Category: Public Art

In her handwritten notes for a student lecture, artist Agnes Martin wrote that inspiration is “the beginning and end of all art work.” Expanding on the subject, she continued:

An inspiration is a happy moment that takes us by surprise. Many people are so startled by an inspiration or a condition of inspiration, which is so different from daily care, that they think that they are unique in having had it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Inspiration is there all the time for anyone whose mind is not covered over with thoughts and concerns, and [it is] used by everyone whether they realize it or not…It is an untroubled state of mind. Of course, we know that an untroubled state of mind cannot last, so we say that inspiration comes and goes, but it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again. We can therefore say that it is pervasive.

These words are helpful because when examining my artistic practice and thinking through how and where I find inspiration the first question that popped into my head was “do I go after inspiration or does inspiration go after me?” Writer Elizabeth Gilbert believes that it is not a binary answer. She sees our relationship to inspiration as a relationship. “You know, it’s the same thing as the question of free will and destiny, the question of creativity — you, the artist, you’re not the puppet of the piano, you’re not the puppet of the muse, but you’re not its master, either. It’s a relationship, it’s a conversation, and all it wants is to be treated with respect and dignity — and it will return ten thousand times over.”

With that said, I am grateful that over the past decade I have cultivated patterns in my life that have kept inspiration around me continuously. These patterns have been woven in through the acts of traveling, reading, and conversing. All three are variations on choosing to get lost in other people’s lives.

Picasso often spoke about the idea that every child is an artist and Martin agreed with him.  Expanding on her thoughts regarding inspiration she would say that from childhood to adulthood our relationship with inspiration is continuously evolving:

Young children have more time in which they are untroubled than adults. They have therefore more inspirations than adults. The moments of inspiration added together make what we refer to as sensibility — defined in the dictionary as “response to higher feelings.” The development of sensibility is the most important thing for children and adults alike, but is much more possible for children.

I believe that it is children’s insatiable curiosity that sets them apart from adults.  As we “grow up” and face the many responsibilities that come with adulthood we build patterns that keep us from asking questions and engaging in the world the way a child would.  What if we made it a priority to go to spaces we never occupy? What if everyday we left our homes with the intention of meeting someone new? Everyday.

Ultimately, the inspiration for my work comes from the people I encounter moment to moment in my life. Plato once wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Through my practice as an artist I am interested in exploring how we can be soldiers in each others’ armies collectively engaging in the sadness and joy that comes with being human.

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I believe beauty is a basic service.

Theaster Gates is a Chicago-based  American Social Practice installation artist committed to the revitalization of poor neighborhoods through combining urban planning and art practices. One of the premises of limeSHIFT’s work is that beauty leads to participation and participation leads to collective action. Experiencing beauty is not only a coveted experience but an invitation to share that experience.

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“If the environment permits it, anyone can learn whatever he chooses to learn, and if the individual permits it, the environment will teach him everything it has to teach…Get out of your head, into your space and await the invisible stranger”

Viola Spolin is considered a godmother of theatre games and her practice is known for its capacity in being able to reach across divisions of culture.  At limeSHIFT our method focuses on heightening sense of perception and reinventing an individual’s aesthetic and social relationship to their environment and cultural eco-system.

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“Civic participation depends on creativity, an (aesthetic) knack for reframing experience, and on a corollary freedom to adjust laws and practices in light of ever-new challenges. Without art, citizenship would shrink to compliance, as if society were a closed text. Reading lessons would stop at the factual “what is,” rather than continue to the speculative “what if.”

Doris Sommer is the author of The Work of Art in the World and Bilingual Aesthetics and editor of Cultural Agency in the Americas. Sommer has been a mentor to limeSHIFT as it considers the role of art in leadership and democracy.  Like we do, she believes beauty is a form of participation.

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“Every human being is an artist, a freedom being, called to participate in transforming and reshaping the conditions, thinking and structures that shape and inform our lives.”

Joseph Beuys, performance artists, sculptor and art theorist believed that art is only possible in the context of society and that we are all co-creators of social architecture. limeSHIFT’s workshops from Lead to Shift, to Creative Workout to Collective Potential help groups discover their possibility as architects of transformation through creative processes.

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Albert Einstein believed that the greatest scientists were also artists.  He first described his intuitive thought processes at a physics conference in Kyoto in 1922, when he described how he used images to solve his problems and found words later.  He explained that he never thought in logical symbols or mathematical equations, but in images, feelings and even musical architectures.  We believe that the regular practice of art stimulates creativity in all fields and that great achievements have their roots in intuition and inspiration.  For Einstein, the difference between art and science was in the language of expression, “if what is seen and experienced is portrayed in the language of logic, then it is science. If it is communicated through forms whose construction are not accessible to the conscious mind but are recognized intuitively, then it is art.”

