Operation Mongoose: Success

Mission Complete

Update: We Are Even More Famous!

The blog that mentioned our project, was featured on the New York Daily News’ book blog.

We are famous!

Our project was featured on Damn Arbor, an Ann Arbor townie’s blog

A New Concept

Our group decided to radically revise our original idea. Here’s what we came up with:

Concept: We are going to go to what has long been and most recently been the site of Borders Bookstore headquarters in Ann Arbor and host a memorial of sorts for printed books. We are going to put paper tombstones on the blank store front of Borders and invite the public to write out either a memory of borders, the title of their favorite book, and or a passage from their favorite literary work on the tombstones. We will also have ripped out pages from books with sayings painted on them like “Why don’t you read me anymore?” We will have a sign with clear concise instructions for people to write on the tombstones as well provide sharpies for people to use in order to make their mark. We will monitor and record the results of our experiment.

Purpose: Printed text is a dying art form. Digital text is rapidly replacing printed literature. Ann Arbor is the city where the very first Borders was created over 40 years ago. It was a staple in the Ann Arbor community. This “memorial” serves as a commentary on the loss of a mainstay in the community as well as the dwindling form of printed books.

Pre-Operation Interview

Garrett interviews his co-worker April in preparation for the project.

Modifying the Proposal

The main criticism for our proposal was that it lacked a central, driving goal. We had an idea but no real heart at its foundation and no definite purpose. I think we all have our ideas of why this is meaningful and how it will connect us to the community, but we just never articulated it or gave it any real substance. Here, we’ll flesh out our ideas more and try to address what we actually hope to accomplish with this project.


  • Ann Arbor is a college town, an artsy mecca and a place full of people. We picked it originally because we thought the vibe would lend itself to people actually completing the tasks. But at the same time, it’s a place that moves very quickly. You can walk downtown and see hundreds of people but never interact with them. Also, some of the places are taken for granted by people who walk through them every day and the magic of it is sometimes lost. By placing task cards in various places, we hope to do a few things.
  • One, we hope that by reawakening some of these places with fun ideas and getting people to interact with sites and finding special things in forgotten/looked over areas  we can encourage people to appreciate where they are.
  • Secondly, by creating a collage of the images after (and encouraging people to go online and look at it afterwards) we hope to create a closer sense of community. We want to show people what they can do when they come together. This project will allow people to see that they’ve worked toward a common goal and are connected, even if apart. Also this will encourage people to do something fun with each other, groups of people can go out together and make a fun scavenger hunt of it. 



 We want to place Index cards around downtown Ann Arbor with simple tasks written on them, with the intention of having people submit a photo of them completing the task to an email address. From there we will create a collage of the different pictures submitted, for everyone to view.

Possible Task Ideas:

  • Take a self portrait
  • Take a picture of yourself involving nature
  • Super glue a quarter to the sidewalk and see if anyone tries to pick it up (Take a picture of it)
  • If you have a roommate write Mine on sticky notes and place it on all the food in the refrigerator (Take a picture of it)
  • Draw crazy faces on all the eggs in the refrigerator (Take a picture of it)
  • Look yourself up on Google (Take a picture of it)
  • Walk around with your shoes on the wrong feet (Take a picture of it)
  • Take a picture with your best friend
  • Take a picture with a stranger
  • Take a picture with a pet

Materials Needed:

  • Index Cards
  • Balloons
  • Helium (possibly)
  • Envelopes
  • Markers (to decorate envelopes to make them more appealing)
  • Tape
  • A recording device (To record the experience)

Desired Outcome:

We hope to have at least 15-20 participants in the challenge. Obviously we want as many people to participate as possible. The final goal is to have a collage of various people in the community participating in the Operation Mongoose challenge.



The Operation: Potential Ideas/ Research

October 17, 2012

Operation Mongoose Ideas and Research for Community Project

For our “operation” we want to place notecards throughout Ann Arbor, as well as send them via balloons. These notecards contain a random task to complete. When they complete the task they need to send a picture of it to a specific email address. From these pictures we want to display a collage online so everyone can view them, including the participants. We think it will be interesting to see the diversity displayed among the various participants. It will make a nice visual to see how community members tackled the different assignments. The idea for this project came in part from the “I Wish This Were” project by Candy Chang. The idea of using index cards is the same, but instead of writing something down, we want the community to physically participate in the art we are trying to create.

Regarding research, we of course needed to scout possible locations for the notecards to be placed. We chose Ann Arbor because of its downtown area. There is a good mix of student and non-student community members. There is a better chance of us getting people to actually participate. Possible locations include the stadium, Washtenaw St. near the fraternity and sorority houses, the University of Michigan student union, the “graffiti alley,” Starbucks, the arcade, and select message boards on campus. We think it may be a good idea to release the balloons a little outside of Ann Arbor in an attempt for them to actually reach the city and not go past it. It really is a stroke of luck kind of thing, because you never really know how far the wind will carry the balloon. The balloon release will probably have to be attempted more than once.

