In March, some downtown Bloomington pedestrians might have noticed, alongside the spring bulbs, a crew of Barbie dolls who were waving from the planters that border the courthouse square.
Given expectations of midwestern politeness, some passers-by might have waved back.
The Barbies were part of a guerrilla art installation created by Joel Shields, who was visiting from Venice Beach, California.
If you know where to look, and what to look for, it’s not hard to tell when Shields is in town.
For a different installation during his March visit, he strapped red, green and blue baseball bats to the bicycle hoops at Kirkwood Avenue and Morton Streets.
Last Saturday, a 60-foot span between two trees on the grounds of the Indiana University student health center was bridged with twin panels of colorful yarn strung around the trunks.
That means Shields is back in Bloomington for a visit.
Shields has made similar installations in Venice Beach. For those kinds of colorful yarn panels, Shields told The B Square, he does not have a special gadget to tension up the strands to make them easy to tie off.
And he doesn’t have a repertoire of fancy knots. “I do several half hitches,” he said. If he manages to tie a knot that is more scientific-looking, that’s only by mistake, he said. “I don’t know how I did it, and couldn’t do it again, but I know there’s a special name for that knot!’
The piece he installed at the student health center, at 10th and Eagleson Avenue, doesn’t have a name—none of them do. “I have never named anything, he said, adding, “they don’t last long enough to name them. You don’t bother naming a goldfish.”
The piece at the health center was still intact on Tuesday, four days after its creation. When the B Square talked to Shields that day, he was glad it had survived a deluge over the weekend. “It withstood that storm and the wind and the rain,” he said. He squeegeed it off, and it’s “standing strong,” Shields reported.
On Eagleson Avenue, near 3rd Street, about seven blocks south of the student health center, Shields has installed a second yarn panel, using two lamp posts as anchors.
As of Tuesday, it was still whole, on the front lawn of the Bess Meshulam Simon Music Library and Recital Center, with its iconic McKinney Fountain.
The place has special significance for Shields. The Simon building was previously home to University High School—where his mother, Beverly (Walden) Pascual, graduated in 1955. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, his mother’s connection to the building continued, when she worked in an office in the basement of the building, Shields said.
Speaking to The B Square from that spot, Shields said, “Where I am, it’s like sacred, holy ground.”
His mother just recently entered hospice care. Shields has shown her photos of the installation at the former University School: “She’s seen pictures of this already. She knows I’m here.”