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-41-58-pmEarlier this month, a modernistic fabric sculpture appeared beside one of the most historic battlegrounds of the Revolutionary War: the North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts.  The bright yellow tent-like structure stands out against the dry, open landscape, inciting curiosity in passersby.  What could this be? Why is it here?  Those who approach the structure are met by an artist’s statement:

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In the coming months, “The Meeting House” will host community gatherings to encourage dialogue, growth, and healing surrounding the issues that “The Meeting House” itself explores. Reflective of limeSHIFT’s mission, “Using social practice art to shift communities and bring about empathy, healing and collective inspiration”, this project seemed fitting to look at through the lens of our own work. Below is an interview I conducted with the Los Angeles-based artist responsible for “The Meeting House”, Sam Durant.

Jesse Ryan: I want to start by asking you how you got to where you are today, how you got to creating “The Meeting House” and where the project came from. What was its inspiration?

Sam Durant: When I was invited to do this project about a year ago, the Black Lives Matter movement was really in the news–first of all, the police killings of African Americans, but also larger issues of institutional racism. And when I grew up, I grew up during the desegregation of the school systems and the attempt to do that through bussing. So, going into the project I knew that Boston, still, is even more racially segregated now than it was back then in the late 60s and early 70s. So, to me, it seemed like a lot of historical things were playing out again, and the site being so important to American history, with the Minuteman park there and the war and the transcendentalists and the underground railroad, that’s what I was thinking about.

JR: “The Meeting House” is no exception to the sociopolitical undertones I’ve noticed in a lot of your work. Where does that come from, and do you view your work as art, or as an artistic approach to activism?

SD: That’s a good question, it’s a tricky one. I think it really depends on any one situation. Art can sometimes have a kind of activist feedback in the real world, but I would say my work is art more than anything else. It is aesthetic, it operates in the realm of representation. It is not a political activity or a political action. Sometimes an artwork can have political effects in the world, but that is not where I would locate my work. It is really about representation, not reality. It is about imagination and creativity.

JR: Where did the concept for this big yellow outdoor structure come from?

SD: It came about through a combination of a lot of factors. The Trustees of the Reservation, who invited me to do this project and to put an artwork in the landscape, they wanted something that was publicly visible, that would get people thinking, and something that was maybe even a little provocative. With that in mind, I thought I should do something that would be visible from the road, from the Minuteman Park, and from The Old Manse itself. The idea for the structure itself was to use the 18th century houses that the first generation of free Africans had built in Concord as a sort of platform. That became the floorplan of my structure: symbolizing the history and bringing back the presence of that first generation of Africans in Concord, but then trying to open it up. So the tent structure was about looking forward–being transparent and temporary but also hopeful for the future.

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JR: What gives art this power to bring people together, start dialogue, and transform spaces in the way that the meeting house is already doing?

SD: Well work like this shows you that art actually is a powerful thing in society–it is important to people. I teach art and my students often wonder, “What is the point of doing art? Does anyone really care?” And I always point out that if you look at the New York Times, there is a section in the paper–its own section–that is devoted to arts and culture. And if you think about it that way, that must mean it’s pretty important, you know? There are a lot of things that we do in the world that don’t have their own section in the New York Times. I really is important to us, but I think we often forget that. Even on the most basic level, art is an expression. I think that is what gives it the ability to bring us together. Any kind of art or literature or film, any kind of music, it is all an expression–of humanity, I think… Of the possibilities that we have as individuals, but also as groups, to do meaningful things and do inspire each other.

 

 

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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.

One of the art pieces created during our workshop at the Lincoln Park Community Shelter.

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.

 

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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.

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Colour in Faith is a global project conceived by limeSHIFT artist Yazmany Arboleda. It begins in Kenya with the intention to speckle the planet with yellow houses of worship. The colour yellow symbolizes light and dispels darkness.

In recent years, Kenya has been in the limelight on the global experience of increasing fundamentalist voices and acts of terror justified on religious grounds. This state of despair has hit every corner of the world, from Nice, to Paris, to Istanbul, to America. Colour in Faith begins a movement that reclaims these cities from those who wish them ill and reinstalls them into the hands of those who create art, culture and beauty.

The concept was developed in response to a call for an intervention that would facilitate a form of inclusive communication, and that would allow those who believe in acceptance, love and harmony to express these values, and reinforce them within themselves and with others. The call was also for collective action and strengthening of community. The result was a combination of civic engagement and peacebuilding with art, where a movement reinforcing religious pluralism would be created, culminating in a visual expression of love and harmony, through painting participating houses of worship yellow.