We also have to think about how to improve our chances of getting people to participate. Though Ann Arbor is a good place with people likely to volunteer, we can’t count on that alone. There are numerous studies in psychology on how to motivate people. Attractive presentation is one (for example we can think about how to present the note cards rather than just having it be a piece of paper maybe wrap them in envelopes with intriguing/prompting messages on the front like “open me” or “hey you!”). Also, during research a website about facebook photo contests came up: (http://smallbusiness.chron.com/people-participate-photo-contest-facebook-30301.html). While we were thinking of an email for people to send pictures to instead of a forum, this idea still has some value to us. One of the easiest ways to motivate people is to give them a reward, and what better way to motivate people to strive for that reward than to make a contest? We might think about making it a contest, something about the most unique picture wins something once the collage is all put together and the project is over with. We’d have to figure out what that reward would be and how to give it to someone (maybe just the fame of winning would be enough) but regardless it’s something to think about. Other reward ideas could be a small amount of money, some kind of cheap trophy, a copy of the collage sent to them, etc.

A list of potential tasks needed to be gathered as well. Online there were quite a few links to websites with random tasks for people to do on it. An interesting website I found is Random Things to do. Com. The link is below.


Another good source for random tasks is the phone app Instagram. Every month they have a photo challenge which involves taking a picture of a different thing every day of that month. Each day is a new photo task. A photo of the October challenge is in the media section of our blog.

A few other sites that have similar foundations to gather ideas off of:

http://www.squidoo.com/funny-things-to-do-in-nottingham-when-bored – A few quirky ideas, most can be modified to be a task that someone could take a picture of

http://creativitygames.net/ – These might be a little harder to make into tasks since they aren’t merely instructions but rather creative prompts and ideas. A few that could be useful are the ‘getting out of your comfort zone’ section and the three word prompts.

http://www.cs.earlham.edu/~jimg/reading/bored.html – Some are a little nonsensical but it almost makes them work. Some of these might just be odd enough for people to give it a go.

The next thing we want to do to further our project is to interview a few people in the area to gage their opinions on our project. We want to get a sense of whether or not people would actually be interested in viewing and or participating in such a project. Based upon that and the opinions of our respective professors Operation Mongoose will commence.

The Influences Behind the Mongoose

Operation Mongoose is slowly coming together as an event, but in order for any community art idea to take place, there have to be certain other artists who have come before us who have influenced us along the way. One of these artists is one we talked about in class. With his interesting style of getting the community involved, sometimes without them even choosing to be part of anything until they sit down, Evan Roth is quite the man. His projects focus a lot on the elements of surprise and humor to the sometimes unwitting subjects, like his piece “TSA Communication” which features stainless steel slats with words, images, or phrases on them. Roth would put one of these in his carry-on bag in an airport and send them through the TSA X-RAY conveyor for all the employees to see. Sometimes the steel would just have something like “Nothing to see here” written on it, while other times there would be a middle finger, or even “Mind your own business.”
This wasn’t his only project that caught out eye though, another of Roth’s pieces involved actually being on an airplane, taking the Skymall magazine given to every passenger, cutting it up in accordance to the skin color of the models used in it, or the gender of the models used in it, and glueing them according to race or sex on the tray in front of him for the next passenger or flight attendant to find.

An artist not discussed in class is Janet Zweig, with her piece, Lipstick Enigma. This is a piece where Janet takes a computer-controlled lexicon with 1200 red lipstick tubes each on their own little motor. The entire goal is for the tubes to spell out different phrases and make different shapes for the public as they pass by. As if it were a light-up sign. In the video, it shows a lot of people stopping and talking about the piece, from sheer interest as to what the machine is doing, or from the beauty of something that is meant to beautify a face, being used to create a message.

Both of these artists have inspired our operation by getting a community involved in something, and sometimes catching their reaction. Evan Roth particularly has taught us that we can have a community make public spaces their own. As Operation Mongoose we are going to be relying on our community for participation quite a bit, and the simple reaction to these pieces shows that people are willing to step outside of their comfort zone for the sake of art from time to time.

Some questions we have involve things like what inspired the artist him or herself to come up with a project like this? In the case of Roth messing with airport security has been a dream of many for a long time, and exposing the ridiculousness of how airport security really works is a fun project, but in the case of Zweig, what inspired her to use the mediums that she did? Why the lipstick sculpture specifically?

The links to both artists are
Evan Roth:

Janet Zweig:


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.