Imagining Water, #2: Flooded McDonald’s

This post was originally published in the blog, Artists and Climate Change. It is the second in a year-long series that I am writing on artists who are making the topic of water a focus of their work and on the growing number of exhibitions, performances and publications that are popping up in museums, galleries and public spaces around the world with water as a theme. 

Flooded McDonald’s

Although created nine years ago by the Danish three-man art collective Superflex, the haunting film Flooded McDonald’s is every bit as relevant today, if not more so, as we recall with horror the recent television coverage of unprecedented water damage caused by mega-hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. Just 21 minutes in length, Flooded McDonald’s was produced by Propeller Group (Ho Chi Minh City) in association with Matching Studio (Bangkok), and co-produced by the South London Gallery, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art (Denmark) and Oriel Mostyn Gallery (Wales).

Superflex

Superflex, founded in 1993 by Bjornstjerne Christiansen, Jakob Fenger, and Rasmus Nielsen, calls their art projects “tools” that they feel can be used in many ways and in many contexts beyond the art world. As they describe it, Superflex “challenges the role of the artist in contemporary society and explores the nature of globalization and systems of power… with art work that addresses serious social and cultural concerns.” In Flooded McDonald’s, Superflex has taken on the topic of rising tides, a now-uncontested result of global warming, using a life-size replica of a McDonald’s restaurant that gradually floods with water. The British art critic Charles Darwent summarized the film by stating: “Imagine if a rising tide caused by global warming claimed the very thing that contributed to it.”

The Set

The set of Flooded McDonald’s was created in meticulous detail over a two-week period in an empty swimming pool in Bangkok, Thailand. Eerily devoid of staff or customers, it includes a fiberglass, life-size Ronald McDonald, real Big Macs, counters, freezers, banquettes, hundreds of paper cups, cardboard hamburger containers, fries, sodas, napkins, trays, signage and all the accoutrements of the real thing. For 21 minutes, the restaurant is gradually flooded with 80,000 liters or 21,000 gallons of water.

mcflood_still_detail_1.jpgStill image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

What Happens 

At first, the water seeps in slowly under the door. The accompanying sound track is similar to the sound of the gentle lapping of the sea against the shore. Gradually, the level of the water rises, taking with it everything in its path. But even as the rising water fills the space, the scene is not what we expect of a forceful, full-fledge flood. As Superflex describes it, the film portrays a flood that is “destructive but in a mild, Scandinavian way.”

Although the artists admit that they scripted most of the shots for the film, in the end, the water “does what it wants,” creating unexpected and sometimes ironic images: the fiberglass sculpture of Ronald McDonald topples over and waves to the camera, bringing to mind the iconic image of Saddam Hussein’s statue, arm upraised, crashing to the ground in Baghdad and marking the end of an era; a plastic sign reading “wet floor” floats by, an understated reference to the way in which many government leaders have purposely underestimated the dangers of global warming.

mcflooded_production_1.jpgProduction image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.

The random beauty amidst the destruction is evident throughout the film. With its ability to reflect what is above and below the surface, water is its own work of art. Camera shots taken underwater reveal a murky world where oil, French fries, paper debris, bits of food, and even furniture form pleasing shadows and abstract images.

dsc02991.jpgStill underwater image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex

So What Does It All Mean? 

In a video titled Why We Flooded McDonald’s, created by the Louisiana Channel, a non-profit website based at the Louisiana Museum of Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, the Superflex artists “walk” the viewer through the film and talk about their artistic intentions.

In their narration, the artists describe the film as an “end of the world scenario,” a “conversation” on global warming that uses the most famous fast-food chain in the world as a powerful symbol of corporate greed and consumerism. In what to me is a brilliant metaphor for climate change in general and rising tides in particular, they state that “when you add water, you can’t move backwards from what it does.” Like climate change itself, once unleashed, flood water destroys everything in its path.

In preparation for writing this post, I sent an email to Superflex asking them how they feel about the film nine years later. I received the following response: “Flooded McDonald’s hints at the consumer-driven power and influence and impotence of large multinational companies in the face of climate change, questioning with whom ultimate responsibility lies.”

Where to see Flooded McDonald’s

If you are lucky enough to live in the Los Angeles area, you can watch the film at UCLA’s Hammer Museum through October 15. Otherwise, check out the Louisiana Channel video Why We Flooded McDonald’s for film clips and commentary by the artists or watch a brief film clip here.

(Top image: Still image from the film Flooded McDonald’s. Courtesy of Superflex.)

