“Open House” on Governor’s Island

Elena and I were invited by Art Kibbutz, an international Jewish artist community based in New York City, to create a site-specific installation from July 28, 2015 – August 4, 2015 at their Summer Residency on Governor’s Island, one of NYC’s hottest, new, arts venues located in the middle of New York Harbor.

After studying the potential spaces available to us in the former army officer’s home that was serving as the four-month studio and exhibition facility for Art Kibbutz, we ultimately chose to work under the main stairwell in a hallway on the first floor of this formerly elegant building that had lain fallow for years. Using parachute cord, painter’s plastic, charcoal and oil stick, we transformed the ‘dead’ space into an intimate place, an “open house” in which visitors are ‘invited’ to imagine the past life that existed here and place themselves in its present configuration.

The vertical, horizontal and diagonal lines that we hung from wall to ceiling to floor provide the outlines of a structure’s roof and walls and suggest the architectural elements of a fence, a portico, a gable. The pieces of plastic that are covering sections of the existing plaster walls in the hallway have become ‘paintings’ decorating the interior of the new structure. These ‘paintings’ are artifacts of the peeling paint and cracks that reflect the building’s decay and were created by rubbing charcoal gently over the plastic.

“Open House” is the first installation on the theme of home and homelessness that we are currently exploring in a new, collaborative, interactive public art project. A second installation in which participants create the ‘clapboards’ of a ‘home’ took place in Stamford, CT on August 5, 2015 in partnership with New Neighborhoods, Inc. and Shelter for the Homeless, non-profit organizations dedicated to providing affordable housing and shelter in the Stamford area.

Here are some images of “Open House” that highlight the bold new lines created by the black cord, the repetitive line patterns that echo the vertical and horizontal lines in the existing structure, and the shadowy remnants revealed in the house’s new ‘paintings.’

 Entrance to "Open House," Governor's Island, NYC, August, 2015.


Entrance to “Open House.” Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, August, 2015.

 "Open House," View From Back to Front. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015.


“Open House,” View From Back to Front. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015.

 "Open House," Detail Under the Stairwell, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail Under the Stairwell. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail of 'roof,' 'portico,' 'gable.' Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail of ‘Roof,’ ‘Portico,’ ‘Gable.’ Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail of Walls, Roof. Parachute Cord and Blue Lighting, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail of Walls, Roof. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick, Charcoal and Blue Lighting, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015.

 "Open House," Detail Showing a 'Rubbing' of the Cracks and Peeling Paint,' Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail Showing a ‘Rubbing’ of the Cracks and Peeling Paint.’ Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail Showing a 'Rubbing' of the Cracks, Peeling Paint, and Electrical Box, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail Showing a ‘Rubbing’ of the Cracks, Peeling Paint, and Electrical Box. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail of 'Spider Web,' Governor's Island, NYC, 2015


“Open House,” Detail of ‘Spider Web.’ Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015

 "Open House," Detail From Floor Looking Up Into the Second Floor. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Painter's Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor's Island, NYC, 2015.


“Open House,” Detail From Floor Looking Up Into the Second Floor. Elena Kalman and Susan Hoffman Fishman. Parachute Cord, Painter’s Plastic, Oil Stick and Charcoal, Governor’s Island, NYC, 2015.

 

 

 

The Wave as Placemaker, #2

Community Conversations on Water in Connecticut Libraries

As recipients of a $10,000 2014 Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development, and in partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium, Elena and I have been conducting installations of The Wave in a series of Connecticut libraries. The installations serve as a catalyst for the establishment of ‘Community Engagement Hubs’ in the libraries, or centers for on-going community dialogue, and will remain for several months as visual documentation of the project and as a visual reminder of the shared community responsibility for local, regional, national and international water resources. (See the December 13, 2013 blog post for more information on the grant, it’s goals and the definition of placemaking)

Wave installations are currently hanging in the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, The New London (CT) Public Library and the New Haven (CT) Free Public Library. The fourth and final installation will take place on June 19, 2014 at the Willimantic (CT) Public Library.  In addition to the excitement and fun of making pieces of The Wave and celebrating as The Wave is hung in their own library, patrons have engaged in meaningful conversations and participated in additional programs about water including lectures, children’s story hours and the opportunity to interact with leaders from community organizations working to protect local waterways.

