At the end of March 2019 I am reporting on 'Shadow Citizens'- an art project devoted to the faces, places, and stories of a group of people defined by their marginal political status in America. They are people who are for the most part unseen in our daily lives, and as a middle class American meeting with those undocumented, or DACA, or ex -felons, or even non-voters (yes, this 40% of actual American Citizens is included here!) I always come away learning about resilience and adaptation, along with the crushing limitations of birth and circumstance.
I have been interviewing and casting some new people this spring, and I hope that picks up in April. I am finding subjects through my students, and through ads in Craigs list.
Now that I have casts, and have received a Reynolds sabbatical leave from Wake Forest for 2019-20, I am planning a year of work on the project.
I am researching trails and sites associated in some way with our own ethnic cleansing, with forms of dissent and rebellion, and, in general, places with past associations where an overlay of these permanent concrete heads can create a new contemporary dimension.
I am beginning to actually hike trails with the heads, and find this is no small feat. At around 25-30 lbs. of concentrated weight, it is obviously physically demanding, and I have had help from friends and know I will need help to make the project as large as I would like.
As in many sculptures, scale is important. Because each of these heads is relatively small you don't think of it as a 'big;' work- but I would like to make it national in scale and intent.
During December and January temperatures fluctuate a lot on North Carolina, but the average temperature has still been above freezing, and although one has to be careful that concrete does not freeze, cooler temperatures are better than hot to work with concrete.
I have a small mixer and work with a 160 lb mix that includes various colorants, and additives that can make very strong and long lasting concrete. On of the most interesting additives is pozzolon- vitreous materials (ground glass or fly ash) that add chemical and weather resistance to concrete. Some people claim that the volcanic ash that the Romans routinely added to their concrete had a pozzolonic effect that allowed their concrete to last so long.
'Shadow Citizens' are people who, by chance or design exist on the edge of our social order. They are not proper voting citizens, but they have lives that mesh with ours. Some of these folks are undocumented, some are legal immigrants, and many ave simply given up voting or no longer care. I became interested in casting their heads and documenting their humanity through this process, in order to 'naturalize' them, to find a place in our landscape for their faces.
This summer I have made casts from 13 shadow citizens I met in North Carolina. They are made from concrete, and should be very long lasting. I photographed them on the land near our house in Jeffersonville, NY. I am looking for sites and trails like the Strangers God's acre trail to place them on in the future.
The Strangers God Acre in Bethabara , NC is on a knoll near Winston-Salem. From the 1750's on, the Moravian settlers established this cemetery as place to bury those outsider of their faith, and to show respect for strangers.
For this trial placement of Shadow Citizens, I placed the cast head on the trail to the Strangers Gods Acre. 'Rachel' is a young woman finding her way after dealing with drugs and a short prison term that has kept her on the margins of society. In placing Rachel in this historical place, I am trying to create an overlay of contemporary events, and give these Shadows a place to rest.
I have started to make whole head casts for a project called Shadow Citizens, and in this letter I write about the project in response to an inquiry about my Craigslist advertisement for volunteers to make a head cast:
I can appreciate your questions about the sensitivity of any project that has to do with human subjects, and especially immigrants, some of whom are so incredibly vulnerable right now. Any information my models give me is kept strictly confidential through the guarantee of a model release form- I actually dont need a name- all I really ask for is a set of initials to keep the work anonymous. This particular ad is a variant that asks for immigrants, others are asking for artist models or non-voters.
My project is called "Shadow Citizens" because I want to create an artwork about the variety of people who are on the margins of "official political society". Of course immigrants are only one 'group' (and many of them are not really politically marginal at all!), as others range from convicts who have not have rights restored, to citizens who have decided to opt out. So 'Shadow Citizens' is an imprecise term, self -defined, and other than being politically marginal in the sense of voting, they may have nothing in else in common. Part of my interest lies in understanding the phenomenon, so I can figure out what to do with the casts, but right now I am talking with my subjects to get to know them, concentrating on molding technique, and eventually creating concrete casts.
