#SidewalkRorschach, by Robin Bienemann
Last year, in mid-COVID lockdown, I invented a game I play with my friends on Facebook called #SidewalkRorschach.
The game begins with me walking around my neighborhood alone taking pictures of the sidewalk.
Together my Facebook friends and I create an electronic collage of images with loose connections that we make up as we go along.
The final result is a scrollable digital totem pole bubbling with creative observations and pop culture references.
The #SidewalkRorschach game has no rules. It is limited only by the structure of Facebook news feeds. Though never discussed, stated, nor enforced, we have settled into a basic form.
(1) I see an image suggested by an accidental form on the sidewalk (cracks, puddles, mud, ice).
(2) I take a picture of it with my phone and post it in my Facebook news feed, noting the image I conjured, AND inviting others to respond:
From this week:
“I thought I saw a skeleton dog playing a guitar out on the sidewalk. What do you see?”
(3) My Facebook friends then add “comments” to the news feed. Text and/or images building upon my original image suggestion OR riffing on other interpretations of the photo.
(4) I then respond to those comments with ANOTHER image, sometimes related directly, sometimes convolutedly.
(5) The group continues building upon the discussion, responding to each other adding images and commentslike ornaments to Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
Last summer I started posting pictures on Facebook of accidental painterly designs I saw on the ground. With my contrarian nature, I found them at least as poetic as abstract paintings in an art gallery, with none of the pretention (except for my own connoisseurship).
• Layers of white bird poop weathered into a wooden boat dock.
• Shadows falling across smashed mulberries on the road.
After posting a few of these I started including a note inviting others to comment on images THEY saw within the abstract forms in my photo. It turns out that Facebook’s algorithms encourage discourse and are friendly toward my friends “talking” to each other in news feeds. The more we would exchange thoughts, the more “attention” the news feed posts would get.
Exhilarated by the interesting and hilarious exchanges AND motivated by my new habit of taking long walks in my neighborhood, I began posting #SidewalkRorschach photos on a regular basis. I have no precise schedule, but if I find a “good one” I try to post it almost immediately, hopefully keeping it conceptually fresh. If it sits around unposted too long it starts to seem stale like old bread.
The #SidewalkRorschach art/game is conceived specifically to NOT exist in a private bubble. It lives and grows in a world of social media. Inherent in that world is occasional bewilderment at relatively high or low “interest” in a particular post. An artist on social media signs an invisible contract to engage in those metrics. You can choose to enjoy them or allow them to drive you mad.
One sweet real-world result has been my reputation as someone who is always looking around for beauty in the ugliest and most unremarkable parts of our environments.
Even better, acquaintances love to tell me they now walk around looking for figures in the sidewalk. Not a bad influence!
One of many lessons I’ve learned from my brilliant haiku-ing wife Jenny, is that any artistic practice requires the practitioner to keep it up on a regular basis, without questioning too much whether it is worth the trouble.
I enjoy the act of walking around intentionally, alone with my head down, hunting for new sidewalk images. But far more gratifying is collaborating to create these rich collages with my friends.
After I post a new #SidewalkRorschach image I check my phone constantly, delighted by the new comments, and excited to craft responses worthy of their generous attentions. I love to scroll through an entire long #SidewalkRorschach news feed from months previous, to be reminded of the thoughtful, clever exchanges with my friends.
Every #SidewalkRorschach comment has the voice and character of that contributor. Some of the regular participants have developed their own #SidewalkRorschach voice and style. Mine tends toward B&W historical photos and Loony Toons cartoons. Others lean toward hippie psychodelia or mythology. Some use apps to draw right on top of my original photo. There have been brilliant original digital paintings, and mini history and geography lessons.
#SidewalkRorschach starts with me, walking alone, squinting at cracks on the sidewalk, but is nurtured and fed by the always-surprising spirit of collaboration.