Ottawa artist's Christmas Eve installation turns into 'online scavenger hunt'

For all Marc Adornato knows, they could still be out there.

In the early morning hours of Christmas Eve, Adornato — a local visual and performance artist — armed himself with a screwdriver and, under the cover of darkness, installed a dozen of his own works on trees and power poles around the city.

Hours before, he'd told people on social media to keep their eyes peeled for the works, mostly "Banksy-esque" stenciled images with social justice messages affixed to scrap wood.

He also said they were there to take home as unexpected Christmas gifts.

"I guess I just wanted to give some artwork back to the community," said Adornato on Saturday.

"And it turned into a bit of an online scavenger hunt." 

After Adornato's surreptitious nighttime installation, Instagram in particular lit up with reports of Ottawans searching for the artwork.

Most of the work was put up "quickly and covertly" in the Centretown, Chinatown and Hintonburg neighbourhoods, said Adornato.

The pieces would normally sell for anywhere for $50 to $250, he said.

"I've definitely heard that quite a few have been [picked up], at least three or four of the big ones," said Adornato. "I've heard about people who are searching hard for them."

Adornato added that he doubted the small screws he used would be "too damaging" to the poles and trees.

History of subversive art

It's not the first time Adornato has challenged traditional artistic notions with his work.

Last year, Adornato made headlines for his humourously political entry into the annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition, which awards cash prizes to emerging Canadian artists.

Instead of submitting an impressionist or abstract painting, Adornato's piece featured the Royal Bank of Canada's mascot Arbie holding up a protest sign while, behind him, a bank burns to the ground

The painting did not make the competition's shortlist.

For awhile, Adornato would also don a suit and a gas mask and cycle around Ottawa as the "dystopian cyclist" as a comment on pollution and environmental issues. 

"You kind of get into a routine and you kind of forget there are some really important issues," said Adornato, explaining the motivation behind his public art.

"That's kind of my plan: to continue to put art into public places that will also remind people that, you know, we still need labels on genetically-modified foods, there's still issues about fossil fuels, and we still need to close that wealth gap. That kind of thing."

As for his current project, Adornato says people will need a screwdriver themselves if they want to take the art home with them.

He added that he may retrace his steps this week to see if all of his pieces have been found.