Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Weird Art: The Watchful Eye at the Police Station

Did you have a nice weekend? Council met yesterday and SKATS adopted the 2019 RTSP and maybe we'll backfill with a couple of brief notes. But maybe not. There didn't seem to be much to say on them, and it was mostly a nice weekend, though not perhaps quite as sunny as it has seemed it might be.

Today we are getting the first public look at art for the new Police Station, the Eye of Sauron Salem.

What is this? A weird celebration of the Surveillance State?
What were they thinking? Maybe some other reading and interpretation of it - apart from the interior text embedded in or projected on the thing - is intuitive and obvious to you, but the first thing that comes to mind is an eye. The second things are the Mason/illuminati eye on our dollar bills above the pyramid, and "Big Brother is watching you," and of course Sauron. This looks like a strange and creepy instance of public art with all the wrong kind of messaging.

The Public Art Commission shared little in public about the process of selection, and this definitely looks like an instance where more public comment would have helped things greatly.

With a scheduled event, the ornamental emptiness will be full!
Anyway, there's a "Meet the Artist" event in the Conference Center Sculpture Garden today the 29th at 5:30pm. Maybe more about the sculpture concept will be published and it will seem less "sauronic."


Jim Scheppke said...

Has anyone revealed what this will cost? Does Salem have a "Percent for Art" requirement like the state does?

Susann Kaltwasser said...

When I talked with Deputy Chief Bellshaw about the ideas for art for the new police station I was told that it would be a very public process. Since he was in charge of the oversight team, I trusted that statement. Oh well...

We talked about the need to recognize that this location is where Salem first began and how much historical significance it had. He thought there might be a plaque or something about that, but was very vague.

So, I am not surprised that once again Salem has missed an opportunity to do something significant in the area of art. Oh well....

I mean, really! I paid for this so called art! Not going to build support for a very controversial project.....

I hate that we have so many 'missed opportunities' here in Salem. Makes me long for some vacant space you often mention here.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Oh, but there is a public process and chance for input!

From the City's Police Station progress page:

As a publicly-funded project, the new Salem Police Station will have an art piece on the campus. The concept by artist Blessing Hancock was chosen to join the more than 150 public artworks throughout the city. Community engagement is an essential component of the piece titled Equitas, and here’s how you can help. The surface pattern of the lighted sculpture will incorporate text from the Salem community relating to the themes of honor, protection, and service.

Please take a moment to provide your input. The deadline to submit your words or phrases is August 1, 2019.

This seems fraught with peril, however, courting a "Boaty McBoatface" problem!

Funding for the art does not seem to have been publicized much, but one estimate in the Oct 2018 minutes is $191,000 from the bond. Details are buried in the skeletal minutes and agenda, and they never did publish any separate report focusing on the Police Station Art. The public reporting from this commission is not good.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Over on FB this occasioned lots of comment, and a few, who did not necessarily seem to have clicked through to read the piece here, also came up with "Sauronic" interpretations, so that seemed to have some traction and interpretive validity.

Defenders of the piece were fewer. And significantly, most of them depended on what the City had published about the piece. Here's a local artist:

"It reminds me of the shape of the badge worn by police officers. I like it. 'The City of Salem and the Salem Police Department want your input on the public art component of the Salem Police Station Project. With the help of the Salem Public Art Commission, artist Blessing Hancock's proposal was selected as the artwork to be displayed in the plaza of the Salem Police Station.

'Ms. Hancock's concept is an elegant abstract sculpture in the shape of a balancing stone, carefully rounded and honed into a symbol of honor and quiet strength. The surface pattern of the piece will incorporate text collected from the Salem community.'

But even here the piece does not seem strong enough to stand without the City's commentary or an artist statement. This is the same problem that "Mirror Maze" had on the alley.

Public art should stand on its own and be graspable by the public without recourse to artist statements. That commentary can add layers of meaning, but public art should not be so obscure that it baffles without the interpretive guidance in a statement.