SEVEN ARTS MAGAZINE
Kramer) on lighting and theatre
(with Mark Kramer)
- quarterly - about international
ON THE EDGE DOWN UNDER
Byline: LENI SCHWENDINGER AND MARK KRAMER
In our contemporary world of illuminated cities that map the night ever
more brightly and monumentally, it is all too easy to forget that just two
centuries ago most city dwellers waited for a full moon before daring to
wander forth after sundown. The shimmering structures in Philadelphia's nighttime
sky are the visual punctuation in a deeper tale of urban lighting that dates
back to colonial times. It is a narrative that unfolds on a more human
scale--with lighting as a unifying force that connects spaces and buildings
with the people who inhabit them.
The principles of beauty, utility and historic preservation that energize
Philadelphia's public-lighting scene today are directly traceable to Ben
Franklin's role as America's first public-lighting impresario. Franklin's
innovative agenda for "enlightening all the City" was a creative response
to the "very poorly illuminated" state of the era's streets. Not only did
he develop a brighter, longer-burning public lantern, but the 1767 "Bill
for Paving the City"--a Franklin-sponsored enhancement to William Penn's
original urban design for "a green countrie town--included an "additional
provision for lighting" that provided Philadelphia with perhaps the best
street-lighting system in the 18th century world.
Today, Philadelphia's progressive public-lighting milieu most resembles
that of another history-steeped metropolis, Paris-- where adventurous lighting
projects are juxtaposed with the City of Lights' conscientiously preserved
architectural backdrop. For instance, a recent plan to illuminate the seven
historic River Seine bridges began as a competition in which artists/designers
vied for the position of "conceptor"--a lead designer who then develops the
winning proposal in partnership with France's national electric company.
This kind of artist-generated lighting strategy has increasingly become a
part of Philadelphia's cityscape since 1973, when artist Rockne Krebs' laser
work Ski-Pi pierced the skies over the Ben Franklin Parkway for three weeks.
And in 1979, the Boathouse Row lighting scheme-- originally intended as
a temporary spectacle to outline its historic buildings with light reflected
upon the Schuylkill --became in Philadelphia Inquirer writer Thomas Hine's
words, "one of the city's favorite views of itself."
The flurry of creative light projects currently under way in Philadelphia
seems to have its conceptual roots in a 1985 meeting of local leaders with
City Representative Diane Semingson that was also the origin of Philadelphia's
best-known public-lighting project, Venturi Rauch and Scott Brown's Ben's
Light installation on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. In attendance at this
gathering was Penny Balkin-Bach, executive director of the Fairmount Park
Art Association, who recalls, "We were really trying to get those involved
in the development of the city to be aware of the potential of lighting --
to create a public consciousness in a completely novel way -- with a program
about more than just flood lighting that draws attention to a place or decorative
lighting to jazz things up."
In counterpoint to Venturi's heroic bridge project, the meeting also yielded
the beginnings of "Light Up Philadelphia: A Study of the Potential for Creative
Urban Lighting". Conceived as an exploration of public lighting beyond such
common uses as light-poles and utilitarian-designed fixtures, this study
funded five artists to develop "imaginary" recommendations for sites in
Philadelphia. Since there was no intent to actually execute these schemes,
there were no restrictions, either.
Among the artists' final proposals were such boundary-breaking, interpretative
solutions and meditations on public lighting as Philadelphian Phillips Simkins'
conception of the powerhouse near 30th Street Station as a "landlocked
lighthouse", Polish-born Krzysztof Wodiezko's use of City Hall as a beacon
signaling the community's fortunes and misfortunes, New Yorker Mierle Ukeles'
design for City Hall as a source of spiraling lightbeams to Philadelphia's
far-flung neighborhoods, San Franciscan David Ireland's plans for neighborhood
bonfires and torches to crown the Museum of Art-- and our own Leni Schwendinger's
three miles of projected images upon the oil refineries between the airport
and Center City.
