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`Before I Die´ is a global art wall project that inspires and invites.

“Our public spaces are as profound as we allow them to be.¨- Candy Chang

Candy Chang is the artist and creator behind the public initiative ¨Before I die…¨ After losing a close friend to liver failure, Chang spent time contemplating her life and how she would like to live out the remainder of her days. After thinking about death, she had the idea that this surely must be a universal thing that many people contemplate – and she was right.
The original wall was put up on an abandoned building in New Orleans, Louisiana. So many people resonated with the wall, that Chang decided to make it a global art project. Now, more than 2,000 walls have been created in over 76 countries, with 35 languages.

A global movement

¨BEFORE I DIE IS A PARTICIPATORY PUBLIC ART PROJECT that invites people to contemplate death, reflect on life, and share their personal aspirations in public. After losing someone she loved, Chang channeled her grief and depression into this project on an abandoned house in her New Orleans neighborhood to restore perspective and find some consolation with her neighbors. She covered the crumbling house with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the prompt, “Before I die I want to _____.” The wall quickly filled up with responses, from the poetic to the profound: Before I die I want to… see my daughter graduate, abandon all insecurities, get my wife back, eat all the candy and sushi in the world, be a Youtube sensation, straddle the International Date Line, tell my mother I love her, be completely myself.
Thanks to passionate people around the world, over 2,000 Before I Die walls have now been created in over 70 countries, including Iraq, China, Brazil, Kazakhstan, and South Africa. Revealing the community’s longings, anxieties, joys, and struggles, the project explores how public space can cultivate self-examination and empathy among neighbours and compassionately prepare us for death and grief. It has also inspired dozens of remixes that offer new ways to engage with the people around us.¨

Unifying themes

While the responses across the globe vary, there are similar underlying themes: love, hope, faith, family, and happiness.
Some responses across the world have been:

Learn how to enjoy myself and let go” (Savannah, Georgia)
Feel that nothing was missing or left over” (Santiago, Chile)
Be loved unconditionally” (Jersey City, New Jersey)
Teach kids to live love and be free” (Johannesburg)
Drive Route 66” (Melbourne, Australia)

The Skeleton Trees in the Scorched Desert of Dead Vlei

Among the towering red dunes of Namib-Naukluft National Park in the central Namib Desert is an area known as Sossusvlei. It is a strange and alien landscape. The rich red dunes that surround the area owe their hue to age — over thousands of years, the sand has literally rusted.

Sossusvlei is a wide, flat, salt-covered expanse with a dense and compact layer of clay in the subsoil. When dry, Sossusvlei is hard and arid, and when wet, as it gets every 5-10 years when fed by the Tsauchab River, it becomes sticky and plastic. The area is the river’s final destination. Even in the wettest of years, the water soaks into the salt/clay pan, giving the area its nickname: “place of no return.” Altogether the blue sky, red dunes, and white pans make a striking vision, reminiscent of movies such as “The Fall,” “The Cell,” and “Steel Dawn.”

Nearby is yet another “place of no return” this one even older, and much moredead than Sossusvlei. Known as Dead Vlei or “dead marsh” (Vlei being Afrikaans for a type of marsh), it is found among the tallest dunes in the world — some reach 1,312 feet high, which is almost as lofty as the Empire State Building. Dead Vlei was once like Sossusvlei, with the river draining into it nourishing desert life and even trees. But no longer. Some 900 years ago the climate dried up, and dunes cut off Dead Vlei from the river.

It became too dry in Dead Vlei for the trees to even decompose. They simply scorched black in the sun, monuments to their own destruction. The trees, now over 1000 years old, form a barren forest. The area, however, is not entirely without life. Salsola shrubs and clumps of Nara melon stay alive by subsisting off of morning mists.

It is a 44-mile drive from the park gates to the dunes of Sossusvlei and Dead Vlei. One of the many reasons to go is to experience the sunrise (or sunset) over the huge red sand dunes of the Namib desert. The skies are among the clearest on the planet.

Otherworldly landscapes:

  • Yemen’s Socotra Island is the most alien-looking place in the world
  • The Haughton Impact Crater is the closest thing to Mars on Earth
  • Home to nearly a third of the world’s mud volcanoes, Azerbaijan has a messy, bubbling, and occasionally explosive landscape

 

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