Hunter Fine creates cautionary street art installations for LES and EV apartment seekers
By Beth Mellow
When his buddy’s apartment was infested by bed bugs, Hunter Fine didn’t recoil in horror or offer to call an exterminator. He reacted in the only way that befits a creative type: He created art.
“One of my friends in the East Village got the bugs and had to get rid of all his stuff. I was telling him that there should be a way to warn people from moving into buildings with bed bugs. And then the idea sort of matriculated,” said Fine.
Bed Bug Hotels, Fine’s latest street art project, is both a physical and online exhibit. Fine began working on the project this summer, constructing colorful miniature buildings only inches high with kitschy names like “Bed Bug & Breakfast.” Last month, he started placing the tiny hotels in insect-infested buildings in the Lower East Side and East Village where the pests have been reported. A corresponding web site, BedBugHotels.org, and tumblr featuring these works were launched simultaneously in an effort to encourage people to construct their own pieces, take photos and share Fine’s project via Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
“It’s pretty cool how you can put something up in the urban atmosphere and someone will take a picture or find the pictures you post online and pass it around on social media networks to all their friends,” said Fine.
The installation of the Bed Bug Hotels was just as scrappy and grassroots as the methods Fine uses to spread the word about his project. Fine enlisted his friends to help out by taking photos or acting as cover while he set the Bed Bug Hotels up at each site. “I try to stay within legalities and wouldn’t do anything that would warrant an arrest. It’s sort of passive aggressive that way,” Fine added.
Creating projects with viral potential—especially ones that are buzz-worthy —comes naturally to Fine. Working a day job as an associate creative director at the advertising agency BBDO New York, he has learned the subtle art of messaging effectively to the masses.
“Having a background in creative advertising makes you poke holes in all ideas. It teaches you to never go with your first thought, or do something that’s been done before. Coming up with installations uses the same ethos in the thinking process—spend time making the idea great and making sure your message is clear,” he noted.
Bed Bug Hotels is not the first art project Fine has taken to the Downtown streets. Last spring, with fellow advertising industry veteran Jeff Greenspan, Fine created the popular Urban Traps. The project focused on two subcultures in New York City: “hipsters” and “bridge and tunnel” folk.
For each group, Fine and Greenspan laid out large metal traps containing five items to lure their respective prey. Of course, the hipster-focused piece included Pabst Blue Ribbon and bike chains, while the bridge and tunnel work was comprised of self-tanner and PATH tickets. These traps were set up throughout Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn. A D.C. installation about Tea Partiers featured gun cleaner and Dick Armey’s manifesto Give Us Liberty. The works, highlighting the stereotypes of these cultural subgroups, seemed to resonate, and images of Fine’s pieces appeared on several high-traffic blogs, including Gothamist and Gawker.
While Fine, a 32-year-old Lower East Side resident, currently considers the street his primary canvas, he dabbles in other art and creative mediums as well. “I tend to try to do everything at once. I was really into stop-motion animation for a while and still continue to work as a freelance animation director whenever needed. I’m working on two graphic novels right now. I also have a few projects in various stages of development with several friends that involve disrupting the community in the same way the Bed Bug Hotels and Urban Traps did,” Fine explained.
Although he cites a variety of influences for Bed Bug Hotels and his vast body of work, Fine believes that living on the Lower East Side has shaped his art to a certain extent: “I feel like most people tend to do projects about what they know. Most writers write about where they live, and I feel it’s the same for me.”
Top photo: Hunter Fine’s street art project from 2010 ,“Urban Traps.” This one was tailored for the hipsters of the Lower East Side and Brooklyn. Photo courtesy of Hunter Fine.
Photo credits: As part of his “Bed Bug Hotel” installation, Fine attaches his whimsical insect abodes on the sides of bug- infested apartment buildings in the East Village and the Lower East Side. Photo courtesy of Hunter Fine.
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