Certainly the lighting of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge on September 17,
1987 coinciding with the U.S. Constitution's Bicentennial celebration fueled
a collective mood of lighting fervor that also included a rapid succession
of other major city-lighting initiatives. Among them were lighting schemes
for the classical gems 30th Street Station and Frankjor city-lighting initiatives. Among them were lighting schemes
for the classical gems 30th Street Station and Franklin Institute both of
which were bathed in an understated glow reminiscent of the unofficial Parisian
Financed by a public-private sponsorship (in which even Philadelphia's school
children were invited to sponsor a single light-bulb) that raised $2.4 million,
Ben's Light was unveiled amid fireworks and laser displays.
"It's minimalist chic", explains project architect Steven Izenour. "The
light on the bridge expresses the essence of a suspension bridge, which is
an abstract form--as abstract as you can get. It's basically an arch with
cables. There's almost no surface there. Just how much of an image does
it take to get this across?"
Developed from a collaboration between Izenour and his father, the noted
theatrical designer George Izenour, the computer and sensor technologies
driving Ben's Lights transmuted an epic feat of engineering into a performance
destined for a permanent run in the public eye. This "ghost-structure" approach
to monumental public lighting is also evident in the Venturi-designed Ben
Franklin memorial--the tersely steel-outlined homesite on Market between
2nd and 3rd. It is part of an emerging public-art genre--championed by
Venturi et al--that seeks to evoke rather than depict, and in which the
immaterial elements are as important as the permanent structure. Their startling
simplicity is what also makes these works succeed as events as well. In
much the same way the "virtual" Franklin "house" seems to float above its
original hearthscape, Ben's Light's pulsing blue-phosphorescent glow almost
magically interacts with the water below and the traffic on its roadbed,
a self-renewing vista of viewpoints--experiences--as unlimited as there are
spectators to view them.
The lighted bridge, like a colossal living graphic, emits the decidedly
"fun" wavelength for which Robert Venturi and his associates have come to
be known as populists-at-heart. "I knew for sure we had created a visible
symbol of Philadelphia", confides co-creator Steve Izenour, "when it appeared
on the cover of the telephone book for about a year after the bridge was
lit up, and then became the sign-off graphic on at least one of the local
The populux Ben Franklin Bridge enhancements join the composed hierarchy
of lighting that has enveloped Penn's Landing. This structured slice of
Delaware River waterfront affords a 360-degree tableau of lighted forms and
structures that also includes Venturi's Columbus monument-- a stainless-steel
obelisk that propels 2 million footcandles into the night sky--the angular
neon Maritime Museum signage, and the scintillant Riverwalk itself. The
most recent addition, Walnut St. Bridge, spans I-95 to connect the city
visually, as well as physically, to its waterfront. Its combination of
Colonial-style brickwork, landscaping and decorative and architectural
down-lighting elements typifies an eclecticism which we found throughout
Philadelphia's public-lighting designs.
The Walnut Street Bridge also functions as a concrete awning to a street-level
arcade serving a bus stop and parking facilities for waterfront visitors.
Through deft lighting angles engineered by Philadelphia's Lighting
Collaborative, and the graceful solidity of molded concrete pylons, what
might otherwise be a forbidding, top-heavy pedestrian underpass becomes instead
a welcoming light-infused portal from city to Riverwalk.
Through wall openings spaced along the Walnut Street Bridge it is possible
to view, amid the pointillistic surfaces of Center City's skyscrapers,
other evidence of the fertile public-lighting milieu that took root in the
late 1980s. Richly symbolic is the once-controversial, 60-story 1 Liberty
Place--which within two months of the Ben's Light debut redefined the Center
City silhouette by rising above the long-standing "gentleman's agreement"
that had ceded vertical eminence to William Penn atop City Hall.
Center City is the public-lighting test kitchen where standards of taste
and acceptability are continually in flux, and where the imperatives of commerce
sometimes create new categories of urban beauty. Picturesque though they
might be, the floodlit spires and glowing chevrons that trim
1 Liberty Place's upper reaches belong to an 1980s fascination with the sleek
and the flashy. Since the 1920s, the PSFS neon has done double duty as both
sign and architectural feature on Philadelphia's lightscape. Along with the
1971-vintage PECO crown lights, these two familiar structures were the elegant
examples that inspired a proliferation of glaringly top-hatted buildings
in the Eighties.
