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Sep 14 10

Place-making art; art-making place

by joshua sloan

Seattle’s Downtown Transit Tunnel was designed as a collaborative project between the project consultant (Parson Brinckerhoff Quade and Douglas Inc.), the architecture subconsultant (TRA), and 25 artists.  The team created what they have termed a distinct “art-itecture” for each station representative of the neighborhood it serves.

The result is a fantastic model for the stations along the proposed Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway.

Even after just a couple days riding the light-rail or buses through Seattle’s stations, a quick glance out the window provides a distinct impression that tells, or shows, where you are. The collaboration is obvious in the integration of artistic details and the creation of a place. You feel that the design process was a conversation – between the place informing the design of the art and the art and architecture reinforcing the sense of place.

Signage and practical information is kept consistent; station logos are modified, but from the same graphic language; and safety is served through varied applications (such as paving, bollards, etc) of similar techniques.

One of my favorite artworks is in the International District Tunnel Station by Sonya Ishii — a grand gesture spanning almost 150 feet along the eastern wall.

This work is a set of nine, 14-foot by 14-foot aluminum panels at various folded stages in the creation of two origami figures. The panels begin virtually flat and end up 2 feet deep to accommodate the folds. One reads from left to center, the other from right to center (as pictured, the top photo is the left).

The heaviness and size of the steel is appropriate for the size of the station and, in this context, actually feels as light as traditional washi origami paper. The colors are simple and bold (not unlike the totem figures of the northwest Native American works that dominate the Seattle art scene).

In all, the work is derived from the place – an international art form in the international district, while helping create a sense of place – “get off the bus at the station with the huge origami figures” (and I bet a first time visitor could pick the station from a random list of all the stations…). This place-making art draws from the uniqueness of the place. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call this an aesthetic example of the dialectic synthesis, as the philosopher would call it, and a model for civic art.

Communities invest in places that reflect and reinforce their sense of self; the artist and design team can bring new perspective and form to that sense. We would be wise to learn from examples such as this before our plans for the Purple Line and the CCT get too far down the, ahem, line.

May 18 10

Mapping Geotags: confirmation of our propensity to navel-gaze.

by joshua sloan

What would one notice if a map was created based on the geographical entries in Wikepedia? A confirmation that “we” [viz., the countries in dark red below] are more interested in ourselves than other places.

Wikipedia world map geotagged by Mark Graham from The Guardian

This may be obvious, and not necessarily self-serving, but it does point to our lack of knowledge of other places and peoples. In any event, the visualization of this information is a pointed reminder that much of the world isn’t even involved as part of the conversation on knowledge and information. If nothing else, we should remember this when we speak of “the greater good”.

Apr 29 10

Plop, plop, fizz, fizz ….

by joshua sloan

The debate over “plop art” continues – especially when art seems to provide more fizz than substance. Four sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle, which now sit outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts on New York Avenue, have some wondering if our exterior public spaces are given the same respect as our hallowed museum walls.

Despite their rotund nature, our local Post critic thinks they lack “weight”. Agreed. To a point. His take on it is that such engaging and fun works lack the potency of the subject matter on the canvases and sculptures within the area’s museums; that there is a dichotomy between our expectations of exterior and interior sculptures. As noted, some of de Saint Phalle’s earlier work has been more exuberantly confrontational and provocative, which these certainly aren’t. No one is being asked to engage with their subconscious thoughts on sexuality, femininity, or aggression – or how these ideas trespass on each other.

Serpent Tree

I agree that the most interesting of the four is “Serpent Tree” – there are plenty of myths and metaphors regarding trees and snakes to keep the mind occupied. And the execution in such colors, textures, and finishes keeps the eye equally occupied. Except for “Basketball Player”, which should only be permanently installed at the MJ Hall of Fame, I disagree with the assessment that the others will simply provoke a glimpse and a smile because of a lack of fizz beneath the surface – like fading effervescence that goes flat with time. Well, maybe I agree, but maybe that’s all that can be asked. This is because of, and not despite, the location.

Basketball Player

These are “plop art” in the sense that they are not connected to place – the glam is befitting NY or Milan, the hippy sentimentality is befitting San Francisco – neither “fit” DC. But they are temporary installations here and they do fit the space if not the place. They are large, eye-catching, colorful, and “pretty”. This contrasts with the asphalt and stone and concrete around them. They are set in a median between several lanes of traffic – they have to compete with a lot of noise and space. They compete relatively well; I did see someone actually cross the road to get close and take a video of one piece.

The Three Graces

Nana on a Dolphin

This leaves me wondering whether a more “thoughtful” piece could work in such a space. I doubt it. Large, brash eye-candy is okay in some places. Something that does both would be wonderful, but in such a space would be exceedingly difficult – my vote would be for four trees – real or otherwise … “I think that I shall never see, a [sculpture] as lovely as a tree”….

Graft by Roxy Paine (National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden)