Liz Antle-O’Donnell has been working with Site Projects, an organization that stages large public-art projects, since 2012. She is the project manager of the upcoming piece entitled “Whispering Galleries.” This week the Herald sat down Antle-O’Donnell to talk about working with the public library, Site Projects’ mission, and those big orange circles outside Kitchen Zinc.
YH: What is Site Projects exactly?
LAO: Site Projects is a non-profit organization that commissions public art for New Haven. Our most recent commission was the “Night Rainbow / Global Rainbow New Haven,” a laser-light sculpture by Yvette Mattern that was presented in celebration of New Haven’s 375th anniversary. I don’t know if you saw it but it was projected from the top of East Rock. It was seven lasers ech in a color of the rainbow—together forming an actual rainbow. It was seen as far out as West Haven and it shone for four nights. And it was just a really exciting event, the crowds growing every night. It was a lot of fun.
Before that, we commissioned Felice Varini to do a piece called “Square With Four Circles,” which is still on view in Temple Plaza. It’s a large-scale anamorphic wall mural. So he’s painted, essentially, a square with four circles on many dimensions. You can see it in the alleyway between Zinc and Ann Taylor Loft across from the Green. It’s painted all along the alley and on the parking garage in back and if you find the right vantage point it all coalesces.
YH: Other than that mural, do you guys interact with Yale at all?
LAO: We always try to partner with Yale as well as other community organizations. We’ve had some community-based learning partners in the past that have been very helpful and our commission in 2006 was presented in the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. There have been many collaborations in the past. And this project, is actually inspired by some documents that were found in the Yale University Library Manuscripts and Archives.
YH: Like what kind of stuff?
LAO: Well, a bit about the project first: “Whispering Galleries” is an interactive digital artwork by Amaranth Borsuk and Brad Bouse. And it’s based on some diaries by an anonymous New Haven shopkeeper from the 1850s. It’s presented in partnership with the New Haven Free Public Library as well as part of a program called Connecticut at Work, which is an initiative of the Connecticut Humanities conversation about the past, present, and future of work life in Connecticut. The sort of feature of that program is a traveling show called “The Way We Worked” done by The Smithsonian. It’s currently in Hartford. It’s an artist team. Amaranth Borsuk considers herself a digital poet, and Brad Bouse is a developer interested in the creative applications of code. So Amerin studied these diaries for many months and actually had to translate them. They’re handwritten, and he has found several clues about the keeper of the diary. He worked with his hands—making handles for tools, sawing lumber and sweeping his shop. He’s a violinist and played for church gatherings. She then created a series of erasure poems from the diary, so one’s experience of the artwork will start with walking up to a monitor and seeing a foggy image of yourself appear on screen, and then the pages of the diary will emerge and then dissolve to reveal these poems. The central metaphor of the work, a whispering gallery, is also present in Grand Central Station in New york City. If two people stand outside oyster bar there, on opposite sides of the domed space, you can whisper and have a conversation as if you’re standing next to each other. The idea is that the screen and our technology become the whispering gallery between the present and the past of New Haven.
YH: How did you choose New Haven? Why New Haven?
LAO: We were established in 2004 by a group of people including our executive director Laura Clarke, co-founder Betsy Dunham, and a few other members, and they kind of saw a need to bring art into the public to show that it can really be enjoyed by everyone—not just in the confines of a museum or a gallery, but rather there for everyone to enjoy. We believe that there is an exciting art community here in New Haven, and we’d like to just add to that and make it even better.
YH: How do you go about selecting artists? Do you make an effort to work with artists from New Haven?
LAO: There is an artists selection committee on our board and they commission world-renown, internationally recognized artists. The first piece that they commissioned in 2004 was by an artist named Leo Villarreal, TC ’90, who is actually a Yale graduate, who just recently did a piece in San Francisco called “Bay Lights”, where he illuminated the Bay Bridge with LEDs. In 2004 he was on the verge of wonderful things. Then, in 2006 they commissioned someone named Jason Hackynworth to make these giant balloon sculptures that were hung in the Yale Peabody museum. Then they commissioned Fellice Verini, perhaps the most internationally well known artist they commissioned. [The artists go] through a rigorous process, and I think this is our sixth artist commissioned.
YH: On the educational side of Site Projects mission, how do you interact with students aside from their coming across the art on their own?
LAO: Last year we partnered with the New Haven Board of Education to take the rainbow into the public schools in New Haven. We hosted a workshop for teachers in science, math, English, and social studies. We presented the artwork, some of our own ideas about how we thought it could be integrated into coursework, and then we had this fantastic brainstorming session with all of the teachers and all of their various ideas. The artwork was actually studied in almost every public school in New Haven by students with a wide variety of age ranges as it was also studied at a variety of private schools like Choate Rosemary Hall and Area Preschool. A few days before the artwork opened we worked again with the New Haven Board of Education and the curriculum supervisor for art at the time Neil Morales to organize an artists lecture for high school students from five different public high schools. Artists gave lectures and kids were invited to ask questions about all kinds of information. We also presented a series of lecture workshops with the arts council of greater New Haven for a multigenerational audience that focused on the science of the artwork. Professor Marvin Chun from Yale gave a lecture on perception and how color affects perception at the Eli Whitney Museum and we had kids from eight years-old to people who were like 60. Also professor Matthew Griffiths (from University of New Haven) talked about the physics behind the rainbow at Cooperative Arts High School during the exhibition. Again the range of people there was great in terms of their age range. Part of our mission is definitely to create these related educational programs and really reach the widest audience possible.
The artwork opens on Sat., April 26 from 3-5p.m. You are definitely invited to come to the New Haven Free Public Library on 133 Elm Street. The artists will be there, they will