The PECO sign's history resonates with the innate conservatism that dominated
Philadelphia lighting until recent years. Although ZIP-sign technology had
existed for about fifty years, PECO moved degree by cautious degree to its
present computer-driven scroll format. According to PECO's Mike Wood,
"Initially, the crown illumination was a static ribbon of white lights.
Five years later, in 1976, red, white and blue colors were added, as well
as the message capability to spell out 'Happy Birthday'--in observance of
the Bicentennial. This was upgraded in 1992 to computerized scroll capability."
Since then, millions of eyes have turned to the PECO display each night
as its 2,800 sequenced light bulbs read out civic announcements, energy messages,
and the time of day--and shaped the building's skyward edges in an unmistakably
Meanwhile, back at ground level, PECO's public-lighting initiatives reflect
its interest in upgrading the quality of Philadelphia's street and pedestrian
lighting. A PECO-funded project by the Center City District is exploring
how--according to a booklet entitled "Bringing Buildings to Life at Night"--
"lighting techniques can supplement public lighting, enhance security and
property values, reassure employees and customers". The booklet further
extols "dramatically lit facades" that serve "as beacons that orient people
at night and build their confidence, especially if they are unfamiliar with
the city." Like business improvement districts (BIDs) nationwide, the Center
City district is part of a widespread campaign to revitalize commercial nightlife
in downtown neighborhoods. Certainly one of this trend's unifying ideas,
a la Paris, is that private initiatives such as brightened display windows,
facade lighting and other lighting techniques will culminate in the enhanced
sense of sidewalk security widely regarded as a common benefit. One manifestation
of these ideas in the Philadelphia cityscape will be a demonstration block
along the 1100 block of Walnut Street, intended to serve as a model for Center
City to emulate. One urban designer we spoke with suggested that this seemingly
pedestrian scheme offers the possibility of unexpected non-commercial
opportunities to enliven blank walls, define intersections and "seize corners
of blocks" with light.
Center City's transformation through public/private partnership is also
under way through the $21 million streetscape improvement underwritten by
a recent bond issue. The plan calls for integrated paving, landscaping,
lighting and pedestrian signage over a 110-block site between 6th and 20th
and Arch and Locust Streets. The inert lighting presently supplied by familiar
"cobra-head" pole fixtures primarily lights streets for traffic safety--
and only secondarily to shed ambient light on sidewalks. Explained Pat Pitzer,
a designer for Grenald-Waldron Associates--the lighting firm working in concert
with the Philadelphia Streets Department, "New, pedestrian-scale lighting
poles will be closer together to increase sidewalk lighting coverage and
generally make the area more inviting."
New streetscape components, including lighting, will be installed on 900
block of Filbert demonstration block-- an area now lined with sheer walls
of concrete and metal facings devoid of character. The demonstration will
showcase different construction techniques, materials, paving, signage and
landscape, as well as three lighting system options that will test for coverage,
brightness and glare. Businesses will have the option of contributing "private"
dollars for upgrades such as pavers and planters to individualize their
portion of the streetscape. Another creatively oriented CCD program, " Journey
of Discovery", reportedly will integrate whimsical, pop-inspired sidewalk
corner pavers with inscriptions commemorating such homegrown Philadelphian
inventions as Flexible Flyer and Slinky. Reconstruction will be completed
Philadelphia's most ambitious urban planning effort of recent years, the
Avenue of the Arts cultural district, takes advantage of the city's already
beautiful architecture and street layouts to align its creative resources
along a single Broad Street axis, South to North from Washington Avenue to
City Hall and beyond. A mile-long cast-iron lighting motif --modeled on
the 1920s-style fixtures that disappeared from Philadelphia's streets in
the 1960s-- will double the number of lights while at the same time uniting
the Avenue's fabric of new construction and historic reclamations with a
coherent visual identity. Along with decorative sidewalk-paving and landscaping,
two major public artworks are under way--one visual, the other sonic.
