Monday, October 18, 2004
A storage facility or a car wash.
That was the feasibility assessment of property at Adams and 29th streets in Topeka -- an area that had not developed economically in nearly 20 years.
The response by developer Diane Botwin Alpert: progressive architecture and contemporary art.
FLEX Storage Systems is not the kind of storage facility the feasibility researchers or the neighborhood association expected. Designed by Kansas City architecture firm el dorado inc., the bright bay doors and angled roof, pine interior trim, natural light and polished concrete floors "looks more like something in Rotterdam," said curator Hesse McGraw.
Add "curator" to the list of unexpected attributes of FLEX.
McGraw came on board through his relationship with Elwood LLC, a collaborative public art "experiment" between artist James Woodfill and el dorado inc. (The partnership has culminated in contemporary artworks such as the Freight House Signal Project near K.C.'s Union Station.)
- Friday, October 22, 2004, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
- (One-off place), Lawrence
- All ages
In tandem with Elwood LLC, McGraw curated "Moving In Moving Out," an exhibition of site-specific installation pieces for the FLEX Storage Systems' opening reception Oct. 22. Well-known K.C. artists Marcie Miller Gross, Miles Neidinger, Jordan Nickel, Mike Sinclair and Woodfill designed works to temporarily occupy bays and nooks in the storage facility, each installation specifically addressing issues of the site or the neighborhood.
"We looked for art that considers the architectural implications of the building," McGraw said. "Art that explored the relationship between the neighborhood and the building."
Although it is surrounded by abandoned businesses and weed-veined parking lots, the relationship between FLEX Storage Systems and the neighborhood were paramount to Alpert and el dorado inc. The new building is designed not only to provide an aesthetically pleasing storage solution, but also to facilitate economic development in the future. The front of the building can easily be converted to storefronts, and the storage sheds are removable.
Installation artist Neidinger answered the call with a newspaper grid in one of the bays. Rolled into cone shapes, the newspapers hang from a wire grid ceiling, creating artwork viewers can physically move into. By using copies of the Topeka Capital-Journal, Neidinger connects the work with the locale, yet turns the mundane in an unexpected way. "The change elicits a sense of surprise and disbelief," McGraw said, "and questions the specific use and value of everyday objects."
Neidinger's use of everyday trash to create something elegant is symbolic of the attitude the creators of FLEX had toward the Topeka neighborhood. Rather than toss away the area's potential, this new twist on the recommendations of the feasibility study aims to encourage other potential developers to look at the area in a new way.
The "Moving In Moving Out" project was aided by the images photographer Sinclair posted daily on the collaborators' Yahoo Groups site. His photos illustrated the complexities of the area, helping connect the K.C.-based artists and architects with the neighborhood. In one photo, a group of optimistic children head off to their first day of school, smiles and hope beaming from their faces. In the next, the urban flux is illustrated by a neglected arrow marquee sign: the arrow pointing forward to movement, or progress, yet the jumbled letters on the marquee lack clarity.
The arrow sign was inspirational for artist Nickel. His FLEX bay houses 300 T-shirts screen-printed with an image of the sign. The messages change as the viewer moves deeper into the installation: "Re-Move," "I-Move," "U Moving Me," and "I'm Free Seriously" subtly cue the viewer to interact with the shirts and the artwork itself. A camera is installed above the wire-grid ceiling, and viewers can watch others' reactions to the T-shirts in a storage bay down the hall.
The T-shirt installation communicates on many levels. "It's a play on things people say, like 'putting a new shirt onto the neighborhood,' and 'they took the shirt off my back,'" explained Nickel. "I'm also challenging acceptable actions with art."
Indeed, the signs do challenge: they encourage the viewer to "re-move," yet most arts lovers are not accustomed to touching, much less taking, the art. However, the art continues beyond Nickel's initial hanging of T-shirts.
"Taking these shirts questions notions of fine art versus souvenirs," he said. The language "I move" will shift ownership from the T-shirt-as-art to the person wearing it. Visitors who wear the T-shirts outside of the FLEX venue will also continue connecting to space to the outer surrounding neighborhood.
McGraw adds, "It reiterates a sense of democracy by making a connection with all people [by offering different sizes], and it is good design made accessible. It symbolizes an ordered optimism."
'Optimism' and 'connection': these two words are rarely applied to storage facilities and run-down neighborhoods. Yet the FLEX art installations in "Moving In Moving Out" celebrate bridgework by connecting the richness of the neighborhood as it is now (think smiling schoolchildren) and the economic revitalization it can someday thrive within.