 The Wave over the central staircase of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT.


The Wave installed over the central staircase of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT.

 The Wave viewed from the street outside the Children's Department of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT


A second Wave installation in the Children’s Department of the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, viewed from the street

 The Wave cascading over the balconies overlooking the main entrance to the New Haven Free Public Library (CT)


The Wave cascading over the balconies overlooking the main entrance to the New Haven Free Public Library (CT)

 Young library patrons engrossed in 'making a wave' at the New Haven Free Public Library


Young library patrons engrossed in ‘making a wave’ at the New Haven Free Public Library

 Proud Library patron with her piece of The Wave. standing in front of display of books on the oceans


Proud library patron with her piece of The Wave. standing in front of a display of books on the oceans and water in the New London Public Library

 "I did it!" Participant in the New London (CT) Public Library Wave installation


“I did it!” Participant in the New London (CT) Public Library Wave installation

Sample Programming

As part of the The Wave installation at the New Haven Free Public Library, Carol Brown, Manager of Programming, developed a series of questions on water for patrons and posted them at the main entrance to the library. As visitors continue to add their comments to the questions on note cards, they take into consideration what has been written previously and contribute their own thoughts. Samples of the questions and community responses include:

How does water make you happy? 

“The sound of waves is so soothing. I think it reminds us of being in the womb.” “The sound of running water calms my soul. Cool water quenches my thirst.” “It is something cold on a hot summer day. We are mostly made of water.” “A hot bath every night!” “I love all kinds of water. It’s most beautiful in the sun.” “Using water to cook our food.” “A wet dog.”

 What are your thoughts about water?

“Water is an amazing force, so strong that we can’t understand.” “Water is life. Don’t spoil it.” “Water is splendid.” “People pollute is a lot.” “People should not waste it. They should use it wisely.”

What can you do today to use less water?

“Don’t wash your car!” “You do not have to buy water. You should use sink water.” “Flush less.” “Don’t meditate in the shower.” “Don’t leave water running when you brush your teeth.”

 A map showing one of the issues involving water in the New Haven, CT community


A map showing one of the issues involving water in the New Haven, CT community

 Community comments on water in the New Haven Public Library


Community comments on water in the New Haven Public Library

Ode to Jennifer Keohane and Libraries

Elena and I would like to thank Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of the Connecticut Library Consortium, for her enthusiasm and endorsement of The Wave and her creativity in using it as a catalyst for building community in library settings. Many thanks also to Leah Farrell, her able assistant, and to all the staff members, volunteers and hundreds of patrons of the participating libraries who made the project so successful. We remain impressed by everything that libraries do to educate, enrich, inform and entertain the residents of our cities and towns.

 Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of The Connecticut Library Consortium (right) with a wave-making library patron at The New London Public Library


Jennifer Keohane, Executive Director of The Connecticut Library Consortium (right) with a wave-making library patron at The New London Public Library

 

 

 

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 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.

 

The Wave as ‘Placemaker’

More Awesome News

Elena and I are very pleased to announce that we are recipients of a $10,000 2014 Arts Catalyze Placemaking Grant (ACP) from the Connecticut Office of the Arts, Department of Economic and Community Development!  The ACP grant program was created to  “invest in the state’s arts-based cultural activities and infrastructure in ways that will advance the attractiveness and competitiveness of Connecticut cities, towns, and villages as meaningful communities in which to live, work, learn and play.”

In partnership with The Connecticut Library Consortium, we will be conducting four installations of The Wave between January and June of 2014 in the Ferguson Library, Stamford, CT, the Public Library of New London (CT), the Willimantic (CT) Public Library and the New Haven (CT) Free Public Library. The installations will serve as a catalyst for the establishment of ‘Community Engagement Hubs’ or centers for on-going community dialogue, and will remain in the libraries as visual documentation of the project and a visual reminder of shared community responsibility.

By using The Wave in four urban libraries as an appealing, interactive art installation that will attract a wide variety of participants and become a catalyst for community conversations on the topic of water, the libraries will: (1) Create a trusted and safe venue for on-going public dialogue on community issues, with water being only the first topic of discussion; (2) Improve civic engagement among segments of the population who have been less involved; and (3) Improve social isolation among community members.

