By Christina Wood. Photography by Rodrigo Gaya Villar, Nina Babel/Niba Studios and Downtown Photo.
From Édouard Manet and Pablo Picasso to the Guerilla Girls, art and artists have broken through the walls of social convention and fought against war, racism and injustice.
Today, the enemy is COVID-19 and, in early March, the Broward Cultural Division experimented with a way to help defeat the sense of social isolation so many are experiencing.
The Cultural Division, working in partnership with the Dania Beach-based creative agency Yes We Are Mad (MAD), commissioned four South Florida artists for the open-air exhibition, “Light the Night,” a technology-based public art activation that unleashed the power of color and creativity to lift spirits and bring the community together.
“We have been so isolated. I think being outdoors provided a moment for people to go out within their community and enjoy a different scale of art,” says exhibition curator Sofia Bastidas Vivar of MAD.
Workers heading home after a long day were surprised by the 10-story high montage of vivid designs and thought-provoking images projected on the side of Society Las Olas. Bicyclists out for evening rides, put on the brakes in order to take in the swirl of light, color and motion projected on the façade of the Broward County Government Center. And area residents and business owners passing by NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale didn’t have to go inside to experience art.
Some, like Liz Cole of Hollywood, came out specifically to see the illuminating exhibition, which ran from March 1 through 7. “This is the first time I’ve been out at night since we went into lockdown last year,” she said. “I’m so glad I came. The creative energy of this event is making me feel alive again.”
“One of the goals was to make sure that we brought people together in a safe outdoor space to enjoy art,” Bastidas Vivar says. “Another goal of this project was to introduce local artists to projection mapping and give them an opportunity to work with this new technology.”
Months before the project lit up the streets of Fort Lauderdale, the Cultural Division sought out South Florida artists who had experience working with video. Eight were selected to take part in a paid, one-day residency hosted by MAD, where they learned about the technology involved with 3D video mapping, a projection technique that takes into account the unique dimensions and features of a building.
“Partnering with MAD enabled us to provide a unique opportunity for local artists to learn how to use this cutting-edge technology and work with a creative team to expand their artistic practice,” Broward Cultural Division Director Phillip Dunlap says.
Following the residency, each of the eight artists submitted design proposals for original videos to be projected in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The Cultural Division’s Public Art & Design Committee reviewed the submissions and selected four artists who were then commissioned to participate in “Light the Night.”
Edison Peñafiel, whose work is a response to issues concerning displacement, forced migration and identity, was one of the artists selected to participate in the innovative exhibition. “It was very exciting to create something specific for a public space,” he says. “We received some guidelines of how 3D mapping works, how to approach the spaces, and what to take into account when creating the digital work.”
Agustina Woodgate, Jen Clay and Monica Lopez de Victoria are the other artists commissioned to create projection mapping videos for the project. “Light the Night” also featured videos created by artists Jen Stark, David Lewandowski and Matthew Schreiber.
Also on display were videos by Quisqueya Henriquez, Samson Kambalu, Diana Shpungin, and Samantha Salzinger, courtesy of the collections of NSU Art Museum and the Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz collection at the Girls’ Club.
“Bringing 3D mapping video into the public sphere creates more connections and accessibility to the public to experience art,” Peñafiel says. “Regardless of the work, which can focus solely on a visual experience or a socio-political theme, it is great to have these spaces facilitated by the county government and in collaboration with MAD.”
“I love that the Broward Cultural Division has invested in South Florida artists by supporting their creativity. This year especially,” says Lopez De Victoria, whose work highlights underwater movement. “It is a great project because the county is making the artwork accessible to people who might not normally go to a museum or gallery by bringing the artwork to the streets!”
Bastidas Vivar agrees. “You’re not excluding anybody from the experience,” she says. “It’s outdoors. It’s public. It’s open. And it’s extremely large, so you have better reach.”
“It is always so exciting to see the juiciness of projected shapes and colors moving in a giant way on a building,” Lopez De Victoria says. “It then makes the video piece an animated mural that anyone can see!”
Throughout the pandemic, art and artists have entertained us in our homes, brought us comfort, and inspired us. But artists have struggled, too.
Covid-19 has taken a devastating toll on the creative industry. According to the Arts Action Fund, “Artists/creatives are among the most severely affected workers by the pandemic.” More than 60 percent have become fully unemployed. A staggering 95 percent report a loss of income, with 62 percent reporting a “drastic decrease” in income-producing creative efforts.
“I have lately been inspired by the feelings of isolation and the holding suspension of being underwater. I wanted to go inward in this piece and reflect on this hard time that we are experiencing with Covid,” Lopez De Victoria says. “I am visually expressing the rippling emotions and contemplation that comes with time alone.”