Re-emerging into Public Space Post-Pandemic

Public Art Dialogue Sponsored Session at CAA 2021 Conference

Re-emerging into Public Space Post-Pandemic
Panel Moderator:  Jennifer Jo McGregor

Live Q&A: Friday, February 12, 12:00pm-12:30pm EST 

In the past year, the unprecedented spread of the coronavirus has disrupted every aspect of human life on a global scale, and has altered the experience of public space, our sense of safety, ability to gather. Concurrently political instability, economic collapse in the US has foregrounded the stark realization about the specific ways that COVID-19 disproportionately effects people of color and those with less access to health care. These conditions have propelled the emergence of many voices in the public sphere.  This session considers ways that the pandemic presents new challenges to connect with communities, but provides new platforms for presentation. The three speakers discuss projects that were planned pre-COVID, but are adapting mid-step to create new forms of engagement.  


Speaker Abstracts and Bios

Naomi Kuo: Jamaica Flux 2021: Community Engagement and Site-Specific Art in the COVID-19 Era

Jamaica Flux: Workspaces and Windows is a triennial project organized by Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning (JCAL) that presents temporary, interdisciplinary, site-specific work by New York-based artists, created in collaboration with community members of Southeast Queens and displayed in public places along Jamaica Avenue. Pressing forward through COVID-19, the fifth iteration of Jamaica Flux in 2021 will explore the interconnection of Jamaica’s history, economic development, cultural heritage, and diversity through 15 artist commissions. The project will bring together artists, curators, scholars, local residents and community leaders to build on the cultural legacy of Southeast Queens and to generate creative responses to the anxieties and tensions of our present moment. Neighborhood development plans and up-zoning policies in the last few years, for example, are rapidly changing Jamaica Avenue even as its residents remain underserved, over-policed, and disproportionately impacted by public health challenges, such as COVID-19. Launched in summer 2020, this year-long endeavor includes a research period for artists to build collaborative community relationships as part of their work, and culminates with programs and exhibitions in summer 2021. JCAL chose to move forward with Jamaica Flux, even with the present limitations and uncertainties, since the project focuses on connecting with people, navigating real-world conditions, and bringing different perspectives on current issues as they manifest in Southeast Queens. The curatorial team is excited to share the progress of Jamaica Flux in this unprecedented year and to invite dialogue about community-based art in the midst of great societal tensions and challenges.

Naomi Kuo is an artist and arts administrator who lives and works in Queens, NY. She currently serves as the Visual Arts Program Associate at Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning. In her creative practice, she utilizes drawing, painting, collage, quilting, and various collaborative modes to make connections between societal systems, material culture and individual experience, particularly in immigrant communities. Naomi’s work has been presented as part of exhibitions and programs at the Queens Museum, the Queens Public Library, Korea Art Forum, The Local Project, and more. She received her MFA in Studio Art / Social Practice from Queens College and her BA in Studio Art and English at the University of Texas in Austin.


Megan Koza Mitchell: From Battlegrounds to Liberty Bell: Augmented Reality, Public Space, and Coded Power in the time of COVID-19

In today's world where pandemic safety concerns, due to COVID-19, and social justice movements, most notably Black Lives Matter, are colliding, how artists engaged in public space are adapting both to changing forms of public interaction and use of public space and responding to civic and social unrest and change are rapidly evolving.  The need to create socially relevant public work that pulls communities together and simultaneously maintains social distancing guidelines, is a challenge. Los Angeles based artist Nancy Baker Cahill works at the forefront of augmented-reality art. She considers her practice to be intrinsically public, often site-specific, collaborative, and accessible. This paper considers Baker Cahill’s work, from Battlegrounds (2019) to Liberty Bell (2020), through the lens of invisibly coded power and archaeological phenomenology, as part of the new arena of AR artwork, one that is collaborative, inclusive, and accessible to a wide range of artists, users, and viewers and that opens the door for greater possibilities of the medium, its presentation, and reception.  Baker Cahill’s use of AR as the platform for her public work, especially during the time of COVID-19, social distancing, and the loss of community due to lack of physical social engagement, is especially timely.  Interpreted using archaeological phenomenology in the landscape, as a means of situating AR artwork in the public realm, a more accurate and nuanced understanding of Baker Cahill’s AR works is unveiled and a more full and complete understanding of both the physical and the social parameters of our changing culture discovered. 

Megan Koza Mitchell is Director of Development for the New Orleans Film Society, as well as Executive Director of Guns in the Hands of Artists Foundation and Project Manager for The Hope Photo Project, (@hopephotoproject) all located in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a curator and academic, Mitchell’s research focuses on the reformation of identity in the wake of trauma, specifically in regard to public art and public space. Koza Mitchell is interested in the ways that visual interpretations of trauma can create, or recreate, collective cultural identity following catastrophic events, as well as the social and cultural ramifications of public art. Mitchell has contributed to various exhibition catalogues and outlets for contemporary art criticism including Prosepct.4: The Lotus in Spite of the Swamp. She lives and works in New Orleans, Louisiana.


Nancy Nowacek: Walking the Edge

Walking the Edge was a collaboration between arts organizations Culture Push and Works on Water with the NYC Department of City Planning that began as a public participatory performance artwork and radical act of urban planning research, whose goal was to traverse all 520 miles of New York City’s coastline in a non-stop relay walk 24-hours a day from May 1-14, 2020. Though the pandemic shutdown foreclosed the possibility of large-scale public group gatherings, it amplified the original goals of this project: to move through space with attention and reflection. As New Yorkers took to their sidewalks one by one, Walking the Edge transformed into a weekly series of artist’s prompts for individual walkers, inspired by engagements with the artist’s own waterfronts. Staged in weekly takeovers of the Works on Water Instagram account, this archive tracks a variety of strategies to inhabit and simultaneously reflect upon the shared relationship to public space during COVID-19, including the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement upon the brutal deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. From May to October, artists employed meditation, dance, costumes and props, history, and futuring as means to focus public attention and reflection on the water through lenses of race, disability, identity, access, and climate change.

Nancy Nowacek is an artist, designer and educator. Her work focuses on the habits and practices of daily life as they relate to the natural and built environment, and the systems that produce and are produced in them. Her practice encompasses a wide spectrum of research: embodiment and kinship, climate change, land use, the history of labor, and feminism and aging. She has shown work in the United States, Canada, China, the Netherlands, and Venezuela. She teaches at the Stevens Institute of Technology and is co-founder of artist collective Works on Water. She is currently Education Artist-in-Residence at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, working with WACTAC, the Walker Art Teen Council.  Nowacek holds an MFA in Social Practice from California College of the Arts, an MFA in Visual Communication from Virginia Commonwealth University and a BFA in Photography and Design from University of Michigan.

Winter 2021 | Volume 13, Issue 1
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