Soon to frame the Avenue of the Arts entry-way at its now-unremarkable
Washington Street corners will be four 41'- foot, stainless-steel vertical
"entry torches" being fabricated under the direction of nationally renowned
artist Ray King. Created with spectators' moving vantage points in mind,
King is using post-industrial resources such as holographic films and a
lattice-work of aviation cable to suffuse the towers with floating halos
of colored light. These radiant markers will brighten the corners both day
As an auditory counterpoint to the street-lighting scheme, attached to the
"antique" poles will be a nearly mile-long computerized carillon by California
composer and artist Robert Coburn. Like the Benjamin Franklin Bridge lights,
Coburn's creation will have an expressive infrastructure that can be programmed
and even "played". The cast-iron, electrically activated bells, networked
with a computer control panel at the Academy of Music, will be tuned in a
chromatic scale to permit future composers to adapt them to a wide variety
of musical styles. Essentially, this will interact with the Avenue of the
Arts through a "central nervous system" that will in turn perform as a municipal
A nighttime venture onto the still-embryonic Avenue of the Arts--much of
it a raw construction zone adorned with randomly suspended cables and
earth-moving machinery--reveals that there is more at work here than an exercise
in nostalgia and real-estate enterprise. Even amid the disrupted landscape,
crowds of culture-lovers are already partaking of the areas' many cultural
oases. The Philadelphia Arts Bank at South Street and Broad shines with
artful and inventive exterior neon and fluorescent statement. It is the
first theatre venue to open along this development, and offers the community's
first Internet-wired coffee house. Other visibly lively features along this
route are Brandywine Workshop's state-of-the-art graphic center at Broad
and Bainbridge, and the neon-splashed Clef Club at Broad and Fitzwater, which
houses the only organization in the country dedicated solely to jazz music
history and instruction.
The PECO-funded neon that defines the Clef's southern wall eloquently attests
to Philadelphia's passion for popular culture. Illuminated signage has long
been a local nighttime signature, from the immense neon Breyer's logo atop
the inactive ice-cream plant along the Schuylkill to the Italian Market
district's dueling neon cheese steak joints Geno's and Pat's. Relics of
Philadelphia's commercial past and present commingle along South Street's
de facto Neon Museum, a brilliant, image-saturated fusion of traditional
urban optimism and contemporary nightlife amenities.
Throughout the nightscape that is bracketed between the landmark neon PSFS
sign and the PECO zip sign, light is working in ways that animate, reveal
and reinterpret the texture of Philadelphia experience. It is a luminous
tapestry bridges and skyscrapers, monuments and landmarks, pedestrian districts
and riverwalks, filigreed with brilliant signage increasingly that directly
emanates from Franklin's fusion of private initiative and public opinion-making
on behalf of the common weal. These principles are vividly in evidence as
Philadelphia lights its way into the 21st Century.
Leni Schwendinger creates light installations all over the world; Mark Kramer
creates journalistic installations all over the country. Together they write
an international column for Public Art Review. Their last Seven Arts
collaboration was "Beyond Smoke and Mirrors".
PUBLIC ART REVIEW
4 MARCH 1996
ON THE EDGE DOWN UNDER
Byline: Leni Schwendinger & Mark Kramer
The late environmental artificer and theoretician Robert Smithson once referred
to a construction site for a new highway--in no less glamorous a municipality
than Passaic, New Jersey --as a "zero panorama" that "seemed to contain...
all the new construction that would eventually be built. This is the opposite
of the romantic ruin, because the buildings don't fall into ruin after they
are built, but rather rise into ruin before they're built..."
Public sites in need of artistic intervention have only grown more abundant
since Smithson's time. What's more, the challenges they present are inseparable
from these interdisciplinary times, when artists and architects are exchanging
roles with greater frequency than ever. One development that has blurred
the once-sharp distinctions between the two disciplines is that both artists
and architects are creating site-specific installations which comment on
the context in which they are constructed, excavated or planted. A case
in point is the Spring, 1996 art-and-architecture offering of a bi-annual
cultural convocation best known for its performing and fine-arts
agendas--Australia's Adelaide Festival
For the first time, the Adelaide Festival includes an international contingent
of architectural and landscape designers--from Japan, Great Britain, USA
and Australia--mandated to create temporary interventions and installations
in the landscape surrounding the River Torrens. The Festival's competitive
request for proposals, united under the theme Ruins of the Future, was an
extra-utilitarian inquiry into Adelaide's historic town plan. Prospective
applicants received in-depth analyses and background about the current state
of Adelaide as an urban center-- including photos, maps and selected readings
from historian Paul Carter's book-length study of Adelaide's founding in
1836 as the first Australian colony with free settlers rather than convicts.
