Water Is…

Observations About Water From Wave Participants at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

The primary goals of The Wave as a traveling, interactive, public art project are to call attention to the critical importance of water in all of our lives and to foster a sense of common connections through our shared responsibility to protect this vital resource. As they cut a piece of recyclable, polycarbonate film into a wave-like shape of their own interpretation and ‘connect’ it to a cord flowing through the installation site, participants are contributing to an ever-growing, dynamic wave in brilliant colors, emphasizing the beauty, power and essential nature of water.

 Wave Participants at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photo Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.


Wave Participants at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photo Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.

On July 12, 2014, The Wave was installed at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT as part of the Education Department’s monthly Second Saturdays for Families program. (See July 15 blog post for a description and images of the installation) In order to encourage personal connections to water and The Wave installation, the education staff of the Wadsworth invited Wave participants of all ages to respond in writing to four prompts about water: (1) I like water because…(3) My best water memory is…(3) Water is… and (4) Water feels…

The answers to the prompts emphasize how water evokes vivid memories of special people and places and appeals to all of the senses: sound, touch, taste, hearing and sight. Here are some samples provided by adults and children of all ages:

I like water because…

It is delicious!

It’s fun.

I can play with it.

It helps us survive.

It makes loud waves.

 The Sound and Touch of The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014


The Sound and Touch of The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

My best water memory is…

The beach near my grandmother’s house in Bandra, Bombay, India. We used to play on the beach and rocks as kids and sadly, there is no more beach left.

My dad teaching me to swim in the Pacific Ocean: lesson #1 – just plunge in; lesson #2 – keep your mouth closed.  Thank you Daddy!

When I went to White Waters Over Georgia and I was in the wave pool in 8 feet. It was so cool!

Fish jumping in the water.

 Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014


Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

Water is and feels…

Terrific!

Cold

Squishy

Send us your responses to these prompts and we’ll add them to our growing collection!

 Response by Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014


Response by Wave Participant, Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014

 

The Wave at the
Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art

“Flash” Wave

On July 12, 2014, Elena and I installed The Wave in the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT for a period of three hours as part of the Education Department’s monthly Second Saturdays for Families program. (Founded in 1842, The Wadsworth is the oldest public art museum in the United States.)  During that short window of time and with the participation of several hundred enthusiastic museum visitors, we created a three-story, cascading waterfall that spilled into an undulating river flowing throughout the museum’s storied Avery Court. Then, in the same way that ‘Flash Mobs’ come and go quickly to effect an intensity of artistic expression, we removed all evidence that it had ever been there.

Alltogether, it was an amazing experience to watch children and adults touching and shaking the installation to hear it roar like a waterfall, looking up and around the space with a new understanding of its majestic design and taking pride in participating in an interactive, national art project. The installation was funded, in part, by a micro grant from The Awesome Foundation CT.

 Avery Court, Wadsworth Atheneum


Before: Avery Court, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT

 The Wave installed in the Avery Court of the Wadsworth Museum of Art, July, 2014


After: The Wave installed in Avery Court, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

 Participants Gazing at The Wave in Avery Court, Wadsworth Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photograph Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.


Participants Gazing at The Wave in Avery Court, Wadsworth Museum of Art, July 12, 2014. Photograph Courtesy of Diana Guay Photography.

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The Wave in Avery Court, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

 The  Wave 'Waterfall" at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 2014


The Wave ‘Waterfall” at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 2014

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The Wave ‘Relating’ to a Jean Arp Painting on the Walls of the Wadsworth Atheneum, July 12, 2014

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The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, July 12, 2014

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Participants, The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, July 12, 2014

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Participants, The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, July 12, 2014

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Faces of The Wave, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, July 12, 2014

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Participants, The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT, July 12, 2014

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Participants, The Wave at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, July 12, 2014

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/booktwo.org


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

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. http://booktwo.org/notebook/drone-shadows/

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


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

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


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/Booktwo.org

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

Public Art As Community Building, #2

The Draftsmen’s Congress: Pawel Althamer’s Collaborative Public Art Project at The New Museum, NYC

On March 23, 2014, Elena and I will be participating in a public art project hosted by Polish sculptor and collaborative artist, Pawel Althamer, and The New Museum in NYC entitled, Draftsmen’s Congress.  We were selected by Art Kibbutz, an international Jewish artist residency and community as part of a team of artists from all over the U.S, the Former Soviet Union, Korea, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, Georgia, Hungary, Argentina and England. The one-day, ‘mini-residency’ on March 23 will result in the creation of a large collaborative drawing that will encompass the entire fourth floor of the museum.

Pawel’s exhibition at The New Museum will include his most recent sculptures, the “Venetians” that were exhibited at the 2013 Venice Biennale.  The life-size bodies incorporate the faces and hands of local Venetians cast in plastic before being attached to bodies composed of extruded plastic ribbons. The group of eerie sculptures create a haunting composition of lost souls, emphasizing Pawel’s own declaration that “it is a major achievement to realize that the body is only a vehicle for the soul.’

