Curated by Lance M. Fung
Washington DC, our nation’s capital, is renowned for its grand monuments honoring the history and achievements of great Americans. But behind the federal face of official Washington, there is a real city with distinctive neighborhoods filled with passionate citizens living their lives. For my curatorial contribution to 5 x 5, I envision Nonuments—a temporary sculpture park featuring “monuments” devoted not to the great but to ordinary people, to the ideals of democracy, and to the common struggles of humanity.
I want to transform the two vacant parcels of land located at 990 4th Street SW into a much-needed public space. Currently, many pedestrians—adults and children—cut across the empty lots with nothing to look at or do. I feel that by placing beautiful and thought-provoking sculptures in that location the public will be engaged in a variety of ways. People driving by will see something fresh and new, with different appearances in the day and night. Pedestrians will stop, pause and think. Hopefully the subject matter of each nonument will be so engaging that visitors will return to spend additional time with the art. The park and its artworks will include inviting features such as picnic tables, interactive elements and attractive landscape design so that people will want to spend time, bring their families, sit, and relax.
I feel that by placing all five artworks on the same lot a critical mass will be achieved so that an exhibition experience will emerge and the end result will be a new destination. This concentration of artworks, together with the landscaping envisioned in two of the artist’s proposals, helps frame the new public space. I hope that the DCCAH, the community, and other 5 x 5 curators will consider using this location as a site for performances and other public events to further activate the park, so that residents and visitors can experience what great art, landscape design, and social activism can achieve when exploring and developing a dynamic new sense of urbanism. My goal, as we achieved through our temporary exhibition Artlantic in Atlantic City, is to create an internationally recognized curatorial project while providing local residents with a safe, green and interactive place they can call their own. In DC, however, the focus will be on the art and not on the park; this is appropriate for the city of monuments and for the subject matter of the project. I anticipate visitors from other parts of the city and surrounding areas, as well as tourists, to venture by and spend time with the art exhibition as they explore the city to see all of the 5 x 5 projects.
Monuments by definition are meant to be everlasting, but over time their meanings can change and become irrelevant. I invited six accomplished artists to create site-specific proposals for what I call nonuments. The artists’ main task is to make visually stunning sculptures capable of truly engaging the general public. No matter the form, material, or aesthetic, each artwork needs to embody the mission and meaning of a nonument. These themes, which form the conceptual basis for the proposals, offer another level of engagement, challenging viewers of all backgrounds regardless of their experience with art. My goal is to produce permanent monuments by creating temporary public artworks – nonuments. Each nonument tackles timely, relevant, and emotionally engaging concerns. The themes range from environmental concerns, the fight against human trafficking, the positive and negative challenges of development, immigration issues, and the human will to survive. By giving form to these issues, stimulating discussion, and possibly inspiring action, these temporary monuments will leave an ongoing, living legacy beyond the lifespan of any bronze statue. Whether a nonument raises awareness, issues a cry for help, or activates social change, its aim is engagement and dialogue, bringing together diverse groups of people.
Like Gordon Matta-Clark, an artist/activist that I greatly admire, I believe in the social responsibility of public art. All of the materials used to create the nonuments will be given to the immediate neighborhood. This way, the materials themselves will be put to permanent use, and the money will fund lasting projects beyond the temporary artworks. For example, at the close of Nonuments, the trees and shrubs will be given to residents to plant in their yards and public areas.
The more that I work in the public realm, the more I realize that I want my projects to be more than window dressing for neglected urban areas—for me, it is more important to create projects that are useful and appreciated by local residents. The biggest challenge is finding a way to make projects that not only fulfill this goal, but also present challenging art exhibitions featuring works of the highest artistic standards. For some reason, most public art seems to satisfy one or the other objective, not both at the same time. With this realization, it has been our mission at Fung Collaboratives to go beyond false distinctions that limit the scope of art in the public realm. Public sculpture, community-based social project—whatever you want to call it, we distill our work to just art. The adjective doesn’t matter; the emphasis is on the art. In DC, I plan to achieve what I have done through my previous projects in San Francisco, Santa Fe, Turin, and Atlantic City, and that is to find and satisfy the perfect balance that only great public art can achieve.
Lance M. Fungi