Central to Carter's treatise is Adelaide's founder, the polymathic Captain
William Light [1786-1839]--a naval officer, explorer, writer, surveyor,
illustrator and pioneering town planner who is generally unknown outside
Australia and Britain.
Colonel Light's plan for Adelaide as the "ideal" city seems to have
simultaneously integrated and departed from the dominant "urban design" issues
of his day. At once a fusion of past and future, primitive and refined--Light's
Adelaide seems to have fostered a strange alliance of Australian natives
and European emigrants, with both populations co-existing in their respective
allotments of mud dwellings set amid boulevard-like drives and lush parklands.
Light's town plan evokes modernity as we have come to know it today: a
proto-metropolis poised between evolution and decay.
Unlike the relatively uniform mappings that underlay early European
municipalities, Light's Adelaide was more a "collage" of divergent grids--like
tectonic plates--complementing the land's topography rather than negating
Colonel Light's legacy, as an essential part of the competition guidelines,
was distributed--in a manner befitting the inhabitants of today's gridless
Global Village--via the World Wide Web. Entrants were invited to propose
"polemical interventions"--designed by "architects working with artists,
art directors, composers, cyberneticians, directors, ecologists, fashion
designers, interior designers, industrial designers, landscape architects,
media workers, stylists, performative artists, and /or writers."
Eighty applicants from around the world responded to the Adelaide Festival's
hefty "competition brief". Submissions ranged from lengthy inscribed poetry
to in situ computer-screen installations with scrolling stream-of-consciousness
texts to geometric earthworks on the land itself.
According to Leon van Schaik, curator and Dean of Environmental Design and
Construction at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) , "A goal
of the Ruins of the Future program was to reveal the common concerns within
creative work of many disciplines. This blurring between practices was
promoted at the [London] Architectural Association by Cedric Price and others
in the 1960s, and has become increasingly a fact of life for [architectural]
practitioners interested in the way things are rather than building as such
The winning works--a veritable catalog of inutility--includes choreographed
horticultural installations, red-earth mounds and large-scale shadow theatre.
Of the selected projects, Dean van Schaik notes, "While I had envisaged
that there would be more entries from people who work in public art, which
nudges into urban design and architecture-- the installations all emerged
from architectural discourses, although the influence of Smithson and
land art is evident. The seven approaches attempt to posit a future constructed
out of ways of seeing, ways of measuring and ways of making."
Of the seven, four projects were prize-winners from a field of 80 candidates,
and three were invitees.
First Place in the competition was awarded to Jeanne Sillett's Crocus Bulbs.
The London-based architect proposed the precision planting of 2.5 million
blue crocus bulbs in a pattern corresponding to the surveyor's grid over
Adelaide's parklands. In a performative process, the bulbs were delivered
and stacked in standard wooden crates--forming an open outdoor room. During
the 14 days of the Festival, the bulbs were planted using tractor apparatus
guided by satellite technology. In October, thin blue lines will emerge as
a perfect lattice pattern, emphasizing the distinct topographical features
and distinct figure of Light's City of Adelaide.
Explains Sillett, "Six weeks after flowering, the crocuses may be mowed
back into the grass, becoming invisible again until the following spring.
Gradually, the forces of nature will dissolve the absolute grid to an enigmatic
Other than the perennial crocus blooms, the only permanent marker of Sillett's
intervention will be a small plate embedded in the ground indicating the
"Setting Out Point". This will appear on maps issued by the local Department
of Lands. In contradistinction to the cartographer's "invisible" grids and
symbols--which unite and articulate the globe's surface in abstract codes,
without capturing any tactile and sensory information--Crocus Bulbs will
yield a living, flowering grid.