'Wave-Makers' at CT Office of the Arts Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools Teacher Institute, 2012


‘Wave-Makers’ at The CT Office of the Arts, Higher Order Thinking (HOT) Schools Teacher Institute, 2012

 Placemaking as Process and Philosophy

The term, “placemaking” began being used by writers such as William H. Whyte in the 1960s and by architects and planners in the 1970s to depict the process of creating public spaces that would take into consideration the needs of people and not just the physical design of buildings, shopping centers and roads.  The Project for Public Spaces (PPS), a nonprofit, international, planning, design and educational organization, founded in 1975 and dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities, defines placemaking as follows:

Placemaking is the process through which we collectively shape our public realm to maximize shared value. Rooted in community-based participation, Placemaking involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces. More than just creating better urban design of public spaces, Placemaking facilitates creative patterns of activities and connections (cultural, economic, social, ecological) that define a place and support its ongoing evolution. Placemaking is how people are more collectively and intentionally shaping our world, and our future on this planet.  

These are lofty words for how we can become more connected to the places in which we live, work and play through creative activities and shared experiences.  We are very proud to be part of this process in Connecticut.

Homage to the Earth: Earth Days 1970 and 2013

Earth Day 1970: Public Art 101

Forty three years ago when the first Earth Day was held, I was just finishing up my freshman year at Trinity College in Hartford, CT. As part of the celebration, which would ultimately mark the beginning of the modern environmental movement, our sculpture professor required that we design and implement a bio-degradable, site specific, outdoor installation.  Of course, the concepts, ‘site specific’ and ‘installation’ were brand new to the contemporary art world as was the idea of ‘bio-degradable’ materials. I didn’t know at the time that what we were assigned to do could also be classified as Public Art and that so many years later I would be immersed in a large public art project and remembering my first, primitive attempt in that discipline today, on Earth Day 2013.

After a limited survey of the common substances familiar to us that might fall into the category required, my classmate, Leslie, and I decided to collaborate on a jello sculpture. (Yes, even then I was prone to collaboration.)  It seemed silly to us at the time and hardly worth the monumental effort it required to make, refrigerate and transport the product of 100 boxes of red jello.  It was a warm day on April 22, 1970 when the sculpture was installed on the concrete walkway outside our dorm, and the jello melted appropriately as required.  I wish I had a photo of the actual sculpture to document the moment, but picture this: large 12″ x 18″ slabs of red jello piled on top of each other at various angles to a height of about 3 feet, shining brilliantly in the sun.  The image below will give you a general idea of what it looked like.

 Red Jello, Cubed


Red Jello, Cubed

I remember fellow students mocking our efforts and those of our classmates as they passed by. None of them connected the ‘art’ to a statement promoting a ‘green’ environment and conservation of the Earth’s resources. Quite frankly, Leslie and I didn’t either. We were just completing the assignment. I am grateful now, though, to that professor for forcing us to pay attention by commemorating that historic day. Happy Earth Day 2013.

earth-day_zpscdc772b9

The Art of Water

Water as a Theme or Metaphor in the Arts

Visual artists, poets, novelists, composers, playwrights, filmmakers and choreographers have long been inspired by the inherent beauty, movement and sound of water.  The list of well-known paintings, prints, poems, novels, plays, songs, musical compositions and dances that incorporate water as a literal image, as a theme or as a metaphor is immense.

Gene Kelly in the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain


Gene Kelly in the 1952 film, Singing in the Rain

Here are just a few examples:

Who doesn’t feel the pure joy and playfulness exuding from Gene Kelly in love when he dances, sings, leaps and stomps to Singing in the Rain in spite of the gloomy downpour and wet puddles? Or the power and force of nature portrayed in Frederick Church’s magnificent 1867 painting, Niagra Falls? In describing what he was trying to accomplish with his Water Lily paintings, Claude Monet wrote that they were “the illusion of an endless whole, of water without horizon or bank.” Handel’s 1717 commission to compose a concert for King George and his party as they sailed on the River Thames became his Water Music, a ‘flood’ of melodies, fittingly majestic and spectacular. And in his last play, The TempestWilliam Shakespeare uses the violent storm as a catalyst that dramatically affects the lives and actions of all his characters.