 Pawel Althamer, "The Venetians" The Encyclopedic Palace: Arsenale. Venice Biennale 2013


Pawel Althamer, “The Venetians,” The Encyclopedic Palace: Arsenale. Venice Biennale 2013

The Venetians will be presented alongside Althamer’s series of videos, “So-Called Waves and Other Phenomena of the Mind” (2003–04). as well as The Draftsmen’s Congress, a project based on his fundamental belief in the value of collaborative art as a medium for social change.  He first presented a version of the Draftsmen’s Congress at the 2012 Berlin Biennale. Over the course of the exhibition, the blank white space of the New Museum’s Fourth Floor gallery will be transformed through the gradual accumulation of drawings and paintings by Museum visitors and a wide array of invited community organizations. After each group completes its collective drawing, the next group to participate in the project will work over what was done previously, so that the space becomes a layered representation of the entire community of participants.

 Draftsmen's Congress at the 2013 Venice Biennale


Draftsmen’s Congress at the 2012 Berlin Biennale

In preparation for the mini-residency, Elena and I will be attending three planning sessions with the Art Kibbutz team of artists to develop a sense of community among the participants and a collective approach to the project based on fundamental Jewish principles. The planning process for the March 23 mini-residency as well as the entire Draftsmen’s Congress is a powerful form of public art as community building.

 

Should Art Museums Go Interactive?

I was intrigued by two articles published this month in major media outlets that question from opposite points of view the primary purpose of art museums and the value of participatory museum experiences like The Wave.

The first, published on August 11, 2013 on the cover of the Sunday Review in the New York Times, was entitled “High Culture Goes Hands-On” and was written by Judith Dobrzynski, a freelance writer and former editor of the Times. Ms. Dobrznski states that “great museums are places of solace and inspiration,” and suggests that they are fundamentally changed when they respond to the current trend of incorporating interactive visitor experiences.  She sites numerous examples of this growing trend, including the 2011 participatory performance piece at the Museum of Modern Art entitled, “The Artist is Present,” during which thousands of museum visitors waited in long lines over the course of two months to sit across from the performance artist, Marina Abramovic, and engage in a moment of intense, silent connection.

Although the author doesn’t see the value of the Abramovic performance piece, it is a fact that many participants were moved to tears by the experience.  A documentary film, also called “The Artist is Present,” records the artist’s lengthy preparation for the project and the range of audience reactions. The Museum itself photographed the faces of the visitors each day in much the same way as we have photographed the “Faces of the Wave”at each of our installations.

 "The Artist is Present" Marina Abramovic and Visitor, 2011 Museum of Modern Art


“The Artist is Present”
Marina Abramovic and Ulay, 2011
Museum of Modern Art
Scott Rudd Photography

Incorporating a quote from a speech given by Glenn Lowry, the director of the Museum of Modern Art, in which he states that museums had to make a “shift away from passive experiences to interactive or participatory experiences, from art that is hanging on the wall to art that invites people to become a part of it,” Ms. Dobrznski is mourning the good old days when the art alone, the “masterpieces meant to outlast the moment of their making” were enough in themselves to delight the museum visitor.

The second opinion piece, “Why I Hate Museums,” by James Durston, published on August 22, 2013 on the CNN Travel Page of its website, has ignited a firestorm of responses on the site itself and in numerous on-line discussion groups for museum employees, consultants and devotees. Instead of seeing museums as places of ‘solace and inspiration’ as Ms. Dobrznski does, Durston refers to the vast majority of museums he has visited throughout the world as “cavernous rooms and deep corridors (that) reverberate with the soft, dead sounds of tourists shuffling and employees yawning” and in which there is “a climate of snobbery…” He asks, “Where’s the relevance? Why, in places designed to celebrate life and all of its variety, is there such a lack of vitality?” Mr. Durston concludes that museums should “stop relying on the supposed intrinsic value of their collections. Stop ‘presenting’ when you should be flaunting. Give me a story. Show, don’t tell.” Mr. Durston is begging for the kind of participatory experiences that Ms. Dobrzynski bemoans.

In a time when many art museums are down in attendance and looking for new ways to connect with audiences, these articles should be required reading. The first article takes the point of view of the elite, the visually literate who are able to enter these ‘hallowed’ spaces and find personal meaning in a work of art hanging before them. The operative term, “High Culture,” that is used in the title of this piece, offers an insight into why the ‘hands-on’ approach in museums is needed and is working. For many individuals, young and old, rich and poor, the thought of going into a traditional art museum to stare at paintings or sculptures with which they have no connection, is simply intimidating. They don’t have an understanding of the vocabulary and movements that comprise art history and like Mr. Durston, hate feeling like ‘ignoramuses.’

If the first goal of art museums is to get people in the door so that they can ultimately broaden their understanding and appreciation of art, then there is great value in engaging these visitors in ways that encourage them to show up.

As public artists currently bringing an interactive art installation to art museums nationwide, we have seen first-hand the simple joy that participants exude when they realize that they ‘get it’ because they ‘did it.’

 Young Man With His Piece of the Wave at the National Aquarium, 2013 Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman


Young Man Exuding Enthusiasm Holding His Piece of the Wave at the National Aquarium, 2013
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman