A Realm of Reflection
Grant Park is the oldest park in the city of Atlanta, and has a rugged charm that invites the curiosity of history, the wonder of nature, the diversity of community, and the invitation of access. The origin of the public space nicknamed “The People’s Playground” dates back to 1882, and the park occupies a unique place within the local cultural ecosystem.
Against this backdrop of context and with Grant Park as a location, Flux Projects produced a multi-day site-specific iteration of its public art programming—simply titled, FLUX: Grant Park. The project invited participating artists to create work that spoke to the history and landscape of Grant Park, while welcoming the public to experience a familiar place with a fresh perspective. From September 27-30, 2018, FLUX: Grant Park featured temporary art installations throughout the park, guided tours, nature walks, artist talks, and more.
Rachel K. Garceau, Rebecca M. K. Makus, Iman Person, and Lauri Stallings served as the lead artists for FLUX: Grant Park, and presented a series of works that encouraged visitors to explore moments of contemplation, connection, investigation and awe. The process of producing these works—“Passage”, “The Toolbox”, “Waterlust”, and “Land Trees and Women”—evolved over the course of several months and allowed the artists to settle into the sheer scale of Grant Park as a place for work and commit to their respective research and art- making processes. This lead time for production—dubbed the “Flux Lab”—also gave the artists time to understand how their approaches to work and space could exist in collaboration over the course of the four-day experience.
The most poignant aspects of FLUX: Grant Park were those that asked the viewer remain open to feeling something new or rare, and to simultaneously share those moments with the public in a communal exercise—to embrace intimacy and vulnerability with nature and the self in the presence of others.
The fleeting spontaneity of these moments is important to acknowledge, as the approach to both producing and witnessing temporary public art may diﬀer from a gallery or museum experience, which often allows for repetitive viewing of work over an extended period time. However, with Public Art—in a Public Park—the awareness of the location, the art, and the individual personal narratives of viewers blend in a peculiar short-lived context. Each visitor brings their presence to that moment, while the space—a park—leaves all of its history bare as an environment for interaction. The resulting experience is a communal taking of account of what we have, who we are, our personal histories, and how we feel in that snapshot; we bring all of that to the art as both a filter and a platform, which—paired with the expectations of the work—ultimately sets up the range of responses to the art and the space in which it exists.
In addition to those personal narratives, the receptiveness to the work also depends on our relation to—or perhaps even a sense of “ownership” of—the space where public art takes place. And even for the participating artists, Grant Park as the location took on a level of introspection and significance.
“Grant Park is a respite for the city of Atlanta. As a piece of public art, I view it as an artwork that is evolving,” says Person. “This public park has given Atlantans the opportunities to transform how they will interact with curated environments in the future, and I think that [FLUX: Grant Park] has the potential to infuse this thinking into how future developments intersect the public with architecture, parks, and innovative mindful public space, granted that they see its viability.”
Solace. Silence. Surprise. Subtlety. Those are just a few of words that come to mind when considering the art installations of FLUX: Grant Park. Each artist and their collaborators presented a diﬀerent type of energy in their work, and required the public to be active participants in a handful of instances.
One such instance was Rachel Garceau’s “Passage,” where the scale and intricacy of the work—a labyrinth whose borders were formed with porcelain stones—matched its contemplative nature. “Passage” forced visitors to pause and proceed, to answer questions only they themselves could answer, and to experience what it meant to have private moments in the presence of others. In addition to “Passage,” Garceau created porcelain forms that temporarily filled voids in the park’s pavement and walkways—momentary spaces for healing, repair, and restoration of the park’s infrastructure. According to Garceau:
“I think the greatest takeaway for me came from some of the responses I received from people as they completed their journey in and out of the labyrinth–I witnessed that by opening up an honest, delicate, and vulnerable space; people who came to experience it were also able to access those qualities within themselves. I shared stories, hugs, and tears with strangers. That is magic. And I don’t take credit for that–I found a beautiful space in a grove of trees in a park in Atlanta, and I simply invited people to take a walk there. The rest of the story is about the people who accepted that invitation. And the fact that so many people did–well, that is the gift to me.”
“The Toolbox”—presented by Rebecca M. K. Makus and her collaborators Elly Jessop Nattinger and Peter A. Torpey—was a performative mix of technology and creativity that intersected with the landscape of Grant Park, and even allowed visitors to participate as makers in a makeshift assembly shop. While some of the daytime activities of “The Toolbox” encouraged individual curiosity that engaged the senses, some of the most memorable moments came at night, where visitors were treated to light spectacles that sparked the imagination and accentuated Grant Park’s design features in fanciful ways.
The clearest acknowledgement of Grant Park’s history came courtesy of Iman Person’s “Waterlust,” which marked and accentuated some of the forgotten waterways of the 144-acre space, and invited visitors to listen, observe, and explore what might have been in days gone by. The installation forced obvious questions about how much of the old version of this park designed by the Olmstead Brothers remains in its current state, and put the relationship between Atlantans and water into a historical context. The expansive nature of a waterway— even one of days past—meant that “Waterlust” covered a unique and sprawling footprint throughout the park while in a static sense.
“Participating in FLUX: Grant Park has further formed my experience of how fluid site- responsive work can respond within the given boundaries of public space,” says Person. “‘Waterlust’ allowed me to explore the concepts of “Space” versus “Place” through the intrinsic history of the park and by having the opportunity to enact my own history with water and ritual, back into the park.”
While “Waterlust” covered the park in a static—or stationary—sense, the movement and migrations of Lauri Stallings and glo via “Land Trees and Women” provided a diﬀerent opportunity for visitors to explore the park in a variety of spaces and places, and with varying perspectives on the body as an instrument in-tune with nature.
Parks often represent places where we get in touch with our bodies, and where we are more aware of the bodies of others—humans and animals alike. “Land Trees and Women” furthered the experience of the context of the body and the park as a location for exploration—often drawing visitors away from walking paths and into green spaces, or interjecting bodies into normal paths and inviting consideration. Over the course of FLUX: Grant Park it became evident that Stallings and the movement artists of glo were challenging their bodies, challenging the viewer’s imagination around their own bodies, and forcing witnesses to further examine the relation between the human body and things we may overlook.
The expanse of Grant Park—Atlanta’s 4th Largest—allowed the lead artists to create individual installations that breathed on their own, yet sparked comfortable moments of spacial collaboration where visitors could see the works in close proximity in certain locations and at special times. While the space worked to the advantage of the artists in most instances, the wide area did provide some challenges for visitors who didn’t expect to traverse such a wide area, or were perhaps less than astute at independently navigating park paths and terrain in search of the art. Perceived another way, however, and this unintended exploration might have created a sense of anticipation for some digital natives who, often with a smartphone as a companion, embraced the challenge of trying to find the real life versions of what was previously seen via social media.
Grant Park, much like Atlanta, is a much diﬀerent place in 2018 than it was in 1883 when it oﬃcially opened with stipulations that “the land should be used for park purposes for all Atlantans,” with no racial restrictions1. And while the history of the park and its place in the lives of Atlantans may change incrementally over the decades, the magic, eﬀort and intent of FLUX: Grant Park brought people together to remind us of what the park has meant, the lives it touches, and the significance of its future as a viable public space in the city.
1 The Grant Park Conservancy. http://www.gpconservancy.org/the-park/history/