For artist Bland Hoke, manipulating the connections between places, design, and art is necessary to create functional, aesthetic works for communities. His design firm, Bland Design LLC, is built on the premise that these connections—between the visual and the serviceable, the community and the individual—engender curiosity.
By Pamela Segura
“Art in a gallery speaks to a very specific audience. I can guarantee that a lot of people walking around are not seeking out an art experience and that’s the most valuable thing public art can do. It can surprise you.”
This rendition of public art harkens back to the happenings that began taking shape in the late 1950s, which showcased artists injecting randomness and collaboration into their performative visions. The nature of the happenings contextualizes current public works. Without the spectator, there is no public; without multiple and varied collaborators, there is no art. Moreover, the content of the art shifts as people, places, and perspectives change.
“I’ve been working on very odd projects that don’t really fit in any one category,” Hoke says about his own experience with public art. “They are very collaborative and try to actively appropriate knowledge from other people.”
In Aurora, Hoke and his team designed a light installation on the top of the Norfolk Scope Arena in Norfolk, Virginia. This work reflects the Scope’s cultural significance—the arena is considered a landmark in Norfolk’s history, symbolizing revitalization. The light display also alludes to an aurora, a beautiful natural phenomenon that inspires all types of thinkers, including philosophers, scientists, and poets. Aurora mixes the scientific with the cultural, using the public space to fully realize this collaboration.
The notion of the public is also connected to the concrete environment that creates any given community—including waste. Hoke says that he uses waste for practical reasons. The result allows spectators of his works to think of their spaces as systems with interconnected factors. Using waste also signifies ways to think about environmentalism—both as an outgrowth of ecology, geology, and climatology as well as a force in art and culture.
“My take on environmentalism was rooted on ways to use waste as a resource,” Hoke says. “I began working my way upstream towards manufacturers that produce large sources of waste. You can get a lot of garbage for free, so it’s a practical thing. And when people see that, and they learn about where it came from, I think that’s an interesting way to engage in issues of environmentalism.”
This drives a lot of Livestream, a new work that Hoke and others—including Kiersten Nash, founder of PublicWorks—are currently working on. In collaboration with the Department of Environmental Quality and Public Works in Lexington, Kentucky, Hoke and his team are turning groundwater data provided by the Kentucky Geological Survey into sound data, using the process of sonification.
Sonification is the translation of different forms of data into aural data. Turning different forms of data into pieces of sound—with specific, ordered pitches and timbres, or qualities of “color” and weight—brings together avant garde composers, engineers, computer scientists, and collaborative artists. In the case of Livestream, a sonified data set emerges through a digital matrix that places data sets into scales and other systems of organization in music. This sound will then be emitted through municipal water pipes at Duncan Park in Lexington.
“It’s like if you took a pipe organ and laid it on its side and then put water quality data turned into sound art inside it,” Hoke says about the process. People at Duncan Park will essentially hear the bodies of water from different “physiographic regions from the state of Kentucky.” Hoke hopes that this form of relating data might express the different ecological nuances that make up a community.
The project will see complete fruition in early 2015. It promises to add to Hoke’s catalog, which positions local spaces and small changes at the center of artistic contexts.
For more information on Hoke’s works check out his Vimeo profile. For more information on sonification and its psychological, musical, and other scientific effects, check out http://sonify.psych.gatech.edu and http://music.columbia.edu/cmc/musicandcomputers/popups/chapter1/xbit_1_1.php.