 The Tempest by John William Waterhouse, 1916


The Tempest by John William Waterhouse, 1916
Based on William Shakespeare’s play, The Tempest

Water Across the Academic Disciplines

When we go to elementary, middle or high schools to work with students on a Wave installation, Elena and I encourage teachers to incorporate The Wave and its theme of water across academic disciplines, to tap into the poetry, novels, plays, music and dances that have already been created by singing songs, reading books, writing new stories and choreographing new dances in conjunction with The Wave installation. We also suggest that they conduct a water conservation awareness project in their local community, monitor their own water usage or research global water issues, etc.  To promote interdisciplinary learning on water, we are posting lessons on our website that teachers we have worked with have developed. We have also included a page of links on the website highlighting major national and international organizations that have created curricula on water, water conservation, water shortage around the world, water purification, water desalination and many other topics.

Poetry on Water

Relating to the topic of creative outpourings on water, I came across a poem recently that beautifully describes how water has no real shape of its own and, therefore, adapts efficiently to its environment.  The poem, “Be Like Water” was written by wellness advocate, Jason Wachob to Bruce Lee, the Chinese American martial artist.  Here it is:

Bruce Lee: Be Like Water

Be like water making its way through cracks.  Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.

“Be Like Water” instigated a delightful discussion between Elena and me on our favorite poems related to water in all of its iterations (ice, snow, ocean, brook, river, lake, stream, storm, rain, sleet, pool, well, etc.,etc.).  I’ll start with Elena’s favorite, called “Marina” written by the Russian/Soviet poet Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941) and translated by Elena herself.

Marina 
by Marina Tsvetaeva

Some people are fashioned
Of clay and of ashes,
But I am all glittering freedom!
My name is Marina.
I act on my passions.
I’m ocean froth destined to perish.

 The Waves 'Frothing' Philbin Beach, Martha's Vineyard Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman


The Waves ‘Frothing’
Philbin Beach, Martha’s Vineyard, 2008
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

I have many favorite poems with a water theme: Water by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Going For Water by Robert Frost; Water is Taught by Thirst by Emily Dickinson; All Day I Hear the Noise of Waters by James Joyce and a special favorite from my childhood, Spring Morning by A.A. Milne. The Frost and Milne poems are included below.

Going for Water
by Robert Frost

The well was dry beside the door,
And so we went with pail and can
Across the fields behind the house
To seek the brook if still it ran;

Not loth to have excuse to go,
Because the autumn eve was fair
(Though chill), because the fields were ours,
And by the brook our woods were there.

We ran as if to meet the moon
That slowly dawned behind the trees,
The barren boughs without the leaves,
Without the birds, without the breeze.

But once within the wood, we paused
Like gnomes that hid us from the moon,
Ready to run to hiding new
With laughter when she found us soon.

Each laid on other a staying hand
To listen ere we dared to look,
And in the hush we joined to make
We heard, we knew we heard the brook.

A note as from a single place,
A slender tinkling fall that made
Now drops that floated on the pool
Like pearls, and now a silver blade.

 Brook, 2012 Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman


Brook, 2012
Photograph Courtesy of Susan Hoffman Fishman

Spring Morning
by A.A. Milne

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
Down to the stream where the king-cups grow-
Up on the hill where the pine-trees blow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

Where am I going? The clouds sail by,
Little ones, baby ones, over the sky.
Where am I going? The shadows pass,
Little ones, baby ones, over the grass.

If you were a cloud, and sailed up there,
You’d sail on water as blue as air,
And you’d see me here in the fields and say:
“Doesn’t the sky look green today?”

Where am I going? The high rooks call:
“It’s awful fun to be born at all.”
Where am I going? The ring-doves coo:
“We do have beautiful things to do.”

If you were a bird, and lived on high,
You’d lean on the wind when the wind came by,
You’d say to the wind when it took you away:
“That’s where I wanted to go today!”

Where am I going? I don’t quite know.
What does it matter where people go?
Down to the wood where the blue-bells grow-
Anywhere, anywhere. I don’t know.

