Surprise Squids and the Origins of the Mural Network

Experiencing art in a traditional gallery is a delightful progression of expected experiences. Finding art when unexpected, however, is something completely different and can sometimes change the world. 

[photo by Edel Mohr]

When I stumbled on this Lauren YS piece in early 2018, creating the mural network and the multitude of tools for the street art and mural community was not even a notion that I had ever considered. In fact, street art wasn’t even on my mind. I mean, I knew that street art and murals were a thing in St Petersburg. I had even heard of a mural festival called SHINE from a shuffleboard teammate, but I certainly didn’t have a relationship with street art, much less a consideration of how to help cultivate that relationship in my community. 

I vividly recall that summer morning walking south on MLK toward downtown as my peripheral vision caught a glimpse of icy blue causing me to slow down and turn my head. As I did, what began to appear (and frankly tower over me)  was this enormous, swimming, squid-like creature fully banged and clothed in some sort of suit, sharing a meaningful glance with a smaller squid — small deep-sea minion eyes following in-tow. Where my eyes and mind had been quite content in anticipating a bleak urban landscape during an otherwise nondescript walk down MLK, I was now beholding color, larger-than-life fluid motion, and something wild and truly unique. In short, I was awe-struck.

[photo by Iryna Kanishcheva]

How is it that I lived only a few blocks away for years and never noticed this magnificent piece of art? Who was Lauren YS and what were the circumstances surrounding her ability and decision to put this large squid-lady here? Most importantly, what was her story in life and who was she as a person? I found myself inexplicably drawn to these unanswered questions. 

James and I had already created PixelStix and were exploring ways it could be used to cement video memories into physical objects that have meaning. Those of you that know us know how this project truly began as a way to put video memories from a cross-country road trip with my daughter into a photo album alongside the pictures from our trip. Focusing on this new ability to capture memories and stories into these meaningful objects had been an obsession for us at this point and became somewhat of a frame of reference in our daily lives and conversations. Within this frame of mind, an idea crystallized and seemed obvious. Using the same PixelStix technology, we could give Lauren YS a voice to permanently store the story behind this piece for people like me stumbling upon it. In that moment, a rare collision of her amazing work and the technology that we had already created started a series of chain reactions that are still happening today. 

[placing this plaque here in 2019 had a ton of personal significance to me given the role that Lauren’s piece played in the PixelStix journey]

All of the other contributing technologies that define PixelStix and the mural network today weren’t around yet. As we descended deeper into this relationship with street art in St Petersburg, we realized that our technology could assist in solving further problems we had discovered, but the plaques, maps, and analytics weren’t to come for many more months. The true catalyst for what PixelStix is today was a kernel of something basic, nourishing, and heart-warming. In that moment I was simply a person drawn into a story about an enormous squid with minions, transfixed on every detail and word this art had to tell. I will forever appreciate how Lauren YS introduced me to something wonderful in my city on that day and I’ll be sure to send this article to her as a Thank You.

I’m realizing when writing this why I feel so strongly about our technology and the mural network being available to the random passerby. So that when they find themselves face-to-face with adventure and intrigue like I did on that summer morning, someone who is equipped with nothing more than a smartphone and a willingness to receive can commune with the magnificent creatures that inhabit St Petersburg and their creators.

Further information and examples of works by Lauren YS can be found here. Info about SHINE, the annual mural festival in St Petersburg, FL can be found here. Lastly if you are interested in learning more about the mural network that we built with SHINE in 2019, you can learn about that here.