Something tells me that, while you hate seeing carts like these on your street, you would love to see Taizo Yamamoto’s “Shopping Carts” featured at your local art gallery. You love them for the same reasons that you love Neo-Pop art. “Finally,” you think, “somebody has turned the ugly into the beautiful.”
But, has Yamamoto turned a toad into a Prince? Or, has he just opened our eyes?
According to early Roman writer, Vitruvius, the three preeminent aspects of architecture are Firmitatis (stability), Utilitatis (Utility), and Venustatis (Grace/Beauty). On first glance, Yamamoto’s “Shopping Carts” do not meet Vitruvius’s standards of design. Just don’t tell that to Yamamoto, an architect himself, who has an advanced degree (and likely the student debt) to prove it. In an interview with itsnicelikethat.com, Yamamoto evokes Vitruvius’s Utilitatis, by intimating that as “an architect, it is fascinating to see how these carts are truly ‘designed’ in terms of immediacy and necessity.” That is, the cart’s function is that of fulfilling an immediate need. Each cart, as shown in Yamamoto’s sketching, is unique in its organization and structure. What an outside observer might consider chaotic hoarding, the owner of the cart might consider functional and systematic (like the old saying goes: The disregarded refuse of one man, woman, or child would most likely not be considered disregardable refuse by another man, woman, or child).
In the same interview, Yamamoto also points out the firmitatis property of the carts. That is, Yamamoto perceives durability in these structures, noting the “elements of weather protection (tarps, umbrellas, bubble wrap, sleeping bags).” There are certainly ingenious qualities in these carts: weather safe guards, strapping, balancing techniques, etc.
Fulfilling Vitruvius’s third principle, Yamamoto illuminates a characteristic of the shopping carts that they do not intrinsically have: beauty. The beauty of these carts, and to some degree Yamamoto’s work, is shrouded in our pre-conceptions of the homeless. After all, what comes to mind when you think of homelessness? Dirt? Grim? Garbage? Substance Abuse? Mental illness? The Soloist?
For some (perhaps most), the homeless, not homelessness, are a problem. They pollute our streets. They are antithetical to the inherent beauty in the architecture of metropolitan spaces. In short, they lie in stark contrast to Vitruvius’s doctrine.
Yamamoto does nothing to disguise the carts. That is, he has not beautified these structures with ornamentation or embellishments. In fact, in using graphite pencil on white backgrounds, he has simply compounded the existing “dirty” stereotype. What he has done, though, is take them out of context. He has removed them from our streets and hung them on our walls. In doing so, he gives us the opportunity to reconsider our biases and preconceptions.