What are your favorite poems on water, snow, the ocean, etc? Or, for that matter, do you have favorite paintings, songs, films, operas, ballets, etc. that incorporate the theme of water? We’d love to hear about them.

Public Art as Community Building

The Purposes of Public Art

Historically, public art in the form of monuments, equestrian statues and sculptures in plazas or parks has been commissioned or built to commemorate individuals or events, emphasize the stature of governments and corporations and embellish and beautify public spaces.

There is another kind of public art, however, that has emerged in the last four decades, whose purpose is to engage individuals in ‘building community’ while they are creating works of art with the help of artists serving as their ‘mentors’ or ‘facilitators.’  Suzanne Lacy, in her 1995 book, Mapping the Terrain coined a new term for this type of community building public art: she calls it ‘new genre public art.’  It fosters connections among the participants and also develops in them a sense of personal pride as well as a common purpose and new appreciation for their local, state, national or international communities.

Lily Yeh: Transforming Communities Through Art

Lily Yeh is my personal hero. Her work exemplifies public art that is community building. She is an inspiring public artist who, though the power of art, is transforming communities and motivating individuals around the world. In 2002, Lily, a native of China and a long-time resident of Philadelphia, created Barefoot Artists, an organization dedicated to “training and empowering local residents, organizing communities, and taking action for a more compassionate, just, and sustainable future.”  Lily has worked with students, teachers, local elders, victims of genocide and children and adults suffering from trauma, pain and poverty in Rwanda, China, Ecuador, Haiti, Ghana, Syria, Italy and the U.S.  The methods she uses to engage communities and create stunning works of art are described in Awakening Creativity, a book she published in 2011. In it, she eloquently documents the journey she and the students and staff of The Dandelion School underwent to physically and spiritually transform their school, and in the process, their lives. The Dandelion School is located in an impoverished neighborhood populated by rural migrants in Beijing, China.  A documentary film on Lily’s work and life is currently in post-production.

 The Dandelion School Project, Courtesy of Lily Yeh


The Dandelion School Project
Photograph Courtesy of Lily Yeh

The Wave as Community Building

The Wave also falls into the category of ‘community building’ public art. Visitors to our Wave installations feel a sense of pride when they add their own pieces to The Wave which is growing and growing as it travels from community to community. They feel a sense of pride that their community has joined with others to create a work of art that is glorious as it glimmers and shimmers in the sun. Children and adults alike want to see where their pieces ultimately end up in the installation and how they are connected to the whole, just as they are connected to each other by their mutual need for water, the most fundamental requirement for life on this planet.

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Young Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

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Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

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Participants at The Wave Installation
Connecticut Office of the Arts, HOT Schools Summer Institute, 2012
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

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Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

 

 

The Snow Wave

Snow as a Medium for Public Art

Although water is a substance found almost everywhere on Earth, snow, its frozen equivalent, is not.  Those of us who live or have lived where snow makes its presence felt every winter, have all created public art with this medium at some point during our lives: snow people of all sizes and shapes, snow castles, snow totems, snow forts and other more elaborate snow carvings. A number of contemporary artists use snow to express their awe of nature, the vastness of a pristine, snow-covered landscape or simply the intrinsic beauty of the material. French artist, Simon Beck, fabricates enormous, complex patterns in the snow by stomping in snow shoes over his ‘canvas.’

simon-beck-snow-art-6


Snow Art by Simon Beck
Photograph Courtesy of Simon Beck

Simon Beck's Wave


Snow Art by Simon Beck
Photograph Courtesy of Simon Beck

The Snow Wave

On February 8 and 9, 2013, Blizzard Charlotte, a storm of historic proportions, dumped almost three feet of snow in my figurative and literal backyard.  Using the white material as a ‘canvas’ of our own, Elena and I created a Wave installation in the snow. All of the pieces that have been created to date by visitors at Wave sites, minus the ones currently hanging at the Gaffney Elementary School in New Britain, CT, went into the sculpture that cascaded down the side of the house, meandered into and over the brook and flowed around the garden plantings.  We were exhausted from tromping through knee-deep snow for three hours, but gratified by the results.

