One of Kirsty Hall’s jars left in a UK phone booth. (all images courtesy the artist)

CHICAGO — We’ve all seen them at some point on the social media app of our choice: the “painting-a-day” people, usually talentless self-promoters who are trying to convince themselves they’re doing something conceptual. Not all of them are bad, however. It’s like GIFs: most of them are trivial and silly, pure internet-clutter, but in theory there’s always the possibility that someone can make something good with them. And with UK artist Kirsty Hall’s “365 Jars” project, which I’ve been following throughout 2011, the “one piece a day” idea reaches a whole new level.

One of Hall’s jars left outside. (click to enlarge)

Every day during 2011, Kirsty Hall has gone out for a walk with a glass jar in her hand. Inside the glass jar is a small piece of art that she created — a tiny ink drawing on Japanese paper, a braid of wire and beads, decaying roses from her garden, handwritten text on a long yarn of paper.

She looks for a nook or a cranny to place the jar — a spot where it isn’t too visible, but where it will eventually catch the eye of a passerby. When someone picks up one of the jars, they see the tiny artwork inside, and a note inviting them to register their find on the project website. After that, they are free to keep the jar, or to “release the jar back into the wild,” as Hall calls it.

The art that Kirsty put inside the jars is attractive in the way that small things always are. Like miniatures, the eye notices all the detail in a small area, enticing us to look closer.

It reminds me of Richard Long — the way he takes photos of arrangements of stones that he creates on his hundred mile walks. The obvious difference is that Hall quickly created a collaborative project, in which the people who find the jar and perhaps place it somewhere else, for someone else to find, become linked in a chain of receiving and giving.

A jar left outside.

“It’s really a cunningly disguised exercise regime,” she said when I interviewed her back in April. “I wanted to walk every day and knew that the only way I’d do it was to incorporate it into an art piece. Even on days when I can’t walk very far because of poor health — I’ve been diagnosed with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and have a dodgy immune system — it feels so good to get out and walk. I’ve learnt so much about my local area and I feel connected to it in a way I didn’t before: I have a much more cohesive internal map of it now.”

Most of the jars were placed on the side streets of Bristol, the city in the west of England where Hall lives. She then started to leave jars in other places that she visited, and has now enlisted the project’s online followers in a campaign to leave a jar in every city in England.

Wherever the jars end up, people are apparently delighted to find them and to respond online to the list of questions included in every jar. She’s even had people from the United States picking up jars, taking them home, and then trying to persuade her to do a “365 Jars” project here.

“My Jar Fans are wildly enthusiastic about the project and keep me going on the days when it’s a real struggle,” Hall told me.

“The project has also been far more about relationships than I expected. I had an inkling that people would enjoy the idea but I’ve been surprised by the level of commitment my regular jar hunters have shown. Most people are perfectly content to find a single jar but a select few become utterly consumed by the project. I have one family who’ve found over 50 jars at this point and have three separate ‘shrines’ in their house dedicated to the jars: I find this endearingly bonkers and of course, rather flattering,” she said.

A close-up of some of the hundreds of jar Hall left around for others to find.

“Then there was Mark, the intrepid jar hunter, a Bristol guy who found one of the earliest jars by accident and then started actively and somewhat obsessively hunting for them. It’s become a hobby for him. He’s found 21 jars to date and his passion for the project is obvious in the detailed, entertaining and insightful jar forms he submits. My international jar fans particularly adore him because he gives them a window into what finding a jar is like — they can’t get out to find jars themselves so they tend to live vicariously through Mark.”

Now that the project is within a few days of coming to an end, I asked Kirsty Hall what she discovered after a year’s work. “I’ve learnt a lot about myself. I’m not particularly spiritual but Buddhist ideas kept coming up during the project: the whole year has been about practicing non-attachment. I had to constantly balance the idea of making the best art I could with the knowledge that I was going to give it away, so I thought a lot about value. Accepting the loss of a third of the jars was initially very painful, especially when some of my personal favorites went missing and were never reported,” she explained.

Would she do it again?

“Not in this precise form, no. The daily art format is something I still feel very drawn towards but I wouldn’t take on anything this all-encompassing again. I drastically underestimated how much work it was going to be, and in retrospect not allocating myself regular days off was a big mistake. I’m ending this year completely run down and it’s going to take me a while to get over the project. It would have been an enormous commitment for anyone but it’s been especially challenging for me. It’s made me realize that I need to reassess the sort of work I make: I have to find ways to explore my beloved obsessive repetitive processes without damaging my health.”

Her final thought about the project: “It’s been a blast, and I don’t regret doing it.”

You can find Kirsty Hall’s “365 Jars” project online at 365jars.com.

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Philip A Hartigan

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...