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Art That's Fun: Find Somerville's Hidden Urban Shrines

Pauline Lim, an artist in Somerville's Brickbottom Artists Building, has created an interactive, outdoor, thoughtful, healthy and fun art installation—with a chance to win a prize and the opportunity to eat some baked goods.

There are nine of them dispersed throughout Somerville.

They look a little bit like Medieval religious icons—maybe from Ravenna, with their mosaics; maybe from an old Russian church, with their serene and stylized human figures; maybe from a small chapel in France, with their colorful glass, like small stained-glass windows.

Yes, they definitely have a Medieval vibe, but these works of art are decidedly modern: One, titled "Restraint," features a cupcake with a cherry on top. It sits in a field of pink and is bordered with what seem to be pink Mardi Gras beads. Another, titled "Loyalty," depicts a cute little puppy. (Others, such "Honesty," an infant-like figured cloaked in a  blue mosaic robe, wouldn't seem too out of place in an early Roman church.)

And there's something even more modern about them: You need a GPS to find them.

Sort of. You could also plug their coordinates into an online mapping program and print the results on your home-office inkjet. Either way, you need some serious computing power, and possibly a few satellites, to see all nine—very modern.

Somerville's Geocaching Urban Shrines Project

They're part of a city-wide outdoor art installation by Somerville artist Pauline Lim called the "Geocaching Urban Shrines Project."

Here's how it works:

  • Visit Lim's website, paulinelim.net, to find photos of the nine shrines, plus their latitude and longitude coordinates.
  • Plug those coordinates into your GPS system, and head off into Somerville to find each shrine.
  • If you don't have a GPS system, you can map the coordinates online. Lim's website has the appropriate link. 

It's called geocaching, a sort of modern-day treasure hunt

When you find a shrine, make sure to take a photograph of yourself in front of it. Send those nine snapshots to Lim, and you'll be entered into a drawing to win a prize: a special stainless steel water bottle.

Lim said she had never done any geocaching before she started the project. Part of the idea for the public art project came from listening to podcasts about fitness. At the same time, she had a grant from the to create something with a community benefit. Getting people outside—walking, running, riding their bikes—seemed like a good idea.

"I love to have a destination" when walking, Lim said, "So I don't feel like a rat on a wheel." Her shrines provide "little rewards every now and then" for those who embark on the quest to find them.

The project is also intended to make the city look more beautiful. "Millions of people travel to Paris and Rome to see the city," she said. "Not many people travel to Hoboken, New Jersey, to see the city." Her point is that making a city beautiful is important. "I feel our city is getting more and more attractive," she said.

Another reward: Most of the shrines are located near bakeries or places to grab "something delicious," Lim said. With all the walking or biking it takes to reach all nine shrines—the whole geocaching course is 6.5 to 7 miles long, Lim said—it won't hurt to grab a little bite to eat near some of the shrines.

One concern Lim had was that the shrines might get stolen, but, "amazingly," that hasn't happened yet, she said. (Writing that sentence does not constitute a jinx.)

Also, the shrines, which are covered by epoxy, have weathered the elements well over the winter.

Finally, the shrines serve as "reminders to meditate," Lim said. They're "a reason to stop and gaze at an object." 

Deadline for participating

If you want to participate in the contest, visit Lim's website for details. You have until 9:30 p.m. on Feb. 24 to find all nine shrines and send snapshots of yourself and your colleagues in front of them. At that time, she will conduct a drawing with the names of each team that participated in the project. The winner will get a water bottle with this printed on it.

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