OPEN HOUSE: Hartford and HOME

Expanding on OPEN HOUSE, a previous installation that we completed as part of an Art Kibbutz residency on Governor’s Island, NYC in July of 2015, Elena and I installed OPEN HOUSE – Hartford: An Interactive, Site-Specific Installation on the Meaning of Home and the Tragedy of Homelessness this week at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in Hartford, CT. The exhibition will run through January 20, 2017.

Using lengths of black and red parachute cord that ‘shoot’ from the ceiling, corners, walls and floor of the Charter Oak Cultural Center’s gallery to create angles and lines representing the outlines of an abstract building structure, OPEN HOUSE: Hartford, is also a powerful metaphor for the way in which every aspect of life itself becomes fragmented or deconstructed without the grounding of a home. The installation includes 6” x 2’ pieces of corrugated cardboard, or ‘box boards,’ that serve as randomly placed ‘siding,’ ‘roofing’ and ‘flooring’ of the abstract structure. These ‘box boards’ depict in words and images what each individual who participated in the project associates with the concepts of ‘home’ and the tragedy of ‘homelessness.’

Visitors who wander through the installation will experience the disjointed nature of the space and read a community’s memories, connections, yearnings, hopes and realities of home. The ‘box boards’ were created as part of the pilot project, HOME, that we recently completed in Stamford, CT, a wealthy commuter town only one hour outside NYC. Recognizing the power of art to engage the heart and the senses around big issues as well as start conversations and spark creativity in a way that words, statistics and facts cannot, we partnered with New Neighborhoods, Inc. (NNI) and Pacific House to engage the Stamford community in a highly visible, interactive public art project on the nature of home and homelessness and its reality in Stamford.

Below are images from OPEN HOUSE: HARTFORD, currently at the Charter Oak Cultural Center, and HOME, installed in November in the Stamford Government Center, Stamford, CT.

 OPEN HOUSE - HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016


OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

 OPEN HOUSE - HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail 

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016, Detail

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OPEN HOUSE – HARTFORD, Charter Oak Cultural Center, Hartford, CT, Dec., 2016

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Participant in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016

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Participants in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016

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Participant in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016


HOME Installation, Stamford Government Center, Stamford, CT, November, 2016

 HOME Installation, Stamford Government Center, Nov. 2016, Detail


HOME Installation, Stamford Government Center, Nov. 2016, Detail

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Participants in HOME, Stamford, CT, 2016

 

Water Wars Hit Home

Four months ago, citizens of the 8 member towns that receive their public water from the Metropolitan District Commission (MDC), a public, non-profit corporation that supplies water and sewer services in the Hartford, CT area, (where I live), learned that a secret deal had been made between the Niagara Bottling Company and the MDC itself, affecting the future of the public water supply.  The MDC has agreed to provide Niagara Bottling with up to 1.8 MILLION gallons of water a day at rates that are less than what public consumers currently pay and did so without public input. The water purchased from the MDC by Niagara will be bottled in a plant they are currently building in the town of Bloomfield and ultimately sold all over the country at a profit of billions of dollars/year.

When they learned about the MDC’s deal with the Niagara Bottling company, Hartford area residents in two citizen action groups, West Hartford Concerned Citizens and BloomfieldCitizens.org (and later, Save Our Water CT), mounted an enormous effort to protest the proposed water sale. At the heart of the ensuing debates were the fundamental questions, “Who ultimately owns the public’s water supply and who gets to decide how that water is allocated?”

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At a time when water has become a most precious commodity, these are questions that are currently being addressed all over the world. In his April, 2015 article in Time Magazine entitled, “The World Will Soon Be at War Over Water,” James Fergusson identifies 7 locations in Iraq, Turkey, China, The Congo, Afghanistan, India/Pakistan and Israel/Palestine already engaged in serious conflicts over water. On April 25, 2016, just one year later, Sarah Ferris and Peter Sullivan reported in The Hill in an article entitled, “Clean Water Crisis Threatens US,” that “The U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence now ranks water scarcity as a major threat to national security alongside terrorism” and that “Hundreds of cities and towns are at risk of sudden and severe shortages, either because water is not safe to drink or because there simply isn’t enough.”

What enraged and motivated the citizens in the Greater Hartford, CT area to protest the sale of such a large volume of its water supply was what Bloomfiled resident Brad Klein, called “the commodification of a resource that has become a profitable industry,” without regard for the needs of the local population in times of drought, which, in an era of climate change, are becoming more and more inevitable. Partnering with other CT environmental groups, Save Our Water CT, worked with State Senator Beth Bye to introduce SB 422, a bill that would place the needs of local residents first in times of water emergencies and would prohibit the sale of local water to other industrial clients at a marked discount.

