Public Art as Community Building, #3

March 23, 2014: At The Draftsmen’s Congress, New Museum, NYC

On Sunday, March 23, Elena and I joined artists from Art Kibbutz  at the New Museum in New York City to participate in The Draftsmen’s Congress, a public art project created by Polish artist, Pawel Althamer. Art Kibbutz is a residency for international Jewish artists founded by Patricia Eszter Margit in 2012,

Althamer originally conceived and executed Draftsmen’s Congress for the 7th Berlin Biennale in 2012 to engage participants from diverse backgrounds in a ‘conversation’ through images, rather than words, on issues that were relevant to them in contemporary society. He invited groups of artists as well as a wide range of social and political organizations from the local community to mark the walls and floors of the installation space with a variety of drawing and painting materials. After each group completed its collective drawing, the next group to participate in the project worked over what was done previously, so that the space became a layered representation of the entire community of participants. Similarly, the blank white space of the New Museum’s fourth floor gallery has been transformed over the course of two months through the gradual accumulation of drawings and paintings by Museum visitors and invited community groups, including Art Kibbutz.

Prior to our one-day residency on March 23rd at The Draftsmen’s Congress, 20 participating members of Art Kibbutz from all over the US, France, Netherlands, South Africa, the Former Soviet Union, Argentina, Georgia, Japan and Korea met with Judaic scholars for two learning sessions to develop an approach to the project that was founded on Jewish values and practices. Using the Kabbalah and the Torah for inspiration, the group focused on the Torah’s fundamental concept of “loving your fellow as yourself,” to underscore what Althamer’s exhibition is trying to create: a non-judgmental, harmonious conversation among a diverse community that fosters dialogue and understanding. Over the course of the day, Art Kibbutz artists pulled instructions previously contributed by members of the group from a hat and handed them off to each other for execution. In this way we were creating a community of images that represent an interactive exchange of ideas.

When Elena and I arrived at the New Museum, the Art Kibbutz group had just begun creating a series of large circles over the existing images that encompassed three walls of the gallery.  Although each circle was distinct and embodied the artistic style and color choices of its ‘artist,’ the cumulative visual effect was bold, dynamic and unified. I contributed my own series of circles while Elena began to create three ladders that spanned from floor to ceiling.

 Draftsmen's Congress, #1, March 23, 2014

Draftsmen’s Congress, #1, March 23, 2014

 Draftsmen's Congress, #2, March 23, 2014

Draftsmen’s Congress, #2, March 23, 2014

Draftsmen's Congress, #3, March 23, 2014

Draftsmen’s Congress, #3,
March 23, 2014

 Art Kibbutz Artist at Draftsmen's Congress, March 23, 2014

Art Kibbutz Artist at Draftsmen’s Congress, March 23, 2014

What Did We Conclude About The Experience?

We were amazed by how quickly the collective ‘drawing’ was transformed.  By the time we left at the end of the day, our circles, marking our physical presence, were being modified and taken over by other images, similar to the way in which incoming waves erase previous marks made upon the sand.  We were once again reminded that the process itself of making art is often more important than the creation of a single, ‘precious’ object. And, most importantly, we experienced the richness that can come from building a community by participating in public art.

Public Art as Political Awareness

In previous posts I’ve written about public art and its historical purposes as a vehicle for: (1) commemorating individuals or events; (2) emphasizing the stature of governments and corporations; and (3) embellishing and beautifying public spaces, as well as its more recent intentions as catalysts for community building and placemaking. (See February 24, 2013, August 26, 2013, December 13, 2013, and February 22, 2014)  There is another objective, however, for which artists place images and objects in public spaces: to call attention to political and social issues of collective local, national or international import. The simple, yet highly effective work of James Bridle falls into the category of public art as political awareness.

James Bridle’s Drone Shadows

James Bridle defines himself as an artist, writer, publisher and technologist. Based in London, UK, he describes his work as the intersection of literature, culture and the network. His artworks and installations have been exhibited in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Australia, and have been viewed by hundreds of thousands of visitors online. He has been commissioned by organisations including Artangel, Mu Eindhoven, the Istanbul Design Biennial and the Corcoran Gallery, Washington DC.

In 2012, Bridle began a project that he calls Drone Shadows. To him, drones represent an “inherently connected technology allowing sight and action at a distance,” similar to how the internet itself functions. Used primarily as military and law-enforcement tools, however, drones provide governments with surveillance and attack capability against perceived threats without any collateral damage to human pilots. In order to understand the actual size of a drone as it compared to his own body, Bridle and his friend, Einar Sneve Martinussen, used chalk and string in a parking lot in London to draw the outline of a ‘drone shadow,’ an accurate replica of an MQ-1 predator, one of the most commonly used combat drones.

 Dimensions of the Predator/MQ-1 Drone That Serve as the Model for Bridle's Droneshadows

Dimensions of the Predator/MQ-1 Drone that served as the model for Bridle’s first Drone Shadow

 Droneshadow 1 in London Parking Lot James Bridle/

Drone Shadow 001 in London Parking Lot
Photo courtesy of James Bridle/

Since that first chalk outline in 2012, Bridle’s ‘shadows’ have been installed in cities around the world to call attention to the way in which drones dehumanize acts of violence. The simple lines, much like the drawings used in crime scenes to document the placement of murder victims, give a physical presence to an often invisible weapon. Bridle describes his motivation for the project in the following way:

We all live under the shadow of the drone, although most of us are lucky enough not to live under its direct fire. But the attitude they represent—of technology used for obscuration and violence; of the obfuscation of morality and culpability; of the illusion of omniscience and omnipotence; of the lesser value of other peoples lives; of, frankly, endless war—should concern us all.

 James Bridle and Einar Sneve Martinussen, Drone Shadow 004, Outside the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013. Photo courtesy of Bridle/

James Bridle and Einar Sneve Martinussen, Drone Shadow 004, Outside the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., 2013. Photo courtesy of James Bridle/

Droneshadow Brazil-01 of the Hermes 450 Drone, Sao Paolo, Brazil for the IV Mostra 3M de Arte Digital, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bridle/

Drone Shadow Brazil-01 of the Hermes 450 Drone, Sao Paolo, Brazil for the IV Mostra 3M de Arte Digital, 2013. Photo courtesy of Bridle/

The Wave, too, can be classified as public art that fosters political awareness. With its alluring colors and the way in which it involves visitors personally in the creation of the installations, The Wave is calling attention to the beauty and essential nature of water as well as our joint responsibility to promote and sustain universal access to clean water.

 Wave Installation at Rose Fitzgerald Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011

Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman, Wave Installation at Rose Fitzgerald Greenway, Boston, MA, Polycarbonate Film and Parachute Cord, 2011