by Cassius Adair
Published by Ugly Duckling Press, 2009 | 64 pages
Ellie Ga seamlessly intertwines the pursuits of art and science in her book Classification of a Spit Stain using photo-documentation to conceive a new and viable area of study within the field of garbology. Ga’s combination of image and text—a possible reference to Roland Barthes’ philosophy of connotation and denotation—creates a system of urban streetscapes, a classification of what is afoot underfoot. On the one hand, her blue-hued photographs illustrating categories of pavement stains become an aesthetic investigation of the terrain beneath our feet. At the same time, the facsimile of notebook pages containing both typewritten text and her hand-scribbled marks and mistakes make for a landscape of evolving ideas.
Ga identifies, describes, and documents four “classification categories” of stains on city streets (the round and raised stain, the free-form stain, the stained landscape, and underfoot materialization). Although the book’s title is a misnomer insofar as almost none of these stains derive from spit, that becomes irrelevant since the title merely marks the beginning of the artist’s exploration, serving as an entry point for the reader into an overlooked and unfamiliar world. The clear categorization of stains and the straightforward outline of Ga’s notes allow for a relatively quick understanding of her project. Once familiarized with the variety of stains on the pavement, the reader gains a heightened awareness of the beauty beneath his feet.
The nature of a stain, as Ga explains, is inextricably linked with its surroundings, much as the appearance of an artwork is inseparable from its media. Thus, the artist turns the ground into a raw canvas constantly being manipulated by inadvertent human activity. Adding an anthropological facet to her investigation, Ga suggests that studying the patterns on this concrete canvas will provide insight into human behavior, although to my disappointment, she only offers one instance to prove her point: the round, raised stain whose appearance increases in places where people enter, exit, and wait.
Ga examined city pavements and streets for two years, but the classification system that emerges from her artistic study is far from comprehensive. For example, as I walked through my own urban geography, I noticed two types of stains missing from Ga’s notes: the bird-poop stain and the paint-drop stain. Perhaps that was Ga’s intention in leaving her categories open to additional interpretation. After all, she made me look at the ground with an entirely new perspective.
Rachel Mohl graduated with a master’s degree in modern and contemporary Latin American art history in 2008 from the University of Texas at Austin. For the past six years, she has been working in the museum field. Rachel began her career in museum education at the Dallas Museum of Art, and continued in both curatorial and educational capacities Austin at the Blanton Museum of Art and the Creative Research Laboratory. She is currently the Exhibitions Coordinator and Curatorial Assistant at Museo de Arte de Ponce in Puerto Rico where she combines her passion for education with her love of curating