On Wednesday, April 27, Elena and I joined their effort by installing thousands of pieces of The Wave from 20 previous sites all over the Northeast in the shape of a reservoir on the grounds of the CT State Capitol. Legislators and visitors entering the building were confronted by a brilliant body of ‘Waves’ representing in a powerful and visceral way how we are all connected by our fundamental need for water.

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 The 'Reservoir Wave' at the CT State Capitol


The ‘Reservoir Wave’ at the CT State Capitol, April 27, 2016

 Citizens at the CT State Capitol 'Making a Wave" April 27, 2016


Citizens at the CT State Capitol ‘Making a Wave”
April 27, 2016

 State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016


State Senator Beth Bye Speaking to the Crowd at the State Captitol, April 27, 2016

Although it passed in the Senate, SB 422 did not ultimately receive enough support to be voted upon in the House before the end of the session. Paid lobbyists hired by Niagara and by the MDC overpowered the citizen effort. Save Our Water CT is not going away, though. They are determined to come back in 2017 with another bill and stronger ranks. Regardless of the outcome of SB 422, their voices emphasized how important a thoughtful state water plan, currently under development, will be to the security and well-being of CT.

For information on the latest news concerning water in the Greater Hartford, CT area, please visit BloomfieldCitizens.org.

Artwork on Climate Change Increasing Worldwide

Because I ‘follow’ Artists and Climate Change, the New York-based project devoted to tracking art work all over the world in all media devoted to climate change as well as other media outlets covering climate change, I have been noticing a steadily increasing number of artists that are focusing on this important topic. Just this week, Artists and Climate Change’s Facebook page posted references to four powerful projects/artists in the Netherlands, Australia, England and the USA that are calling attention to the effects of melting glaciers, rising seas, increasing temperatures and dramatic storms.

In the Netherlands, a country in which almost one third of the land is below sea level, the water authority in the town of Westervoort commissioned designer, Daan Roosegaarde to create an installation that highlighted the dangers of coastal flooding in order to reinforce the constant threat from rising waters to a population that they perceived as being complacent. Using LED lighting that projected waves over a floodplain to simulate a virtual flood, Roosegaarde’s installation was so effective that neighboring residents who witnessed the pilot version of the project called the police to report a break in the local dike. The swirling patterns within the light experienced by the 20,000 visitors who attended the installation over five nights emphasized the extreme beauty as well as the inherent danger of water.

 Waterlicht, Don Roosegaarde's Virtual Flood Installation in Westervoort, Netherlands


Waterlicht, Don Roosegaarde’s Virtual Flood Installation in Westervoort, Netherlands

In Australia, Climarte: arts for a safer climate, a non-profit organization established to develop arts events and an alliance of artists and groups that advocate for “immediate, effective and creative action on climate change,” is sponsoring an exhibition entitled, Nature/Revelation, from April 11- May 17, 2015 at the Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne. The exhibition includes Australian and international artists, addresses the extraordinary beauty of the natural world and is a component of the Art+Climate=Change 2015 festival that will encompass additional exhibitions in galleries and museums as well as lectures and forums on climate change.

 Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942


Ansel Adams, The Tetons and the Snake River, Wyoming, 1942 in Nature/Revelation

In England, The Guardian, a prominent British national daily newspaper, devoted a major series of stories to aspects of climate change and used a copy of British artist, Anthony Gormley’s climate change piece, “Connection,” to accompany an extract from This Changes Everything – Capitalism vs. Climate, a recent book on climate change by Naomi Klein. The image was wrapped around the print version of the paper and also distributed at a major climate change march in London on March 7. According to the Guadian, Gormley’s work of art “shows a disturbing silhouette of a giant body against a deep glow which could be manmade or natural. Both the body and the landscape appear to be equally toxic, raising questions of how humanity is impacting the planet through climate change.”

 Anthony Gormley, "Connection," Aniline Dye on Paper, 2000


Anthony Gormley, “Connection,” Aniline Dye on Paper, 2000

And, in the United States, The Orlando Museum of Art is hosting Maya Lin: A History of Water, a major exhibition by internationally renowned American architect, designer and artist. The exhibition, on view from January 29, – May 10, 2015, includes sculptures, drawings, installations and multimedia work addressing aspects of the disappearing natural world. In reference to her work on the earth’s ecology, she says, “I believe that art, at times, can look at a subject differently and in doing so, can get people to pay closer attention.