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At the six-month mark, twenty houses of worship had committed to painting and the hosting organization, inCOMMONS (limeSHIFT partner) raised enough funds to paint three buildings. Colour in Faith received paint as a donation from Sadolin Paints. The East African Institute and Fatuma’s Voice (a forum that uses art, poetry and music as a tool for youth to express themselves) hosted five tweet chats on the relationship of faith with leadership, radicalization and patriotism one of which trended third in Kenya and reached 1.5 million people (#YellowKE).

The first three buildings were painted in June. Muslims and Christians came together and painted while entertained by poets.  Painting the buildings represented a symbolic gesture that expressed growing community unity, belief in love and an expression of inclusivity as a result of the project. Local TV stations featured the project and its importance in creating cohesion and mitigating conflict in advance of the upcoming 2017 presidential election.

As resources are mobilized for more buildings, a new partnership has been developed with Nairobi City Hall. The project’s first phase also unearthed the limitations and challenges of altering religious structures. Hierarchy, bureaucracy, and corruption encumber many religious institutions from responding quickly to social challenges. These challenges include prejudice, estrangement, fear, political fragility and a myriad of reasons that tear people apart instead of bringing them together. In response to this, we have decided to use the next phase of the project to design a space in the center of the city built by and for all faiths reflecting a new collective narrative outside of the walls of religion.
In addition to lifting the city’s consciousness of Nairobi’s historic cultural and religious pluralism, the space will use place-making to address safety and improve the pedestrian experience. The space will build community and cohesion and allow for conversation.

Photo by Robert Cohen

Photo by Robert Cohen

In the wake of the recent police-involved killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, the Black Lives Matter movement has picked up momentum, gaining increasing support and expanding its range of different activist methods. On the news, we have seen huge crowds participating in marches, sit-ins, and vigils across the country. What hasn’t been broadcasted, perhaps because it challenges the angry-and-aggressive-protester narrative that news outlets so often portray, is the art that has been created in response to police brutality and racial injustice.

There is no better time than now to both explore and showcase how art can affect, transform, inform, and/or challenge social movements.  Can it heal? Can it empower? Can it join in and fight?

Over the past several years, themes of police brutality and racially charged violence have emerged in virtually every art form: Music (think Lauryn Hill’s Black Rage and Vic Mensa’s 16 Shots), poetry (see [insert] boy by Danez Smith), and an incredibly wide range of visual art.  Clearly, racial activist art is being created in abundance, but why? What makes art such a powerful tool?

Gran Fury, "Silence = Death"

Gran Fury, “Silence = Death”

At its core, activism has always been about making an impact, providing shock value that will spark conversation and action.  As a universally understood tool, activists often employ visual art to challenge, shock and disrupt narratives drawing more people into the dialogue and enabling the pathway to change.  The roots of the power and uniqueness of art can be traced back to earlier social movements such as Vietnam War protests and the fight against AIDS.  The posters created in both the Vietnam era and the AIDS crisis became emblems of their movements–captivating visuals that essentially advertised the cause.

In the Black Lives Matter movement, we are seeing the same thing: be it new symbols like two hands raised in surrender, or adapted signs like a single fist held high, these images have become universally known. Without words, they remind us of the injustices this movement is working to dismantle.

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Art has the power to combat injustice, but what else might it be able to fend off? When the products of activist art are often so jarring, we as viewers fail to recognize the incredibly healing nature of the creative process. Children’s book illustrator Christian Robinson said of his latest drawings, “I made [these] as a way of processing and grieving the [killing of] Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. It’s therapy, especially in the face of tragedy.” So when we infuse it with activism, art is not only the powerful weapon that it appears to be, but a mechanism by which an individual can begin to heal.  

Art’s healing powers do not stop at the individual level.  Take musician and performance artist Shaw Pong Liu’s latest project, “Code Listen” for example.  The Boston artist plans to bring teens and Boston Police Department officers together to share their experiences through collaborative music making.  In Liu’s words, the project will “prototype ways that music can support healing and dialogue on topics of gun violence, race and law enforcement practices.”  As demonstrated by both Christian Robinson and Shaw Pong Liu, creating art in the face of violence and hate not only has the power to heal the artist, but the communities they serve as well.

Photo by Eduardo Munoz

Photo by Eduardo Munoz

The Black Lives Matter movement proves to be one in a long line of social movements that have and continue to demonstrate the powers, both combative and therapeutic, that art can carry.  

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Photo by Circuit Sweet

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.

Photo by the Public Art Fund

Photo by the Public Art Fund

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?