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SpongeBob shelf, traffic cone, other ‘dibs’ objects inspire artist

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Updated: March 18, 2014 6:21AM



Curtis Locke scours Chicago neighborhoods daily to collect your “dibs” items.

The Hyde Park artist and photographer isn’t angry about Chicago’s “dibs” system — the long-standing and ubiquitous tradition of using orange traffic cones, discarded wooden chairs and just about anything else to stake out coveted shoveled parking spots.

Instead, he’s picking up the items for an ever-expanding art installation outside his home known as the “Chicago Dibs Project.”

It’s a way to spur conversation, he says, explaining that he started the project this winter.

“It’s topical. It’s seasonal, annual, a social matter discussion and a phenomenon,” said Locke, 52.

With his collection, Locke creates dibs installations in his backyard. One is also planted in front of the six-flat apartment building where he resides. His landlord doesn’t mind, he says.

The “dibs” photos are featured on his Flickr page. One of his photos shows off nine “dibs” markers, including a SpongeBob SquarePants bookshelf, Kikkoman Soy Sauce bucket, W3 Cashew Nuts can, yellow plastic kiddie stool and a Dora the Explorer blue folding chair.

Locke even lists the exact addresses where he’s plucked the objects. And he says he’s not scared of retaliation.

“I refuse to acknowledge I’m stealing them,” Locke said. “I’m appropriating them. They are in the public way. I’m not taking them out of another private property. I consider — and I’m not alone in this — they are objects of street folk art.”

Although he’s collected 50 so far, he plans to gather hundreds, should the weather allow him to continue his work.

“I think the actual act of appropriating them is much more interesting than just taking photographs. And I plan to re-install them elsewhere,” Locke said. “I have a couple of plans for the reinstallation, including metered parking spaces.”

His plan is to plant all the “dibs” in a paid spot, “as a temporary street garden.”

The strangest and most creative “dibs” he spotted — and left alone — was in Bucktown. Someone had constructed a tripod, using two mop handles with mop heads and a third leg using a homemade archery bow.

“It was very large, a colorful assemblage that I would have loved to appropriate but couldn’t because of the size. I would have needed a second pair of hands,” Locke said. “It struck me clearly as an installation. It wasn’t simply trash out there to stake terroritory. They were very consciously installing an art piece.”

Locke says he’s seen the most “dibs” in Bridgeport, Pilsen and North Center. He found none in Lincoln Park or his own South Side neighborhood.

So far, the only negative attention he’s gotten is from a few of his neighbors, who are none too happy to see “dibs” flowering their property.

“I have to just laugh at it, because otherwise, I feel like they’ll threaten to hijack my day,” Locke said.

As for people coming back for their “dibs”, Locke said a Bucktown resident who claimed Locke had his chair — a “nice wooden chair with metal legs,” — actually gave him permission to use it for his art.

“The veracity of the claim, I couldn’t really judge. But nobody is threatening me or saying ‘what an a - - - - - -.’ Nobody except for my neighbors.”

Email: tsfondeles@suntimes.com

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