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The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

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The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

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The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

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The Snow Wave, 2013 by Susan Hoffman Fishman and Elena Kalman
Photograph Courtesy of Elena Kalman

 

Why The Wave?

The Wave-Kennedy Greenway,Boston


The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

A Water Event of Global Proportions

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude 9.03 earthquake, centered east of the Oshika Peninsula of Tohoku in Japan, triggered powerful tsunami waves that reached heights of up to 133 feet, moved portions of Japan by as much as 7.9 feet and shifted the Earth on its axis a distance estimated at between 4 and 10 inches.  Further magnifying the damage caused by the earthquake itself, the ensuing tsunami devastated the island country, leaving millions of people without homes, electricity and clean water and triggering nuclear meltdowns at three reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In response to the tsunami, warnings were issued over the entire Pacific Ocean, including the coastal areas in most of California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and western Alaska. Infrastructure damage and destruction from waves caused by the tsunami totaled hundreds of millions of dollars in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Papua, New Guinea and in Hawaii.  The impact from the 2011 tsunami is still being felt right now, in February of 2013, almost two years from the date of the original event. Recent aerial photographs taken along the coast of Alaska reveal evidence of widespread debris washing ashore from the Japanese tsunami and posing an environmental hazard of significant proportions.

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Debris Off the Coast of Alaska from Japanese Tsunami, 2013

Conceiving The Wave

Here, in Connecticut, my fellow artist, Elena, and I were literally ‘struck’ by our own visual images (a frequent occurrence for artists) of how that 2011 tsunami in Japan literally ‘connected’ us all to one another: this enormous wave originating across the world and traveling from continent to continent before washing up on own ‘front door.’ We talked about developing a project that would visually represent how dramatically we are all connected, regardless of our nationality, religious preferences, race or other artificial divisions, by our mutual dependence on water, one of the fundamental requirements for life on Earth.

During our conversations, we also discussed an appropriate medium for the project, which we eventually dubbed, The Wave. (Catchy, don’t you think?) Because we wanted to emphasize the universal nature of water, our individual and community responsibility to protect this vital resource and the theme of our ‘connectedness,’ we felt very strongly that it needed to be a community engagement, interactive, public art program.

The Function of Interactive Public Art

Public art is generally described as any work that is exhibited, and sometimes created, in public spaces so that it is accessible to the general public, not just those who frequent galleries and museums. We chose to create a public art project because, by it’s very purpose, public art is meant to enrich communities, provoke discussion and heighten awareness of significant public issues and events. An interactive, public art project enables members of the community, not just the artists, to participate in the creation of the work of art itself.  Interactive, public art inspires creativity among participants around a specific topic, generates community pride and fosters connections among the participants.

The Wave Design

We designed The Wave with these goals in mind. Because the material we use is especially unusual, enticing and beautiful and because it is so easy to simply cut a piece of it that evokes ‘wave’ according to the visitor’s interpretation, each individual coming to a Wave site can feel successful.  Children as young as five, entire school communities including parents, staff, teachers and students of all abilities and ages, adults who are normally intimidated by making art and seniors have all embraced the opportunity to ‘connect’ their pieces to the growing, glowing and undulating Wave that we hope will ‘roll’ right across the country and beyond. Since September of 2011, we have created seven installations in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York museums/galleries, parks and schools in the vicinity of water. People have asked us why we join the pieces with black parachute cord that shows so prominently as an integral part of the installation.  Why not use transparent fishing wire or some other invisible material? And, of course, that is the point. We are using the black cord to emphasize how this Wave is being created, piece by piece, connecting individuals, communities, states and hopefully, an entire nation, to one another.

The Wave, Kennedy Greenway, Boston2


Participants at The Wave Installation
Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Boston, MA, 2011
Photograph Courtesy of Lena Stein

The Wave Blog: On Water and Public Art

Now that the project is gaining momentum and many new sites are being planned as we speak, we are taking this opportunity to initiate a blog on water and public art.  We’ll be posting stories, information and news that we find interesting and provocative on water issues and events, on other public art projects, on our experiences as we engage communities at Wave sites and on the progress of The Wave itself.  We welcome your comments, your personal water stories and your participation.