 Installation view of the exhibition: Maya Lin: A History of Water, Orlando Museum of Art, January 31–May 10, 2015. Foreground in marble: Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea, 2013. Background: Water Line, 2006, © Maya Lin Studio, courtesy Pace Gallery.


Installation view of the exhibition: Maya Lin: A History of Water, Orlando Museum of Art, January 31–May 10, 2015. Foreground in marble: Disappearing Bodies of Water: Aral Sea, 2013. Background: Water Line, 2006, © Maya Lin Studio, courtesy Pace Gallery.

Climarte‘s call to action on the topic of climate change effectively summarizes the artist’s inherent role in society at large as a catalyst for change:

“Throughout history the arts have played a major role in recording and reflecting the state of human society and its relationship with the natural world. Indeed, for some historical periods it is only through the arts that we have been able to learn about our past. But sometimes we have also needed the arts to be a catalyst for change, a call to action, a pricking of humanity’s collective conscience. We believe that now is one of those times.”

 

The Wave on You Tube

As I have reported in previous posts, Elena and I recently completed Wave installations in four public libraries throughout CT in partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium and as part of an Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant Project, from The CT Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development. The libraries included The Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT, The New Haven Free Public Library, The New London Public Library and The Willimantic Public Library.

In order to document how The Wave significantly impacts public discourse on water and the way in which it succeeds in bringing communities together on a topic of local, national and international importance, we hired videographer, Nild Sansone of LastingImage.com to film the project in action at The Willimantic (CT) Public Library. We were very impressed with the thoughtful responses to our questions about water issues and personal connections to water that we received from the hundreds of participants that flooded (pun intended) the library on an afternoon/evening in June of 2014. If was difficult to select from among the many powerful, sensitive and heart-felt quotes and images in order to keep the video at a manageable 4 minutes. So here it is. We’d love your feedback on the video and on any of your own water-related thoughts and comments.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sjJhCAl-Mt8

 Teen Participants at The Wave in the Willimantic Public Library


Teen Participants at The Wave in the Willimantic Public Library

The Blog: One and a Half Years Later and
Artist Isaac Cordal’s “Cement Eclipses”

The Blog, One and a Half Years Later

When I started this blog entitled, “On Water and Public Art” in February of 2013, my intention was to provide a running conversation on: (1) the progress of The Wave, our interactive, public art project on water; (2) information on current global water issues; and (3) commentary about other public art projects that address timely contemporary subjects.

Over the past three years, as The Wave has traveled to four states, Elena and I have engaged over 6000 participants in the creation of 16 permanent and temporary installations in museums, galleries, schools, libraries and other public venues. In addition to following our travels with The Wave, the blog has addressed such varied topics as ‘public art as community building,” “public art as political awareness,” “science fiction and water,” “water wars,” “visual symbols of water,” and “the color of water in nature and art.” The Blog has also highlighted important public art projects including, Lily Yeh’s transformational interactive mosaics, James Bridle’s troubling Drone Shadows, Simon Beck’s monumental Snow Art, Andres Amador’s impermanent Sand Art and the 36 artists whose work on the enormous amount of debris in the ocean became the important, traveling exhibition, Gyre: The Plastic Ocean. Today’s post introduces another innovative public artist and his on-going urban street project entitled, Cement Eclipses.

 Bayeaux Tapestry: Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 - 1088 Showing Traditional Symbols of Water


Bayeaux Tapestry: Norman Fleet Sailing For England 1070 – 1088, Showing How Artists in the 11th Century Represented Water

Isaac Cordal’s ‘Take’ on Political Leadership and Climate Change

Isaac Cordal is a Spanish installation and street artist who is currently living and working in London. Cordal creates tiny cement figures (8-10 inches tall) cast from clay sculptures that he calls ‘Cement Eclipses.’ He places them in urban settings throughout Europe in order to shed light on current political and social issues. In his series, “Follow the Leaders,” Cordal has arranged the tiny heads and partial torsos of the balding, white collar businessmen in shallow ‘puddles’ of water as if they are almost completely submerged by rising flood waters. Cordal’s work suggests that while leaders around the world endlessly debate how to address the predictions that sea levels will rise up to three feet by the end of the century, permanent damage from climate change is already taking place around the world. Left to their own devices, this is how these ‘leaders’ will soon look if they don’t act decisively. His installations are examples of highly effective public art as political awareness.

