Artists Lucy Begg and Robert Gay (Thoughtbarn) created this temporary public art installation in Tacoma that was on display from Nov 12 -30 at the University of Washington-Tacoma. This great stop-action video documents their work.
The design team of Lucy Begg and Robert Gay (Thoughtbarn) flew in from Austin yesterday to begin assembly of their public art installation, Ghost Prairie, on the Prairie Line Trail. Begg and Gay, with Philadelphia-based urban planner, Todd Bressi, have been charged with creating a public art plan for the highly anticipated walkway/bikeway project now underway. But this week, the artist/architects will be switching laptops for work gloves as they install a light-emitting, 25′ x 4′ sculpture at a site on the University of Washington-Tacoma (UW-T) campus.
Ghost Prairie is one of eight temporary public art projects that will be unveiled on Saturday, Nov. 12, along the half-mile landmark trail, which marks the terminus of the 19th-century Transcontinenal Railroad. The other seven projects are by Tacoma artists and participants in PA:ID (Public Art In Depth), an intensive program created by the City of Tacoma to provide selected professional artists free training and mentorship in how to apply for and advance through the process of creating public art works. Saturday’s demonstration project is “the pilot for a public art program that will enliven the new civic artery,” says Begg. “We’ve been working in tandem with urban planner Todd Bressi, who is devising the public art masterplan for the trail.” The public-art strategy is being developed with support from a planning grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
Guidelines for the eight commissioned works indicate that recycled, reused or reclaimable materials be used in construction. Thoughtbarn’s installation is made from laser-cut, industrial-weight cardboard with long, feathery zip ties, and will be illuminated at night. The enigmatic design, suggesting an insect or a chiton, was inspired by a visit to the Mima Mounds Natural Preserve in Thurston County. The startling natural landscape of undulating, uniform mounds is best described as resembling an upside-down egg carton, multiplied outward, and blanketed in prairie grass.
“Several theories compete for how the mounds came to be,” says Begg. “Earthquakes, erosion, giant gophers…” She and Gay chose the title, Ghost Prairie, in “playful reference to the once-vast prairies in southern Washington that the rail-line crossed to reach Tacoma.” Of 160,000 acres originally managed by Native Americans, she says, only 3% remain today. “We were inspired by both the plight and the poetry of the prairie. Our 25′-long undulating structure will be covered with a field of zip ties, simulating a grass-like effect. The goal of it is to be a tactile, intriguing object. We want it to invite people in to touch it, but also catch eyes from afar.”
Urban planner Todd Bressi and the design team of Lucy Begg and Robert Gay (Thoughtbarn) held a lively series of speaking engagements in Tacoma last week on the public art plan for the much-vaunted Prairie Line Trail (PLT). The trio met with staff from the City, University of Washington-Tacoma and Tacoma Art Museum; historic preservationists, downtown stakeholders, artists, cycling advocates and interested citizens about the trail’s potential to become a showcase for art and art experiences, as well as a magnet for civic activity. The design team was awarded a $30,000 commission, supported by a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) planning grant, to develop an art proposal for the legacy trail which will link downtown Tacoma’s most significant cultural and historical sectors.
Unbeknownst to most Tacomans, the Prairie Line Trail is an extraordinary landmark of Tacoma history. In 1873, the Northern Pacific Railroad designated the now-overgrown, half-mile, two-acre corridor as the western terminus for its transcontinental railroad, beating out competitors Seattle, Olympia and Bellingham. Modern city-building and telegraph communications followed the railroad, and from here sprung the town’s moniker, “The City of Destiny.” The proposed $5.83 million walking, biking and interpretive trail follows the historic rail corridor linking the University of Washington-Tacoma campus, the Brewery District, the Museum District and Thea Foss Waterway, and eventually connects with the Water Ditch Trail. Users will be within walking distance of the convention center, the copper-domed Union Station, and the ethereal Museum of Glass Bridge – all destinations that radiate outward from the Tacoma Art Museum (currently awaiting a streetscaping and plaza/entrance redesign). By commissioning a public art plan, “We are developing a roadmap that’s considerate of art” and honors the city’s history, says City Art Administrator, Amy McBride. That may be an understatement: The Prairie Line Trail offers a ripping opportunity to create a history-infused active destination and outdoor art venue that is unique to Washington, and the country. The PLT will draw visitors to our historic downtown, where curated temporary and site-specific permanent art may greet trail users. Continue reading