Box Burners

S2020 E1 | FULL EPISODE

Wayfinding in Harlem

In 2018, The Studio Museum in Harlem closed its longtime home to begin construction on a new building. In the absence of a permanent gallery, the museum launched in Harlem, a site-specific series that brings art directly to the community through displays in public spaces, libraries and parks. Conceptual artist Chloë Bass guides St. Nicholas Park on a wayfinding journey.

AIRED: January 30, 2020 | 0:06:04
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TRANSCRIPT

Bass: I'm an only child who grew up in New York City,

and, so, I have this sort of ongoing relationship

with public space as being, like, a very rich site

of feeling simultaneously activated and invisible.

Wayfinding in architecture is a method of putting signs

and codes into a building or an environment

so that people know where to go and how to move.

This idea of wayfinding that I've put into St. Nicholas Park

is the emotional version of that.

Even the idea of something being mirrored

and reflecting back a landscape

is something that we're all very familiar with,

whether we're thinking about art or not.

And so this turns that back in a different way

to ask questions through materials and through ideas.

Russell: The role of a curator or my role

in terms of my presence at the studio museum --

Really, the word "curation" comes from this idea of care.

What public art does, right,

is that it really shrinks the gap between the institution

and the people who, you know, should feel ownership over it.

You don't have to walk into a white-walled gallery space

and experience the art. The art is everywhere.

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Golden: This is the neighborhood

that birthed the Harlem Renaissance

and it's a community that sees itself through culture.

I think of the museum as an institution that has deep,

deep roots in the community.

We began to think about how we would continue

the life of the museum

while we didn't have our building

and created a series of programs

under a project called "In Harlem" coming out of our name.

Russell: We've been very lucky to be expanding

during the period of time that we're building our new building.

We have had a presence in local libraries

as well as parks.

Bass: I think that having an institutional presence

in public space can have a lot of different results,

and it really depends on how you're doing it.

And my hope is that we're doing it with not too heavy of a hand

so that this remains primarily the space

for the people who are in it

and that they really feel like the answer for them.

Golden: I look forward to the moment

when we're in our new building and someone says to me,

"I saw this incredible installation

as I was walking through the park,"

and how that might lead them on a journey

into thought about themselves,

their own history, their community.

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Bass: I often talk about my work as souvenirs for memories

you haven't had yet.

What I hope is that somehow later,

this anchors itself in people's lives.

Russell: Wayfinding can be as easy or as challenging

as you'd like it to be.

The artist and the visitor really become part

of that collaboration.

But in terms of its ownership,

it really does belong to the community.

So, you know, the experience itself

makes the project complete.

Bass: As the things around us changes, environments shift,

as buildings change or skylines change,

my hope is not for any particular form of memory,

but that this allows a site for a memory

and can hold a resonant place in people's minds

kind of into the future, not as my work,

but as something they might have experienced here

as a result of some of these questions

or the way that these things appeared in the landscape.

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