Reading a review in NYTimes of Colson Whitehead's new novel The Nickel Boys (of course I haven't read it, but will) made me ruminate once again on our landscape of mostly invisible scars. The book is about the Dozier School for boys, a reform school in panhandle Florida that over the course of almost a century was the site of horrible abuse of young men. To say it that way glosses over the intersections of race, sex, class and violence that are truly toxic to the culture and in a way to the land itself.
It is hard to imagine ever forgetting the wounds that a place like Dozier have inflicted. In Florida finding another unmarked grave got some attention, years after everyone wanted to put the whole thing behind them. I wonder if many Americans are really paying attention to the violence and threats that are being used to deter immigrants and asylum seekers on our southern border. It is time to remind ourselves that in our past we hurt those weaker than us, and that the evidence is often bourne in the land itself. The Japanese internment camps, the Trail of Tears, the road from Selma to Montgomery need to be remembered now, without sentiment, as scars we can live with only if the past is not repeated.
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 am casting heads from rubber molds for the S.C. project now. My goal is one hundred casts from 17 different molds.
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.
I am making casts are of 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 many technically be citizens by birth but simply do not function as citizens; they do not share in common benefits much, and various systems: judicial, political, and economic, disadvantage them. So they simply give up voting or no longer care.
I became interested in the idea of the differences between citizens and non-citizens after having some students who were DACA (and some with no documentation). After talking with them about what their lives were like, so uncertain and yet full of potential, I began to interview a wider group of people. I was interested in why some native born people who seemingly had the benefits of citizenship were so ambivalent about voting (last election that was 40% of the electorate) and what an interesting contrast that makes with the students who wanted above all to fully participate.
I have been making head casts for years, and my good friend Jack who placed many casts of his own nicely shaped head in secret locations inspired me to think about how a similar idea could be used with people I was interviewing. The simple discovery I made had to do with the idea of 'naturalizing' cast heads and anticipating a new layer of meaning that could accrue to them.
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.
“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.
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 barely seen, invisible, through lack of participation in the public sphere. They may have friends and family, but they seek and find obscurity.
I looked back at Transforming Race and Big Tent recently when I was ready to hand over the Tent to the Delta Xi Phi sorority at Wake Forest. DXP members were involved from the start, and in the early teen-thousands (2011-2016) they worked with me to bring the tent and the message of racial and ethnic diversity to high schools and events like Juneteenth in the Winston-Salem area.
“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.