Part Four - Not Just a 'Walk in the Park': Strategies for Showing and Techniques of Construction - 1/1/2016

Today's blog post was written by Edward M. Richstone. Richstone is a retired school psychologist. He has written articles on a variety of topics for civic organizations and city newspapers.

Tune-Up Cafe, Santa Fe 2/27/2009
Photo courtesy Christy Hengst 
 

In my previous blog, a phone interview with Ms. Hengst began with the genesis of “Birds in the Park,” and how the artwork has engaged the public in various ways. The remainder of the interview follows.

Ms. Hengst must feel that all her hard work was well worth it. Her “Birds in the Park” theme was launched back in 2008. Over time, more than sixty “landings” occurred (about half of them in Santa Fe, where the project started). Travel and lugging around all those birds with protective packing was never easy. Christy always took along many more birds than she expected to display, having to allow for breakage and needing flexibility in posing the birds, as she made many of her decisions on location. With individualized shapes, gestures, and designs, each bird had to be placed in the right spot for that particular locale. Positioning also took into account how content created a “conversation” within each subgroup of birds. Other logistical considerations included situating the birds in ways that would minimize the risk of their being accidentally knocked down. Also, the language of a hosting foreign country often appeared in text on the birds. To ensure the element of surprise, Christy usually set up each showing at dawn and dismantled everything at twilight, that is, before and after crowds would gather.

Besides the elaborate planning behind each presentation, much thought obviously was given to construction of the art. The birds were individually designed, that is, without a mold. Onto a flat slab of wet clay, serigraphy, or silk-screen printing, was performed very carefully to avoid smudging. The process involved a light-sensitive emulsion coating a fine mesh, which then was covered with a transparency, a clear piece of plastic bearing computer-generated half-tone images. Inked areas blocked out light from above, creating equivalent dark spots in the final product. The clay was wrapped around newspaper, which burned up in the kiln, set at about 2300 degrees F. The porcelain birds were vitrified without a glaze, so that a viewer might imagine a feathery surface. And the exterior, by being minimally reflective yet still smooth, would not interfere with the clarity of the images. Finally, Christy’s husband, a blacksmith, helped with mounting the finished birds-- onto flat stands, if on the ground, or onto clamps, if on a perch like a balcony’s railing. Inside each bird was a stainless steel pipe, which connected to the stand or clamp with a pin.

In 2013, the “Birds in the Park” project ended. Most of the birds were sold.

In 2014, Christy organized a Santa Fe-based conference, which dealt with the interaction between artist and public, a growing international trend. The symposium was named “Evolving Intentions in Public Art.” This year, a book with the same title was published by Axle Contemporary Press (www.axleart.com). It contains verbatim transcripts of the proceedings.

A few months ago, Christy started another project exploring interaction with people. She was displaying drawings of organic forms like trees and weeds in a private gallery in Santa Fe. Christy set up a sign-up list, where the public could leave their phone numbers if they were interested in receiving a drawing as a gift. Ms. Hengst is still going through names on the list, and having people come, one by one, to her studio to pick out a drawing. Christy “enjoy(s) taking money out of the equation, and, most of all, meeting each person and seeing what image they are drawn to.” By not offering anything for sale, Ms. Hengst is treating the drawings like “public art.”

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