Because I am not a Shadow myself, and I could be seen as a privileged observer, I am reluctant to create a work that in any way creates attention or profit for me. I would like to be able to give back more than the $50 fee to my subjects, and hopefully I will create some better form of engagement with them, but I want that to emerge from the work (which has just started).
You ask about the 'meaning'- I suppose I think of the "meaning" as a monument or a document of the society we live in that has such strong paradoxes. On one hand people who are apathetic or resistant to exercising their rights, and on the other those who very much desire to be full participants. I care about and empathize with all of these people and I want very much to bring the viewer to that emotion, and that is why I have chosen to use actual visages- which I think can be more moving than words. That is what I am trying to say- but seeing comes before words!
The work may be located secretly, to be found over the years. (I say that, but I am not sure yet.) I promise if you let me cast your head, I will keep you informed about what happens to it!
I hope this helps to answer your questions. I welcome more questions, ideas, and dialog about the project.
Best, David Finn
“I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street.” -Claes Oldenburg (American sculptor, best known for public art that features large replicas of everyday objects.)
I came to Winston-Salem 31 years ago to teach sculpture at Wake Forest. When I first passed the Mickey Coffee Pot driving on Main Street, I had to pull over! What was this? A big, graceful, yet clunky coffee pot? What impressed me was its scale, simple design, and also how it was just stuck on a big ol’ pole. I realized that while it was built as a simple trade sign, the quirky pot has connotations of functionality, modesty, hospitality, and grace—all attributes that I now think describe our community ethos, and deserve to be celebrated--- as art!
In 2016 the Winston-Salem City Council and the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners established the ten member Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Public Art Commission, a working organization responsible for planning public art in the community. The past year saw our first commissions to artists for the County’s new Central Library (‘Timeless Purpose’ by Dee Dee Morrison of Birmingham. Alabama) and the Benton Convention Center, where we commissioned eleven new works from local and regional artists. The Benton will also be the site for an upcoming commissioned portrait of Larry Leon Hamlin, the influential founder of the National Black Theater Festival.
The Commission’s goal is to “cultivate innovative, dynamic, and engaging public art that will illuminate the perspectives, relationships, and narratives of our community” and to work with a wide group of citizens and stakeholders to make that happen. In 2018 we will commission the city wide “Winston-Salem Portrait Project” which is envisioned as a complex photographic portrayal of the city, displayed in sites where various communities intersect. The project will be an opportunity for broad participation from a lead artist, local photographers and organizers, and above all citizens of Winston-Salem.
As we move forward to make the ‘City of Arts and Innovation’ a better place, I believe we must simultaneously honor the notable works of art and craft from our past and use them as inspiration for our future. I am thinking of the handmade bricks of George Black, which are everywhere in our city (and motivated the use of brick for the retaining walls on the new Salem Parkway), as well as the traditional bronze statue of Mr. Black by Earline King, another part of this rich legacy. The example of civic engagement set by these artists is now being echoed in a plethora of recent public projects.
The art and design enhancements for the new Salem Parkway will begin to take shape in 2018. The non-profit Creative Corridors Coalition has worked with the city and state Departments of Transportation to integrate well designed upgrades at a very reasonable cost to the project as a whole. By making bridges, walls and ramps ‘green, artful, and iconic’, the Parkway communicate the value of beauty that is in fact highly functional. Artivity on the Green, and the Innovation Quarter’s Baily Park are both recently developed private ‘art parks’ that have a strong public effect, using art and design to enhance spaces, make them memorable, and more accessible. The wonderful lighting events of the Winston-Salem Light Project also deserve mention as one more example of what is called urban ‘placemaking’- the idea of creating destination areas by layering services, events, and art to create places we all want to be a part of. These innovative art projects all have profound significance in the creation of our forward-looking city.
