I didn’t want to blog about this project before sending out my Kickstarter rewards…because, as I’ll discuss, the people who surrounded me with love and support are really the ones that made this project happen. Honestly, I also just needed some time. There was some negativity that followed this project (some of you well remember this from my Facebook posts). I wanted to let go of that. Was it a perfect project? No. Did I feel like I could control the outcome? Not exactly. And, as most of you who know me well will attest to…I’m a pretty positive, gung-ho person. I am also a perfectionist. Or a control freak. So it was really draining to have so many obstacles that I felt were out of my control.
That said, I feel so proud of the project on so many levels…and I feel like I’ve really not been able to express what I liked about the project, and what I thought was successful. So I really want to focus on what went right here instead of what didn’t. At least, for the most part.
It was a gargantuan effort, not only on my part, but on the part of the many people who showed their support by backing the project and volunteering their time and effort to dangle off the side of a high-in-the-air bridge in not-so-warm weather (yes, I mean you Michael Peoples and David and Sarah Johnson!!!). Equally important were the many, many, many people who cheered me on from afar. Without you, I couldn’t have done it. When some project support systems wavered, and when it seemed like no one was there to help out…my bold, brave crew of backers and volunteers stepped in to make it happen. I am eternally grateful.
I also want to give an enormous thank you and shout out to Forecast Public Art. I received a McKnight Professional Development Grant from Forecast that allowed me to experiment with new materials and processes, which ended up facilitating much of this new work.
Let me be clear: Even without the bumps in the road, this was an ambitious undertaking. My first outdoor public project, and a huge one at that: Over 400 linear ft. of bridge, 25 ft. high, in the heart of Grand Rapids, MI, on display for all the world to see during ArtPrize…with no dedicated budget, and no crew of volunteers. If I’d been sane, I’d have just said no. But since I’m clearly insane…or stupid…I signed on for this roller coaster ride.
When I first saw the project site, I knew several things. Foremost, I knew that I wanted to do something that would change the way the viewer felt as they walked across the bridge. I wanted the viewer to be inside of the work as opposed to looking at it. Similarly, I wanted to create forms that referenced the physical architecture of the bridge as well as the history of the river.
The Blue Bridge, in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids, is an iconic pedestrian bridge. The vibrant blue color of the rectilinear structure is visible from many vantages throughout the downtown. I opted to utilize bold oranges, reds, and yellows to contrast the color of the bridge, and to focus on open, curvilinear forms that echoed some of the bridge’s structural elements while contrasting them with circular forms. The shapes I researched for the work referenced hydro-electric power, steamboat travel, and invasive species.
With wind, sunlight, and public interaction playing large parts in the work, I needed to find materials that would be durable…but also affordable, particularly since the duration of the work was only three weeks. I settled on a heavy-duty marine-grade nylon. I liked the fact that it had nice movement in the wind, was UV and tear resistant, and had a beautiful translucency.
In my studio, I experimented with various relationships between the shapes, considering their movement in the wind. I wanted the shapes to change dramatically when the wind caught them. And I was thrilled with how this worked–it was as though the shapes came to life as the wind caught their edges.
The biggest reward for me was hearing the public’s reaction–seeing them move through the work, comment on how it changed their daily walk to work, or how they had driven by it from various angles, or how they had made a special trip just to see it one last time. During the install, I soared above the city…and the water!…on a giant boom lift. It was a vantage point that I’ll likely never have again.
Seeing the hundreds of photos of the work on Instagram, taken by other people, was also its own reward. I loved seeing it in various weather, at various times of the day, with different crowds of people.
The durability of the work did not meet my expectations…but I could have predicted this.. The permitting process barely happened at all, and only after I’d made considerable concessions in terms of how the work was attached, and what it was attached to. By the end of its run at ArtPrize, it showed signs of fatigue. If I am fortunate enough to revisit a similar project in a different setting, I hope that I have the confidence…and budget…to be a bit more emphatic about my own rules!
The great thing is that this project has helped give me a foundation of knowledge for new explorations in the coming year. I can’t talk publicly about these public projects yet…but I can tell you that they are not on an outdoor bridge!
Thanks for reading everyone! And again, many, many thanks for all the support and encouragement throughout this process. You are the best!