Second Place was awarded to the Melbourne-based team of Sand Helsel, Kate
Ponton, and Michael Leeton, whose atlas is a structural and informational
"guide" to the various Ruins of the Future sites and projects. This approach
references existing sites as well as the event's overall framework. By means
of an installation at the Festival's entry/information kiosk, atlas, according
to the artists' statement, "disseminates a descriptive matrix for all the
other projects by sampling the character of each site....providing the context
for an infinite non-hierarchical overlay....interposing the gentle but insistent
accuracy of a series of testings of the place and possible journeys to it."
Architects Eleanor Suess and David Havercroft of Perth, Western Australia,
were awarded Third Place for Durer's House, their premeditated contribution
to the traditionally unintentional canon of extravagant and useless structures
known as "follies". Here, the "folly" genre has been elevated to a conceptual
strategy. Durer's House is a unidimensional theatrical flat--the facade
of a Colonial-era manse--intended to comment on Adelaide's history as a
staging ground for the transplantation of capitalist ideals, evangelist
Christian practice, and imperialism from Europe to Australia. These ideas
are articulated through the metaphor of introducing private land ownership
on an alien site inhabited by an indigenous people. Since Adelaide's European
settlers had conceived this riverside property as parkland, the installation
is activated by the concept of Albrecht Durer's "viewing frame"-- a kind
of European compositional grid that "surveys" and impinges upon the existing
landscape. According to architects Suess and Havercroft, "The facade attempts
to relay the collective amnesia of the original alienation experience upon
Winners of Fourth Prize were the Melbourne [Australia] Institute of Technology
landscape architects Patricia Hollo, Nano Langenheim, Sarah McCormack and
Simeon Shinkfield, whose Distorted Grid Entry also focuses on the asymmetrically
skewed grid of Light's original Adelaide city plan. According to the design
team's statement, Distorted Grid Entry configures the site as "growth and
decay occurring simultaneously' in a series of earthen mounds beginning on
the river's edge-- constructed from yellow soil mixed with white cement,
ochre-colored oxides and crushed yellow lime to form a rich red/orange color.
This newly created, undulant landscape has the appearance of having evolved
from the soil. It is visible from a viewing platform across the river, and
is accessible for the spectators' walk-through viewing as well. Notes Dr.
van Schaik, "The degraded red -earth grid mocks the imported geometries and
observational systems of all that has passed before. The landscape fights
Ruins of The Future's three invited participants were artist/architect Mark
Robbins (USA), architecturally trained artist Rodney Place (USA), and the
architectural team Eisaku Ushida and Kathryn Findlay (both of whom practice
Mark Robbins' Telltale is best summarized in the artist's own words: "This
series of objects marks and records activity on the river's edge, revealing
traces of different uses of the site that are often invisible to the casual
viewer." Designed to interact with both spectators and environment, Telltale
is constructed of four discrete elements.
1) A long straight wooden wall set against a curved eroded embankment:
Spectator/participants will leave an article of clothing on hooks at the
back of the wall. A bench with a Plexiglas seat and metal reflector is
lit from below at low levels. Through this mirroring device, spectators
on the other side of the wall can see if the seats are occupied. At the
end of the Festival, the wall will be filled to opacity with the various
draping of garments.
2) Two pairs of long Roman chaises are set next to each other under a
street lamp. They are positioned in a love-seat arrangement. The backrests
are configured as storage for towels--which are delivered daily to the site.
One holds clean white folded linen; the other is a transparent receptacle
for soiled towels. For the duration of the festival the towels can be used
day and night by joggers and seekers of anonymous sex-- and then deposited
in the collection bin. At the end of the Festival the amassed towels will
be picked up by a laundry service.
3) Two Plexiglas cabinets with light in their bases are placed adjacent
to the seating area to function as insect traps. Flying insects are attracted
to the light at night, creating a sedimentation of dead insects over time.