 Isaac Cordal, "Follow The Leaders," London, 2011.


Isaac Cordal, “Follow The Leaders,” London, 2011.

 Isaac Cordal, "Follow The Leaders," Berlin, 2014


Isaac Cordal, “Follow The Leaders,” Berlin, 2014

The Wave as Placemaker, #3

Faces of and Words on Water and The Wave in Willimantic, CT

The fourth and final Wave installation of our Connecticut Office of the Arts, Art Catalyze Placemaking Grant, in partnership with the Connecticut Library Consortium, was held on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at the Willimantic (CT) Public Library. (See the May 21, 2014 and December 13, 2013 blog posts for more information on the grant, it’s goals and the definition of placemaking) In addition to the Willimantic Wave, installations completed by community participants are now hanging for varying lengths of time during the summer months at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, CT, The New Haven Free Public Library in New Haven, CT and the New London Public Library in New London, CT.

In order to document the impact of the Wave as a community engagement public art project in a typical community, Elena and I engaged Nild Sansone, a Connecticut-based videographer to interview library staff, town officials and other community participants of all ages and background in Willimantic at the Wave event. Nild posed a series of questions, including: How is water important to you? What concerns do you have about water? How does water make you feel? What kinds of water issues do you have here in Willimantic? and How does The Wave help you think about water?

 Wave Participants at the Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants at the Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

Listed below is a sampling of responses that I selected from two hours of raw footage. Although individual references and memories about water were as varied as the pieces of Waves that they contributed to the installation, the common thread running throughout all of the answers was that water evokes feelings of calm, joy and refreshment; it impacts all of the senses (sound, smell, touch, taste, sight) and, although it’s taken for granted here in Connecticut, it is vital for individual and community health. Respondents also confirmed that participating in The Wave was not only creative and just plain fun, it helped them to focus on the importance of water in their lives as a community in the library, the community’s hub. Stay tuned for the The Wave Video.

 Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium and Willimantic Public Library Volunteer, June, 2014


Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium and Willimantic Public Library Volunteer, June, 2014

Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director, CT Library Consortium:

The Wave has made me think about the importance of water. Water is a way that I relax, feel connected to the world and the universe. It’s an important resource that I realize we might have to go to war over. I hadn’t thought about it until I was involved in this project and saw and heard everyone’s different reactions to water and The Wave. I think water helps me put my problems and my issues in perspective.

Drusilla Carter, Director, Willimantic Public Library

The Wave is a visual representation of the community. We have everybody here today: young mothers, fathers and children, teenagers in flocks, seniors and people we’ve never seen before in the library. We are water based. This town would not be here if it were not for water. The mills brought people here and were powered by the river. This is a textile town. Pollution is a problem in this small city. It’s a constant balancing act between using the water for industry and having a clean, unpolluted source.

 Teen Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Teen Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

Ernie Eldridge, Mayor and Town Manager, Windham, CT

What isn’t important about water? We take it for granted here and shouldn’t. It’s a resource that’s very fragile…The word, Willimantic, means swift running water.

Chris, Librarian, Willimantic Public Library

The sound of rain is one of the most beautiful sounds on earth… Water is the thing that is both inside and outside of me. This project brings attention to the fact that it is something we all share. You can talk about water as a concept but seeing it as an art form transforms the discussion.

Loretta Waldman, Writer

Cutting a piece of The Wave (in the way I did) was spontaneous from a lifetime of experiencing water.

Gail, Participant

I think what the artists are doing is incredible and I want to thank them for bringing this community project to our community and other communities that share common waterways. 

Megan H., Participant

While I was cutting The Wave, I was inspired by choppy waves in the middle of the ocean on that boat I go fishing in.

 Participant, Willimantic Wave, June, 2014


Participant, Willimantic Wave, June, 2014

Kayla, Participant

Water is moveable. Water is spontaneous so I cut it spontaneously. Water is outgoing and feels good.

Nate, Participant

Water represents doing whatever you need to do. Water feels powerful. It’s always changing: it can feel cold and you hate it and then comforting. We’ve got to find a way to spread the water out more where there isn’t enough water. You shouldn’t have golf courses that take up so much water. This is a big thing to raise awareness for the community.

Brian, Participant

Water makes me feel like I’m part of nature. Without water, we’d die. A bunch of animals live in water.

 Wave Participants, Willimantic, CT, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic, CT, June, 2014

 Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participants, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014

 Wave Participant, Willimantic Public Library, June, 2014


Wave Participant, Willimantic Public Library, June, 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