Q&A with 5x5 Project Curator: Amy Lipton
5×5, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities’s new temporary public art project, will result in twenty-five groundbreaking temporary public artinstallations that will be installed concurrently throughout the District of Columbia alongside the National Cherry Blossom Festival. DCCAH has commissioned five highly-experienced and innovative contemporary art curators to select and work with five artists or artist teams to each to develop and present exciting, temporary art works in public spaces throughout the District. The resulting twenty-five projects will activate and enliven publicly accessible spaces and add an ephemeral layer of creativity and artistic expression to neighborhoods across the District.
We had the chance to interview each of the five curators, and were able to get the inside scoop on the upcoming show. Although no secrets were uncovered, these curators gave us a behind the scenes glance at their role as curator, their influences, and their upcoming and future projects.
Amy Lipton is the east coast curator and co-director of ecoartspace, a bicoastal nonprofit organization that creates opportunities for addressing environmental issues through the arts since 1999. She has curated numerous exhibitions for museums, galleries, sculpture parks and environmental centers, and has written for books and publications. She organizes and participates on panel discussions and lectures frequently on art and the environment. Amy's 5x5 project is titled "BiodiverCITY." She has chosen five artists whose works address biodiversity both in scientific and cultural terms. (via Press Release)
PL: In your career you have focused a lot on public art spaces – how did you first become interested in this area of the arts?
AL: Since 1999 I have been focused on the relationship between art and the natural world. Sometimes this work takes place in the public realm or natural settings in both rural and urban environments. Sometimes the work is better suited for more traditional sculpture park settings, museums or galleries. I have experience with both.
PL: Do you find that curating public art spaces is different or more difficult than that of interior spaces in traditional gallery settings? How so?
AL: Yes, there are many differences when dealing with public space. Aside from the obvious logistical differences of permits, insurance and safety issues, the unpredictability of working with viewers in the public and engaging with people in communities, small towns or big cities brings different challenges than conventional settings. However, the opportunities for participation and community involvement far out way the difficulties involved and create a much larger and broader scope for the artist and the viewer.
PL: As the co-director of Ecoartspace, do you hope to incorporate environmental awareness into the pieces that you will help curate for the Cherry Blossom Festival?
If so – how will you do so?
AL: All of my projects address issues related to the natural world, such as plants, trees, insects, and their habitat. The Butterfly Bridge by Natalie Jeremijenko will lend a helping hand to assist butterflies across a busy traffic location (ask for exact street location), Tattfoo Tan has planted a very large walk-able labyrinth at Yard’s Park at the Capital Riverfront. Titled S.O.S. p:ARK, it will make use of weeds and grasses, the point being that weeds are more bio-diverse than typical lawns which are usually a mono-culture (one type of grass only) and are heavily sprayed with pesticide to keep free of weeds. Tattfoo is also talking metaphorically about the idea of weeds in relation to human immigration issues, as he is an immigrant from Malaysia. Brandon Ballengee’s Love Motel for Insects at the Smithsonian National Zoo will attract insects at nighttime to land on the sculpture, which is back lit with UV lighting. Visitors will be able to study and photograph the insects up close. The Habitat for Artists project deals with sustainability in terms of using recycled materials and making the most of a small space to work from. As artists are continually being pushed out of neighborhoods as they gentrify and become too expensive, HFA asks the question, “Too much, too little, the room to create? The HFA at THEARC in Anacostia will be audience driven and will invite families, children and seniors to participate in the project. Chrysanne Stathacos approaches her project Natural Wishing in terms of our human relationship to the natural environment in a more spiritual sense. She invites her viewers to make their own wishes on fabric or paper strips that she has created and then tie them on to various trees around D.C. including the Textile Museum, Sasha Bruce and the Hill Center. This work is also dependent upon participation and the trees will fill up with wishes and become beautiful colorful spectacles by the end of the project. There is also a cell phone component to this project. D.C. metro bus riders will find posters on their bus trips that have instructions for calling in to a local phone # and leaving a wish – so everyone can participate even without visiting the tree locations!
PL: How has being the co-director of Ecoartspaces prepared you for the Cherry Blossom project?
AL: With ecoartspace - I have spent the past several years working on outdoor projects and installations for sculpture parks, environmental centers, public spaces, gardens, as well as in more traditional venues museums, galleries, etc… Our focus has always been on broadening the definition of what art can be and what is expected from artists and viewers. I have worked with hundreds of artists over the past 10 years that work in a more inter-disciplinary context and often collaborate with scientists, architects, engineers and landscape designers on very large-scale projects. Their work often has an educational component or works to raise awareness about specific environmental issues. This is a different way of working than in a traditional art world setting and though initially people had a hard time understanding what we were doing and how there was an intersection between art and ecology – I am finding now that there is a much better acceptance, understanding and appreciation for the work I am doing to advocate and present these artists’ work.
PL: What is the inspiration behind your project name?
AL: BiodiverCITY is a play on the word biodiversity which refers to the wide variety of ecosystems and living organisms including humans, animals, plants, their habitats and their genes which all contribute to life on Earth. By changing biodiversity, we strongly affect human well-being and the well-being of every other living creature.
If we wiped out insects alone the rest of life and humanity with it would disappear in a few months - E.O. Wilson, biologist and author of BioDiversity
PL: As curator, how do you work with these artists to create a piece for the festival?
AL: I have worked with all of these artists in the past with the exception of Natalie and she is very well known and has produced numerous large-scale outdoor projects in the past. I trust that all of the artists are capable of producing work on time and will be completely professional and responsible. I leave it up to the artists to determine their projects and then work with them to adapt or accommodate the site and situations independently.
PL: How much freedom are you and the artists given with regards to size, scale, and location of the pieces?
AL: The artists have as much freedom as the site and location will allow - of course depending on site permits and permissions. The locations were mostly pre-determined by the DCCAH and we were given a wide range of choices that were changed over the course of the project in some cases.
PL: What are some of the major hurdles that you’ve needed to overcome or approach throughout this project?
AL: The biggest hurdle for this project was lack of time. The projects were conceived, fabricated, and created on site all within a 3-month time frame. Normally this should take a minimum of 6 months for a project of this scale and in the best-case scenario a year to plan ahead. Many of the projects had to change location and one of them (the Butterfly Bridge) was not determined until 2 weeks ahead of the opening date. The other big hurdle was accommodations for the artists and curators. This was supposedly going to be provided (or at least partially provided) and was not. In my opinion the fact that the artists stayed for very short periods of time in D.C. (as budgets would not allow hotel rooms for many days) - took away from the overall 5 x 5 project by not allowing time for all of the artists and curators to be here experiencing each other’s work and getting to know each other. This was a missed opportunity for everyone unfortunately. I hope that in future years for 5 x 5 that the accommodations will be provided.
PL: What are some of your future projects? Or what would be your ideal public art project?
AL: I am currently working with Brookfield Arts at the World Financial Center in NYC to develop an exhibition for large scale sculptures on site to celebrate their 25th anniversary year in 2014. The WFC is located in Battery Park City along the Hudson River and some of the sculptures may be located outdoors. I am also curating a museum exhibition in the Czech Republic with an artist from Prague, Federico Diaz.
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