4) Transparent and translucent plastic shower curtains are suspended inside
the sluice-gate arches across the River Torrens. This bridging structure
acts like a double proscenium for viewing the city and the parkland. A bank
of theatrical lights casts shadows of joggers, cyclists, and strollers moving
across the bridge in the evening. Seated spectators will also have their
own shadows cast-- silhouettes visible on the scale of a billboard from
the lake and the Montifiore Road bridge. Like a Muybridge movement study--the
projections pixellate across this "screen" as an ingenuous shadow- play.
Robbins' work investigates both personal and public uses of the parklands--from
sport to sex to sightseeing amid the primitive landscape that shrouds these
activities. Telltale redefines the secretions and accretions that the site
draws forth from its users, human and otherwise. The work is also a commentary
on questions of unfettered --and primarily gay--sexuality in the context
of public lands. Telltale also addresses contemporary meanings of sexuality
by examining such issues as "cruising" and bodily fluids in the context of
such exertive activities as jogging and hiking.
Telltale's creator plays upon the origins of the word itself, which refers
to recorded information, hearsay and evidence. Says Robbins, "It's a process
like divining the dance from the footprints. The city is full of such telltale
markings: in the physical remains of graffiti, beer cans, cigarette butts
with lipstick, castoff tee-shirts, soiled linen. This installation
theatricalizes these small clues as relics, but leaves the story of their
origins in question."
Rodney Place's The Lost World of the Pacific--part of a larger ongoing body
of work about the Southern Hemisphere--is a floating installation based on
the single-class ocean liners that carried immigrants to Australia between
World War II and the mid-1960s. As experiential as it is structural artwork,
this artwork on the River Torrens is encountered by spectators riding through
it on standard park-issue paddleboats--accompanied by a soundtrack appropriated
from short-wave radio transmissions broadcast during immigrants' no-frills
passages from the "Old World" to their Down Under destination. Explains
the artist, "This piece is focused on the surge of confidence which ended
about the time of the Vietnam War and commercial-jet travel--when the extended
'white' family agreed to disagree, and then tried very hard to vaporize."
Architects Eisaku Ushida and Kathryn Findlay, internationally renowned for
their Gaudi-inspired curved-concrete buildings, have installed a soft, organic
approximation of Serra's controversial, monumental Tilted Arc--based on the
brush fencing that borders the homes of Adelaide's middle class. Ushida's
and Findlay's 1009, Footpath is a sweeping, roof-like form that--with the
added element of natural light-- links the Australian bush with the domestic,
suburban terrain. Paradoxically, this work engages the grid by being exactly
its opposite. According to a joint statement from the designers, "We sought
"points of tension" and points of "take off", some place where we could
peel the landscape from the surface of the ground to create a shelter with
dialogue between the collective notion of shelter and the hosting geomorphology."
Elaborates Dr. van Schaik, "Ushida's and Findlay's 1009, Footpath, is subsumed
into a structure that denies the duality of horizontal and vertical and embraces
topological mathematics. It is a potent evocation to the post- perspectival
surface-space that computer- aided design enables."
The manifold meanings of the urban river site intersect with the multiple
self-definitions of those who create large-scale environmental installations.
Accordingly, Adelaide is location that requires artists to adapt to their
"material", rather than adapting their material to a static notion of artistic
praxis. In essence, the site is the material. Adelaide seems to embody
a set of polarities that seem as urgent today as when Colonel Light applied
his first fragmentary municipal grid in the early 19th Century: colonial
/ indigenous populations, Old World/New World, public/ private interest,
feral/domesticated, geometricism / biomorphism, hope/despair.
It is in Colonel William Light's spirit of polymathic inquiry and action
that today's artist/designer/conceptors are invoking The Everyday (Mark Robbins,
Ushida/Findlay), The Surveyor's Grid (Sillett, Holo et al), and the implicit
questions of the Site-As-Material (Suess/Havercroft, Place).
The 1996 Adelaide Festival has provided a historically charged forum for
this radical convergence of expression, research, synthesis and craft
Leni Schwendinger creates environmental sculptures in cities the world over.
Mark Kramer creates verbal installations throughout Leni Schwendinger's kitchen.
The writers can be reached at Light Projects Ltd. via E-mail: email@example.com