vision of Somerville being as art-dense (on the outside) as Rome.  We have enough artists that it could happen, if people just wouldn’t steal/destroy stuff.”

For now, Lim must wait to gauge the public’s reaction. She says it was “really fun” to set up her project but she has “no freaking clue” as to how many people will participate. “Maybe no one!  Although a neighbour told me her niece liked geocaching, and another person I know of also likes this activity.”

*For more information on Pauline Lim’s Geocaching Urban Shrines Project, check out her website or log on to GC.com’s Challenges section.

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