Freedom Baird, "Node Hissed." Photo by Mana Parker.
You don’t need to take more than a few steps over the Longwood T stop’s tracks to find yourself in a sanctuary of public artwork from the Brookline-based art collaborative Studios Without Walls. The group, composed of sculptors and conceptual artists producing exhibitions in public outdoor settings, selected the adjacent Riverway Park as the locale for their latest collection “Beyond Boundaries.” The installation’s 12 mixed media pieces are designed to be site-responsive. In other words, the pieces become new subjects in an environment that intrinsically predates them.
The works add color, texture and new dimension to the otherwise plain and monotonous park they call home. Stacey Piwinski and Wendy Wolf’s “Coddiwomple,” a colorful weaving of secondhand items ranging from yoga mats to headphones, wraps around a patch of trees unpretentiously to create a new space in the park for people to congregate. A similar idea of adornment appeared in Louise Farnell’s “Faux Fleurs,” a 27’ flowering vine made from plastic rope they discovered in their attic. The artist playfully acknowledges that the origin of the rope for the piece is a total mystery, stating in the piece’s copy “If you don’t own a boat, what else is there do [with] rope but make a vine?”
Stacy Piwinski and Wendy Wolf. “Coddiwomple.” Photo by Mana Parker
Louise Farnell, “Faux Fleurs.” Photo by Mana Parker.
Others, however, have a less idyllic take on humanity and Mother Nature. Freedom Baird’s “Node Hissed,” a buried concrete block from which yellow shock cord attach to plants surrounding it, interrogates the ways we use the planet to meet our human needs, yet interferes with its basic existence. Baird describes her work as “made from the same elements” as the area surrounding it, but her piece’s occupation in the once-empty ground and pressure on the plants around it suggest that the man-made concrete now dominates the natural greenery’s territory.
Joe Wight’s tryptic “A place for everything and everything in its place” questions how nature relates back to humans in more literal terms. The series shows neon pink figures posed curiously with domestic furniture and the trees of Riverway Park. In one, a character appears to be running away from chairs that follow it as it climbs; another shows a character trying to take in the view from the tree’s higher vantage point cartoonishly blocked by a door. The most peculiar scene, named “If a man hugs a tree and feels nothing, does it make a sound?”, features a figure abandoning its comfortable armchair and lamp to awkwardly hug the tree in front of it. While a hug normally implies appreciation and care, the figure’s pose and the piece’s title prompt the viewer to ask – is the hug meaningful for either of them? Or, in the artist’s words, “Are they bonding with nature, or is nature rejecting them?”
Joe Wight, “If a man hugs a tree and feels nothing, does it make a sound?”. Photo by Mana Parker.
In full, Beyond Boundaries’ eclectic sculpture collection is both a vibrant addition to an otherwise staid park area and a thought-provoking exploration of how humans can and should interact with the environment. From its tragic pink heroes to its utilitarian tree scarves, the collection toes the line between playful and serious and aesthetically-pleasing yet intelligent in a way that all great public art should.
“Beyond Boundaries” is on display until Sunday, June 3rd and features the work of Freedom Baird, Myrna Balk, Gail Bos, Anne Eder, Louise Farrell, Linda Hoffman, Janet Kawada, Bette Ann Libby, Madeleine Lord, Stacey Piwinski, Maria Ritz, Gabi White, Joe Wight, and Wendy Wolf. You can learn more about Studios Without Walls on their website and Instagram.