Visual Arts » Public

The Great Wall Comes Down

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It isn’t often that the public hears about art installations coming down. The fanfare is reserved for “up” and the artwork’s proverbial beginnings – the buzz around the piece’s installation date; the repeated queries about what inspired the artist to create the newsworthy painting, sculpture or mural; the event organizer’s harried decision to serve Chardonnay or Cabernet during the exhibit opening.

In a way, Indianapolis-based artist Shawn Causey gets the best of both art installation worlds. In 2013, she and collaborator Mark Daniell installed a 12-foot-tall,171-foot-long, 2000-pound steel mural called Bright City on Delaware Street just north of CityWay.

Two years later, the would-be permanent mural that had found its forever home is being disassembled to make way for a new practice facility for the Indiana Pacers. Bright City , however, will be reinstalled next year on a new site across from the Alexander Hotel.

At first, the news of disassembling her work saddened Causey. "I felt a wave of grief, but I'm past that now," she says.

“It’s the biggest project I’ve been part of and because it was designed for that space, there’s a certain amount of attachment to it because of pedestrians and other traffic,” she explains. “It’s meant to reflect the rippling motion of traffic, so I’m excited to have new interaction with the piece in a new life and new location.”

To date, Causey has been shooting a lot of video during the day to capture what she and Daniell have discovered while working with the mural, including people interacting with the artwork as they walk, bike or drive past. The fact that people watch themselves or others as they move by the mural, which has reflective qualities when viewed straight on, is an element they want to preserve.

“It’s important,” she says, “because you want to enliven the space. [The mural] interacts well with its setting. The color, the movement is all there.”

Shawn Causey stands ready to prep the panels for Bright City before its original installation. - PHOTO BY SHAWN CAUSEY
  • Photo by Shawn Causey
  • Shawn Causey stands ready to prep the panels for Bright City before its original installation.

Causey and Daniell have just begun disassembling Bright City by themselves, a process that will take about a month. Each steel panel will be removed, hand washed, dried and stored in a warehouse with specially built racks to support the installation’s considerable weight. Working in tandem comes naturally to the artists but also makes sense for this project.

“[Deinstalling Bright City] is definitely very personal since the two of us initially built it by ourselves,” she says. “We know how it’s built so we’re clear how it has to come down. It has to be taken down carefully because it was built to age in place.”

She says they will use the take-down time to also discover the condition of each piece, because they need to archive them carefully. Causey says it doesn’t make sense to hire a crew to help, because much of what they’ll be doing is problem-solving. “Most of the time is spent strategizing about which step to handle next,” she adds.

Mark Daniell helps Shawn Causey install Bright City downtown. Now as you pass by it, you'll see the pair removing their work. - PHOTO BY SHAWN CAUSEY
  • Photo by Shawn Causey
  • Mark Daniell helps Shawn Causey install Bright City downtown. Now as you pass by it, you'll see the pair removing their work.

Bright City was commissioned by the Arts Council of Indianapolis in 2013 and won the Monumental Honor Award in Public Art from the Indy Chamber of Commerce in 2014. Though the mural’s disassembly was initially a surprise, Causey accepted its move in stride.

“Everything changes, and being able to flex and adapt when circumstances shift is good generally,” she says.

The Arts Council will facilitate this change. Julia Moore, Director of Public Art at the Arts Council says they worked with the Buckingham Companies to commission the piece in 2013, and are fortunate that Buckingham has plans to relocate the installation to a nearby public site that will maintain conditions similar to those for which it was designed.

“Indianapolis is changing all the time, and public art is sometimes called upon to accommodate the city’s reallocation of space. It’s only natural,” says Moore. “We know that the current effort is a positive sign that Bright City is a valued part of the city’s streetscape.”

Thankfully, Bright City is a public art project that many people are concerned about, including Causey and Daniell, but also the Pacers and Ratio Architects, who will be helping with the area’s development over the next year.

Painstaking attention and tremendous time are going into the mural’s deinstallation and storage. The mural is made of three-foot-wide steel ribbed roofing panels that Causey hand-painted at a studio at the Stutz. The galvanized steel was custom cut into 12-foot-tall panels and coated with epoxy, acrylic, marine-grade paint.

Bright City is giving way to a new  training facility to be built for the Indiana Pacers. - PHOTO BY SHAWN CAUSEY
  • Photo by Shawn Causey
  • Bright City is giving way to a new training facility to be built for the Indiana Pacers.

“We’re working with durable material and paint, but we still have to be careful with washing and stacking to avoid corrosion,” she explains.

The meticulousness going into the deinstallation and reinstallation of the piece will help ensure Bright City remains a vibrant, vertical panel of colors for decades to come.

Causey drew on her background as a painter and collage artist to create Bright City. She created a scale model of the mural using an 80-inch sheet of mirror and specially cut strips of construction paper, which she then assembled and captured on panoramic video. If you watch the video, Causey says, you’ll see that the mural matches the model exactly.

She’s happy she was able to build the model by hand, simply stating that seeing the piece in person is better than relying on computer rendering. “I can see how it works in daylight,” Causey explains.

Bright City is the first piece that Causey and Daniell have collaborated on. The discussion of the mural’s creation led to other conversations about potential art-making, including an interactive structure they’ll be installing at Gallery 924 next spring. Causey will continue exploring the theme of vertical color in a composition that the viewer will be able to move through. (Stay tuned to Gallery 924’s website for more information about that exhibit.)

Overall, the creation of Bright City seems to have interested Causey in working with bigger and bigger art installations in the future. The first will be figuring out how the mural will fit into its new, as-yet-undecided home. Causey and Daniell had multiple conversations with each other and structural engineers to figure out how to house and protect Bright City.

A new home on a new wall will renew the need for those conversations, but Causey is happy to do it. She describes being “thoroughly engrossed” in the process of planning, installing and now deinstalling the mural. She’s happy, though, to take it slow. She says they want to make sure it works so they only have to do it once.

"Creating Bright City changed the way I understood myself as an artist,” she reflects. “I'm grateful that the piece will be reinstalled in a location where pedestrians, cyclists and motorists can continue to appreciate the rhythm of color and rippling reflection of the cityscape as they pass by."

See more of Causey’s work on her website or watch a time-lapse video of Bright City being built in 2013.

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