Interacting with art and the great outdoors

A new outdoor art project is capitalizing on the use of short-term installations to foster long-lasting effects.

5×5, a new outdoor art exhibit presented and funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, showcases temporary outdoor art installations throughout all eight wards of D.C., coinciding with the Cherry Blossom Festival.

Five curators were chosen out of nearly 100 who applied to participate in the exhibit, each presenting a detailed project outline representative of a specific artistic theme. Displays from the five curators feature themes ranging from biodiversity to the historic legacy of the nation’s capital.

Media Credit: Becky Crowder | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Artist Clare Rojas created a mosaic outside the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

These curators then selected five artists to create a unique installation under a shared theme. The entire project includes 25 pieces in total, with five separate themes, in about 40 locations dispersed throughout the city, and which will remain on display for a few weeks at a time.

Curator Laura Roulet chose to emphasize local artists, wishing to contribute to the prevalence of local public art in D.C., and adding in an accompanying element of participation, engaging the viewer with the art.

Her project, entitled “Activate => Participate,” calls for engaging, interactive, and multisensory artistic displays.

Patrick McDonough, one of Roulet’s featured artists, created a piece which manifests itself in the “Painted Rock Hunt Game,” an interactive display that utilizes “geocaching” – an activity that uses GPS technology to find objects – and the Internet as forums for public art. By accessing www.prhg.net, players can log in, read clues about the locations of painted rocks and check in online when they discover a stone.

“I’m interested in being a little hard on people, making them work for art. I wanted to use the geocache structure to put a lens over experiencing the city,” McDonough said.

Another one of her artists, Ben Ashworth, has created another participatory arts program, “Finding a Line,” at the Capitol Hill Arts Workshop and will launch it this week, during local schools’ spring breaks.

“Skateboarding is a good example of what I’ve been talking about – intended versus actual use. Skateboarders using a stairway to grind is not why that stairway was built as it was,” McDonough said of Ashworth’s exhibit.

A third artist, Charles Juhasz-Alvarado, has a month-long public sound sculpture on display at the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, in Southwest. Juhasz-Alvarado created a xylophone-shaped piece out of cherry wood and provided drumsticks for those walking by to engage with the work, creating their own unique sound.

While all five of Roulet’s artists’ work is very different, they share her overarching theme of participatory work.

“I talked to all of the artists about what they would imagine doing, just within this concept of activating public space, doing something that reaches out to new audiences, that involves all of D.C., or parts of D.C. where you wouldn’t usually see a lot of art activity,” Roulet said.

Roulet regarded 5×5 as a “new direction” for D.C. public art, a departure from traditional politically centered displays common within the District.

“In New York, or Europe, you see more performance public art, but here we’re sort of stuck in monument-mode,” Roulet said.

Other artists have work featured at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Old Post Office Pavilion and the University of D.C.

5×5 will be on display concurrently with the National Cherry Blossom Festival Centennial Celebration through April 27.

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