Culture & Arts

Artist Transforms Abandoned House Into A Giant Reminder To Live Life

A beautiful thing happened to Candy Chang one day in New Orleans two years ago. After losing a loved one, the artist came up with an unconventional way of dealing with the grief she was experiencing. She decided to paint the wall of an abandoned building in her neighborhood, turning the exterior surface into a giant chalkboard emblazoned with the words "Before I die I want to _____."

Within 24 hours, that empty wall was transformed into a giant homepage for personal testimonials, as passersby finished Chang's sentence with their own reflections on life. The final result was a collage of bucket list promises crafted by anonymous individuals confessing their aspirations to see a daughter graduate, sing for millions or simply be themselves completely.

before i die
Photo Credit: Trevor Coe – Savannah, GA

"It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you," states a description on the "Before I Die" website. "[Chang] wanted a daily reminder and she wanted to know what was important to the people around her."

Chang wasn't expecting the overwhelming amount of responses she received, and she quickly realized that the phenomenon she had started in New Orleans wouldn't stop in Louisiana. The project had already spread across the web, as people shared the image of the "Before I Die" wall on social media. So, upon demand, the artist created a "tool kit" with downloadable stencils, allowing admirers around the world to build their own version of Chang's living sculpture.

Civic Center Before – New Orleans, LA

before i die
Photo Credit: Civic Center After – New Orleans, LA

Since 2011, more than 400 of these walls have been built, spreading the simple phrase to over 60 countries, in 25 different languages. Kazakhstan, Denmark, Iraq, and South Africa all have their own "Before I Die" wall, each serving as a unique reminder to contemplate not only death but the value and meaning of life right now.

"Our public spaces are our shared spaces and at their greatest, they can help us make sense of the beauty and tragedy of life with the people around us," the "Before I Die" site declares.

Photo Credit: Miriam Vargas – Queretaro, Mexico

This month, Chang's project will move from the streets of international cities to the pages of a book, published by St. Martin's Press. Check out a preview of the images included here, and let us know how you'd answer Chang's big question in the comments.

Photo Credit: Civic Center – New Orleans, LA

Photo Credit: Kim Kamo – Townsville, Australia

Photo Credit: Civic Center – New Orleans, LA

Photo Credit: Shake Shack – Brooklyn, NY

before i die
Civic Center – New Orleans, LA