Earlier this summer when our team met with the Chicago Public Art Group, the muralist John Pitman Weber shared that at its core “art created collectively in public space allows for the re-birth of the identities of all involved.” After 40 years of leading the creation of murals in Chicago, Weber is acutely aware of the power of art to heighten our awareness of who we are and where we belong.
We met with Weber and his collective because Broder–a LEED Platinum real estate developer working on a new construction site in the upscale neighborhood of Lincoln Park, Chicago–had come to us wanting to bring art to that particular site. The 200,000 sq.ft. development is enclosed by a 75 ft. plywood fence. As a mindful developer, Broder was looking for an interactive, playful and family-friendly art piece to brighten the site and add beauty to the neighborhood.
Our aim was to understand Lincoln Park through the lens of community engagement. We proposed a three week process to understand different stakeholders, create artistic concepts inspired by the community and make the art. The final product would be a community-inspired art piece on the construction wall engaging the community and enhancing everyday experiences for people who live and work in that neighborhood.
limeSHIFT put out a call to artists from the midwest that create playful and bright public art pieces. Among them, we considered project proposals by Ruben Aguirre, Don’t Fret, POSE, and Mosher Show. Through comprehensive deliberation, the client selected a collaborative concept by artists Ellen Rutt and Patrick Ethen. Their dimensional patchwork concept felt inclusive and bright.
Working with a broad range of community organizations, from the Lincoln Park Community Shelter to the DePaul Museum and the local branch of the Public Library, limeSHIFT held pattern-making workshops where participants got the opportunity to express themselves through art-making. We think of these processes as alternate avenues to awaken the imagination. We also put out a call for people to submit artwork online via social media using the hashtag #LPPMus. All of this content would be used by the artists in the crafting of the final patterns that would make up the mural.
The Lincoln Park Patchwork Mural will exist for 18 months during the construction of the project and will be installed on the property of the completed building for the tenants to enjoy.
How can art affect and transform space? This question not only guides our work at limeSHIFT, but also serves as the subject of much discussion and contemplation in the greater art world as well. As the definition of “art” continues to change and expand, more and more artists are responding to that very question, creating site-specific works in populated public spaces. So, what kinds of answers are these artists proposing? And how can we extrapolate meaning from their abstract works?
In late May, with help from the Public Art Fund, British artist Martin Creed debuted his public installation “Understanding” in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The piece consists of a rotating, 25-foot-tall red neon sign that reads “Understanding,” and is on display on the park’s Pier 6, making it visible from the Brooklyn Bridge and parts of lower Manhattan’s waterfront. Concrete seating surrounds the base of the massive, spinning neon attraction. “Understanding” both interacts with and imposes on the space around it. From its arresting location to its striking subject matter and literal glow, passersby cannot help but engage with Creed’s work.
While the piece itself is quite a physically imposing presence, it’s more figurative impact on the space seems to be the opposite. Usually, big bright signs serve to advertise products, telling their viewers what to think, do, or buy. In this case, however, Creed has designed the opposite into his piece: ambiguity. Challenging the typical uses of the medium at hand, “Understanding” asks questions rather than answers them. Impossible to ignore, the glowing sign invites hundreds of people per day to think about what understanding means to them.
Martin Creed’s piece in Brooklyn Bridge Park serves as a powerful example of the ways in which art can affect and transform its surroundings. In the middle of a bustling New York City park,“Understanding” reminds the busy passersby to pause, contemplate, and perhaps even try to understand what it means to understand. As Creed so deftly demonstrates with this piece, one of the most powerful ways art can affect the atmosphere of a space, either physical or figurative, is to actively engage with that space, engineering a level of ambiguity into the work that allows for dialogue to emerge between the art itself and its viewers. In the spirit of Creed’s work, I encourage you to bring your own experience to the piece now and engage in that dialogue as we do at limeSHIFT. So, what does understanding mean to you?