Including the public in public art is one of the primary goals of the Public Art Commission. We plan to open up the process of how public art is decided on, hold a workshop for local artists to learn about the application process, and create an application open to anyone with an idea. We want to capture the public interest in art and design to help us develop a well-defined plan that can locate future public projects and take advantage of opportunities to add art and design to existing locations such as parks, greenways, and branch libraries.
Public art and design can enhance physical spaces, but it can also transform how we think of ourselves and our community. Public art can increase communication across the sometimes hidden lines of class, ethnicity and geography and it can temper development with an ethical stance for beauty and inclusivity. As Oldenburg said, art wants to work: by lighting the way, showing you what’s new, knowing your neighbor, making you proud of your city, creating economic development, and, yes, helping you cross the street.
David Finn is Chair of the Winston-Salem Forsyth County Public Art Commission and Professor of Art at Wake Forest University.
Who and what are the Shadow Citizens?
They are the people who are unheard of, unrecognized and obscured. In extreme cases they may be in hiding, in isolation, or they could be ambivalent or apathetic about human contact. They are citizens who have no voice, no presence, and do not appear. In normal situations, they may be people who wish to retain a greater degree of privacy, or do not engage outside of a small group.
They are people who could be citizens, would be citizens, or were citizens. For whatever reason they are in the shadows, barely seen, invisible, through lack of participation in the public sphere. They may have friends and family, but they seek and find obscurity.
This is a concrete cast of the head of J. B. , a friend of mine who I credit with some important ideas for this work. I placed his cast head in a small creek in western North Carolina, not far from where J. B. lives; I am not sure anyone will ever see this post, or if anyone will ever see the concrete head. It is not much different than the other stones in the stream.
“Something Possible Everywhere”at 205 Hudson Street Gallery,
through Nov. 30
205 Hudson Street, NYC
In 1983, David Wojnarowicz, Mike Bidlo, and other artists started making work in Pier 34, one of the abandoned shipping facilities on New York’s West Side. Andreas Sterzing, a German photojournalist, extensively documented their activities, for a 1984 story in Der Stern. Sterzing’s images of freshly painted murals, performances, and works-in-progress form the basis of “Something Possible Everywhere: Pier 34 NYC, 1983-84,” an exhibition organized by Jonathan Weinberg, an art historian and critic who has written on the piers for this magazine. Weinberg has interspersed Sterzing’s photographs among paintings and sculptures, often juxtaposing an image of an artist’s site-specific work on the pier with a gallery-ready one. Luis Frangella paintings of headless torsos are seen in one of Sterzing’s photos as a sprawling fresco that, surrounded by rubble, looks like a fresh ruin. Frangella’s Encounter (1983), in acrylic paint on canvas rather than on a dilapidated wall, offers a closer look at his renditions of limbless bodies, like fragmented classical sculptures, in expressionist brushwork. To the right of the painting, a 1983 photo by Peter Hujar shows Frangella at work on the pier.
There’s a common sensibility among the thirty-one artists included in “Something Possible Everywhere.” This was not the photographic conceptualism that won critical favor in the early 1980s, or the bombastic Neo-Expressionism that was ascendant on the market. It’s messy and figurative, as Neo-Expressionism was, but warmer and more human in its timbre and scale. The palettes here are thick with rusty reds and browns—polluted as the Hudson River. Totemic motifs crop up often, from the bull in Wojnarowicz’s paintings and stenciled overlays to David Finn’s mannequins cobbled together from garbage and cast-off clothing, with brightly colored animal heads. The earnest work communicates the spirit of artists who worked not only for the East Village gallery scene but also for themselves and each other in a space associated with illicit activities like gay cruising, as well as the city’s economic decline in the 1970s. Pier 34, as this exhibition makes clear, wasn’t just a makeshift studio space. It was an exhibition center, a community hub, and laboratory for experimenting with the effects of art materials on real, rough surfaces. --Brian Droitcour
This is work made from laminated maple that has been carved; the shape was insired by an old tree trunk and is hollow. What follows are the photos of my efforts to burn out the inside by starting a fire and using twigs and a torch to further hollow the inside.