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Local Artist Uses Zip Ties For Non-Vandalistic Vandalism

Parth Shah

St. Louis based artist Emby walks his dog past the stop sign on the corner of Theresa and Olive every day. Five months ago, he decided it could use some flair.

So he pulled a zip tie out of his pocket and fastened it to one of the perforated holes on the pole of the stop sign.

Today, it’s adorned with close to two thousand zip ties, all of different colors and lengths.

“The initial idea was to do non-vandalistic vandalism,” says Emby. “Instead of spray painting on a historic building, you can put up zip ties. You can cut them off whenever you want, they’re not necessarily permanent.”

Emby calls the project “ZTL at STL.” ZTL stands for Zip Tie Love. Emby says the project spawned from a desire to beautify the mundane stop signs and poles in his urban backyard.

“The idea was to make it as bright and vibrant and noticeable as possible,” says Emby. “We don’t cover up the stop signs, if anything it helps. People see it and stop.”

Emby turned to zip ties because of their durability. Unlike rope or string, zip ties are weather proof and can withstand strong wind and rain.

ZTL at STL isn’t exclusive to stop signs. Emby is particularly proud of a concrete lamppost in the Grove, located on the corner of Manchester and Newstead.

Credit Parth Shah
Decorating this lamppost in the Grove was a collaborative effort.

“We had quite a few people participate and jump in and throw some on themselves.” “It’s cool to see people stop on the street and say, “hey can I help?’”

Greg Rolan recently relocated to the Grove neighborhood and quickly noticed the zip tied lamppost.

“My first impression was, who had that kind of time?”

According to Emby, putting up the zip ties is far from time consuming. He describes it as therapeutic.

“It takes one second literally,” says Emby. “You can be in and out in 20 minutes and have done the entire project.”

So far, Emby has put up around ten different zip tie exhibits around the city. However, his goal isn’t to personally adorn every sign in St. Louis; instead, he wants the public to get involved.

“Do something in your area that’s beautiful that people can accept,” says Emby. “When you don’t have the resources to get into a professional gallery, you might have the opportunity to spend ten bucks on a couple hundred zip ties.”

Mary Dusold is with the St. Louis Streets Department. She says putting zip ties on street signs is illegal.

“You’re not supposed to put anything on the public right of way,” says Dusold. “We don’t allow anything on the signs at all.”

Dusold says department inspectors will remove zip ties from signs if they see them. A couple of Emby’s exhibits have been taken down.  

“We did on right before Cinco de Mayo in Mexican flag colors on Cherokee Street,” says Emby. “We came back the next day and it had been cut off.”

Though he understands the city’s reasoning, Emby argues that the zip ties make the signs more visible. Tuffy Bland, a construction worker in the Grove, agrees.

Credit Parth Shah
Close to 2,000 zip ties adorn this stop sign. Emby differentiates his design by making loops with some of the ties.

“It’s something different to look at. You notice it a lot more,” says Bland. “It lets people know that everything doesn’t need to be the same.”

Emby hopes ZTL at STL builds a following, with participants decorating not only stop signs, but light posts and bike racks as well.

“People will say, “that zip tie project, that’s St. Louis.” Kind of like the locks on the bridge, they think of Paris,” says Emby. “Hopefully it manifests into a greater, greater thing that puts St. Louis on the street art map.”  

Follow Parth Shah on Twitter: @parthfm

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