By Andy DelGiudice
Saturday marked the launch of of the 2nd running off the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities (DCCAH) 5×5, a multidisciplinary project that tasks 5 Curators with establishing public art installations throughout Washington DC. The curators bring 5 individual pieces to fruition and they can each work with any number artists in an unlimited number of mediums to execute each installation. Four of the five curators chose to complete their installations in areas around the city, inviting the public to not only consider the pieces in their immediate everyday surrounds but to also traverse the city and explore areas that they might not normally encounter.
The DCCAH organized an abbreviated media tour on Saturday and gave attendees a glimpse of two or three of the installations organized by each curator. It was interesting to consider the narratives established by each curator and hear from them directly on how the collaboration with their selected artists, the DCCAH, the District government, and various neighborhoods brought their ideas to fruition. It was almost overwhelming to try to take in so many pieces located throughout the District in such a short amount of time, but most of the works will be in place throughout October to December and are free to the public, with an emphasis on experiencing the 5×5 project and it’s diverse scope of work on a first hand basis.
Curator Shamin M. Momin titled her city-wide campaign Alter/Abolish/Address and each of her chosen artists push the viewer to consider their environment, personal background, role and impact on a number of social issues permeating through society. Our first top on the tour was to the striking “Bridge”, a collection of 200 replicas of famed United States Olympian Tommie Smith’s fist of protest, assembled by Glenn Kaino in an abandoned Navy Yard warehouse.
Momin’s Alter/Abolish/Address theme continued with Diana Al-Hadid’s “Interior Stretch”, a triptych of frescoed panels on the facade of an abandoned row house on Anacostia’s Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.
A.M. Weaver collaborated with 5 Black photographers and 5 Black poets in an effort to encourage discourse about the image of the contemporary black male, both in the United States and abroad in Ceremonies of Dark Men. 5 portraits have been paired with complimenting poems that are intended to contrast with the stereotypical image and perceptions of the black male.
Justine Topher curated a program titled Home(Land) that considers the concepts of home, roots, identity, migration, culture and representation. Kota Ezawa’s “Handvote” presented a diverse collection of participatory voters in a Navy Yard installation in an effort to draw attention to the importance of representative democracy & the impact of a vote in retaining a voice or identity.
Marley Dawson took a different approach to Topher’s topic with is “Construction” on T Street, smack dab in the middle of a highly contested triangle of District property adjacent to the Howard Theatre. Dawson’s construction of fluorescent green 2×4’s based on the shape of his parent’s childhood home is quite invasive to the visual aesthetic of it’s surrounding block of houses and storefronts, and seemed to draw the most ire from passerby’s of all the installations we visited on Saturday raising as much as an exploitative laced outburst from a fairly innocuous looking girl as she walked her dog.
The pieces put together for Lance Fung’s Nonuments appeared to have an entirely different reaction from its neighboring counterparts. Fung differed from the other four curators participating in this year’s 5×5 in that he chose to locate all five of his installations in one area, in effect creating a multi-dimensional and interactive destination for the local community and the greater 5×5 audience. Lance’s artists shared the abandoned Water Front lot to collectively convey a message of an individual or community’s culture, identity & purpose within a changing environment. The work has been so popular with neighboring residents it has spurred on the creation of a working group to retain the interactive, communal and useful nature of the temporarily transformed lot. Fung’s efforts have demonstrated an effective use of public art as a tool of community development, conversation, growth and improvement.
The last stop on our abbreviated tour was a mural titled “Looking Back, Seeing Forward” by Dignidad Rebelde for curator Stephanie Sherman’s Near Futures project. Sherman has put together a collection of musical performances, boat tours of the Anacostia River, digital projections, murals, and online radio broadcasts in a mashup of the macro elements of large-scale migrations, communication and shared histories along with the micro impacts of local housing policies.