Art Essay: Bridge Art Serves as Bridge to Community
By Joan Vos MacDonald
ART TIMES Spring 2013
When is a bridge not a bridge? The answer according to one nonprofit organization is: when it’s an exhibition space for emerging art. A timely example is a Kingston bridge that has been transformed into a canvas for two local artists.
ArtBridge, a New York City-based nonprofit organization, is best known for transforming disused urban spaces into large-scale canvases for emerging artists. Through billboard-sized public art installations, exhibitions in its gallery, and educational programming, the nonprofit looks for innovative ways to create opportunities for artists — and to connect the public to their art.
The organization is the brainchild of Rodney Durso, an adjunct professor at the School of Design Strategies, Parsons School of Design. He came up with the idea when the building he lived in was covered in construction scaffolding for almost three years.
“I would look at the scaffolding every day and think, there’s a big blank canvas,” said Durso. “There must be something more productive I could do with the space.”
As a painter, with a background in graphic design, the scaffolding seemed like a great opportunity for artists to have their work shown in a new way.
“Sidewalk bridging and scaffolding exists everywhere in cities,” said Durso. “There are so many possibilities.”
And Durso also knew there were many emerging artists eager for gallery space. He decided that such urban vistas might supply such exhibition space, so he approached his building’s owner with the idea of using the scaffolding to showcase new work. The owner agreed and a bridge was created between available space and emerging art.
It was important to Durso that artists chosen for such projects were unrepresented artists, early in their career, who had not had gallery exposure. The result of his efforts can be described as a win-win situation. The artists enjoy unprecedented exposure and the art brightens the urban landscape.
After its first five successful years in New York City, the organization was open to expansion. When branching out, several locations were considered, including Chicago and San Francisco, even cities in Italy, but the city chosen was Kingston, New York. Partnering with the City of Kingston, the organization invited Mid-Hudson Valley-based artists to submit works for a large-scale, public exhibition on the Greenkill Avenue Bridge.
“Kingston seemed like a good idea as it’s an arts community,” said Kathleen McKenna, vice president of the Arts Society of Kingston, a painter, and one of the judges of the competition. “ One reason that Kingston has become an artists’ community is that there’s room to grow. It has spaces that are affordable. Artists are a tribe of people that do not care about class. They love to go to places that are on the fringe. That allow them to do whatever they want. Artists love that kind of space.”
Raleigh Green, who recently moved to the area, initially promoted the idea for the Kingston initiative. The marketing and branding expert learned of ArtBridge while living in New York City and saw the Greenkill Bridge as the perfect site to bring the initiative north, while celebrating local talent.
“Kingston’s creative community is tremendous,” said Green. “It’s an asset that should be showcased as much as possible to bring positive attention to this wonderful town and region.”
Although the organization was expanding to a new location, it was important that the focus remain on local artists and that the work be judged by local panelists.
“Local panelists know what is happening in art in the community and what fits into the community,” said McKenna. “If someone came from New York City, they might have other ideas about what artwork would fit. But the community it’s based in has to agree with it and get involved; it’s a community effort.”
Area artists were invited to submit their work. While no particular style or medium of art was ruled out, the winning pieces would have to enhance the space and be visually pleasing.
“Some pieces we have considered border on sculpture. Material, fabric, that’s fine as long as it can be photographed,” said Durso. “As far as content, theme or narrative, landscapes or portraits don’t work in such spaces as well as abstract can. We didn’t want to do anything political, no nudity or obscenity. We’re not looking to make a statement other than to get work for emerging artists up in a large scale.”
The final selection was made in February. Having narrowed down the submissions to ten finalists, two Ulster-County artists were ultimately chosen, Emily Gui of Rosendale and Lomontville-based multimedia artist, Adie Russell.
Gui’s selected work, “Moon Phases,” employs the cyanotype, a pre-digital camera-less photography technique, to depict the universally recognized symbol of the moon and suggest the passage of time.
As a painter and printmaker, Gui enjoys working in cyanotype because she can easily make prints with objects, negatives or drawings on almost all types of paper and fabric.
“It can be printed in a UV light box, or outside in the sun,” said Gui. “It’s a really fun, experimental process. I also love the cyan blue color it creates.”
While working on this piece, she kept a public audience in mind.
“I wanted to make work that could be absorbed by any viewer, since the bridge is a communal, public space,” said Gui. “An image of the moon is unusual in this way: It’s universal and nostalgic and can be appreciated by anyone, but often exceptionally personal. I think there is a simplicity about it that makes it open to any interpretation. I also wanted to make work that fit the unique shape of the bridge.”
For Gui, what is unique about public artwork is that it catches viewers who are not necessarily expecting to encounter art in their day.
“On the street, people are usually overwhelmed with advertisements and billboards. It’s satisfying to make something that has no agenda except to be enjoyed.”
Russell’s digital composite of old vintage postcards situates drivers traveling west on an infinitely expansive alternate road. It alludes to the adventure and mythology of westward travel that the artist says she hopes will inspire “feelings of possibility and hopefulness” in those who pass by.
As a painter and writer, most of Russell’s ideas come out of language.
“A few years back I started working on a video project that involves lip-synching to found audio interviews from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Around the same time I began using found images, mostly vintage postcards, in my work, drawing on them, painting on them, making some kind of intervention. The connection between the two projects has to do with recontextualizing, trying to bring together temporal spaces: the historical moment of the audio recording/found image and the moment inhabited by myself, and the viewer, in the present. I try to make work that is an active viewing experience, rather than a passive one, where there's something puzzling or stimulating that may not easily be reconciled in the mind of the viewer — an experience that isn't closed or finite.”
Providing art that can be seen in a public context requires putting yourself in the place of the potential viewer.
“I don't think you can have the mindset that you're talking to an art-interested audience,” said Russell. “So the first thing I wanted to think about was, what does that location need? What would be most helpful there? There are many people who drive up and down Broadway everyday, or who live in that neighborhood and walk there; what do they want to see? It seems to me that that particular section of Broadway, that kind of intersection, is not a place where people linger, or a destination; its a place you pass through, and so I began thinking about where that road might be leading, metaphorically and/or physically. Just past the city of Kingston, in the not-so-far-off distance are the Catskills. Past that? The open road, so to speak. I wanted to offer the possibility that that road might be leading someplace mysterious, exciting, full of adventure.”
The artists’ work will be photographed and printed on vinyl or a similar material and will not be attached to but hung from the bridge. In the fall, the exhibition material will be taken down and made into tote bags.
The exhibit unveiling is timed for the Kingston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade, on Sunday, March 10. On March 15, beginning at 7 p.m., ArtBridge invites exhibiting artists and area residents to celebrate the exhibit at Seven21 Media Center. There, original works by the ten finalists will be on display and for sale, along with limited edition exhibition posters featuring Gui and Adie Russell’s selected works.
Guests will also have the opportunity to bid on one-of-a-kind tote bags made from the exhibition material. Proceeds from all sales will go to ArtBridge and the participating artists, to make it possible for them to continue their work.
“It’s an all around re-use project,” said McKenna. “We reuse the spaces and will re-use the art.
Picasso said that, “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.”
So the next time you pass a bridge, know that it is potentially more than a bridge, but a possible art venue.
For questions about ArtBridge: Kingston or selected artists, contact Director, Jordana Zeldin at: email@example.com or Raleigh Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.