Walking across the city’s iconic Blue Bridge, the sounds jumping from the speakers installed by Rafael Lozano-Hemmer are mind-bending at first. Mixed messages looping as visitors traverse the Grand River are intensified by more than 400 flashing lights that overload the senses.
Slow down and the realization comes that the Voice Bridge installation at Project 1 by ArtPrize is simply bringing part of the cacophony, and also the fleeting nature, of urban life to the forefront.
Lozano-Hemmer invites visitors to record a short voice message into intercoms at either end of the bridge and then follow it down the path. The messages weave and bump into earlier voices until they disappear and are replaced by others.
Is it a metaphor for life’s ephemeral nature? Or something else?
That’s what Project 1: Crossed Lines wants you to think about and determine on your own.
The evolution of ArtPrize to Project 1: Crossed Lines has allowed organizers to deepen the significance of art by creating a theme that serves as an inspiration for the pieces while also examining critical issues. Crossed Lines looks at how boundaries, both visible and invisible, affect a sense of belonging that can unite or divide the city.
Kevin Buist, artistic director of ArtPrize, says the lines contribute to or detract from people’s sense of belonging.
“Some of these lines are clear: neighborhoods, wards, roads, and rivers,” Buist wrote in his essay launching Project 1. “Other lines are harder to see: the legacy of redlining and other discriminatory housing practices; the way perceptions of safety map onto city space; the limitations imposed by the built environment on persons with disabilities; the shifting implicit borders that come with cycles of urban decay, development, and gentrification; and more.”
With time running out to experience the first-ever Project 1 – the public art exhibition ends Oct. 27 – it’s time to take stock of the installations that are available and how to explore the public art that has transformed Grand Rapids, and potentially the people who experience it.
Lozano-Hemmer’s use of the bridge provides the first opportunity at introspection. Bridges by their nature create connections and cross lines, in this case from the downtown to the west side of Grand Rapids. He uses proprietary interactive technology to create harmony but also what could be viewed as a disconnect because there is not a cohesive message.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Voice Bridge:
- Why does the invitation to participate generate belonging, community and ownership?
- Why do you think the artist chose this location for his work?
- What is the bridge connecting and what does it represent?
- How does Voice Bridge address ideas about physical access, power and belonging in the city?
Amanda Browder’s textile installations are the only element featured at all three of theProject 1 locations, downtown over skywalks, draping the community center at Martin Luther King Jr. Park, and at the Tanglefoot building.
She engages the community by wrapping areas where people move through daily life and where they congregate. Volunteers sewed donated fabric for weeks to create the intricate, colorful designs that change the appearance of otherwise drab cityscapes. From different angles – consider walking through the skywalk links and then observe them from the outside – the installations have varying perspectives.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Kaleidoscopic:
- Do you think the colors and variety of the fabric are important in the artwork?
- Do you have clothes, flags or fabric that represents a community you belong to? How would you feel if that fabric was in the installation?
- How has this work transformed the building it occupies?
The Oracle of the Soulmates
Heather Hart created submerged rooftops, complete with shingles and dormer windows, that look like they were dropped from the sky. The rooftops refer to home, stability or shelter. Hart speaks about the rooftops as thresholds between public and private space. Combined with family and oral histories, and activated by performance, her work explores the power these thresholds have in our lives.
Installed in Rosa Park Circle downtown and in Martin Luther King Jr. Park on the city’s Southeast Side, the pieces can foster conversations about housing, hopes and dreams and the often unequal playing fields various socio-economic and demographic groups experience while trying to achieve stability.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine The Oracle of the Soulmates:
- How does this work showcase the community it is in?
- How does it create a space for storytelling?
- What space do you experience storytelling in your community?
- If this sculpture was in your neighborhood, what stories, songs or performances do you think would be shared from the rooftops?
The Boom and the Bust
The 25-foot sculpture created by Olalekan Jeyifous rises from the ground at the corner of Louis Street and Monroe Avenue in downtown Grand Rapids. The installation
referencing the balance of urban life, growth sought for vibrant cityscapes but an economic boom that often leads to individual displacement. Jeyifous researched the recent history of housing in Grand Rapids. By combining references to skyscrapers and single-family houses, he shows how the energy that continues to transform Grand Rapids has far-reaching impact and implications.
The piece is comprised of three sections, a base resembling a single home, a middle that features a steel lattice supporting an array of small homes, and a top that resembles a skyscraper.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine The Boom and the Bust:
- How does this sculpture reflect the Grand Rapids community and families that live here?
- Why do you think the artist chose the city’s downtown for this work?
- If it was hard for you to find a place to live in a community, would you still feel welcomed?
With the site-specific architectural installation at the landmark Tanglefoot Building, a former industrial flypaper manufacturing site now repurposed to house artists’ studios, Paul Amenta and Ted Lott transform a private space into a fully accessible public space through a series of ramps and landings. In collaboration with DisArt, an arts and culture organization that focuses on creating public art events that cultivate and communicate a disabled culture, the environment addresses accessibility in both form and function. The work creates a stage for action and expression.
Project 1’s questions to consider as you examine Critical Infrastructure:
- How has this installation transformed the space it occupies?
- How does the piece advocate for the disabled community?
- Why are performance, storytelling and community engagement important elements to this work?
As Buist sums up in his essay defining Project 1, the art is organized around the idea of belonging and how individuals react or interpret that feeling.
“Belonging is a state of being, so these artworks are places to be, not just things to look at and think about,” he wrote. “It’s our hope that Project 1 does much more than communicate an idea; we hope it can alter and reorganize the city, breach borders, cross paths, blur boundaries, and point toward a future city where we all belong.”