Our city wears its history openly. Buildings, sculptures and murals stand like monuments both old and new. Neighborhoods are built around them, and artists build and paint new monuments around the neighborhoods. The city and the artists converse, they have their own language -- we who live here know what our city says.
"First, I want to preface what I am going to say by saying that there are a million different ways in which things happen. There isn't one way. My way of doing it does not speak for all artists," said Artur Silva, a Brazilian-born artist, who without a doubt continues to be part of the Indianapolis arts landscape, in spite of the fact that he now resides Valencia, California (close to L.A.).
I called to ask his opinion on the role a work of art's environment plays in how we perceive it. I was curious to learn if an artist considers the space where his or her art will be displayed before he or she creates it.
If you've never heard of Silva, simply drive up Illinois Street from South Street downtown to see his work. Right by the Greyhound Station his mural The Death of Ambition merges with the horizon in a colorful display of urban symmetry. Similarly, many other artists throughout time have embedded identifiers of their experience in our city.
"Public art can be both timeless and also a reflection of what people were thinking in those days," says Silva.
When I think of people who represent my contemporary experience in Indianapolis, I think of my neighbor Brent Aldrich. Many times his work is influenced by his direct surroundings, and so our neighborhood is full of nooks and crannies that feel authored by him.
"Context can have as much effect on the work as the work itself," he says. Other times Aldrich explores long trajectories that begin with the same relationship between the artist and the space but with a timeline mandated by nature, such as a lunar or a harvest calendar. He once made a mastodon bone structure out of wood, buried it for nine months, staged an excavation, and then displayed the fossil with documentation of the process in a show titled This Must Be the Place.
It brings attention to the difference between types of space when the artwork culminates inside a gallery. "A gallery
assumes no context; it is a very weird space," Aldrich says.
For Silva, the reason public art starts at the site is because he feels the artist must address or explore the space in a public work. "Physical and historical research have to be part of the outcome," he says.
And although Silva speaks for himself, he believes that the dialog between artist and landscape defines much public art."The Anish Kapoor bean in Chicago (Cloud Gate) is a work that is completely transcendent, beyond level of education ... you can't think of Millennium Park without thinking of it," he says.
Similarly, I can't think of Mass Ave without thinking of Julian Opie's Ann Walking or Leslie Baker's Reclamation,
or the airport without thinking of Greg Hull's Breath, or the Englewood neighborhood -- my neighborhood -- without thinking of Brent's Diamonds.