Unique art piece will be community effort
By Lou Fancher
It's not redundant to call a Kevin Reese public art project populist.
In 29 states across the country, the actor, visual artist and Palo Alto native has been engaging people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds to create kinetic sculptures that display in schools, libraries, museums, parks and other public places. Since 2001, Reese has held nearly 100 residencies and workshops with thousands of people that have resulted in more than 90 moving -- but permanent -- public sculptures.
Adding a 30th state and his first installation in California, Reese will collaborate with Tri-Valley residents and the broader Bay Area community on "Hang With Us: a Kinetic Community Art Project" at Livermore's Bothwell Arts Center. The initial design phase of two kinetic mobiles destined to hang permanently in the Bankhead Theater lobby begins with the Bothwell's first Art Expo on June 12..
The construction of the actual mobile sculptures, which are similar in design, form and function to the works of American sculptor Alexander Calder, takes place in September. Arts Manager Anne Giancola said people who participate will "contribute to something that will have lasting value to the community."
Input from the Art Expo and from a June 14 Art on the Green event at which people can offer additional ideas will be sent to Reese in Washington, D.C., where he lives. Reese will use the input to inform the sculptures' general aesthetics and engineering.
Scott Kenison, executive director of the Livermore Valley Performing Arts Center, which operates the Bankhead and Bothwell, said the Bankhead lobby was "crying out for something." Having crossed paths with Reese while Kenison was working at the Atlas Theater in D.C., the memory of his process and a sculpture Reese installed there remained compelling.
"Kevin's ability to bring diverse segments of the community together to create spectacular artwork is what attracted me to the idea of this project," said Kenison. "It will fill the space perfectly and become a point of pride for the people who get involved."
An art station at Art Expo dubbed the "Hang with Us" table will offer colored pencils and markers, paints, and paper to cut and use to describe individual expressions inspired by the mobiles' theme, "What Art Means to Me." Local artists will explain the project and offer guidance.
"That discovery, when a kid finds a balance point on their finger while holding a mobile that's 7 feet across -- that's the magic. Adults have it too," says Reese, who arrives to the Tri Valley in September for a weeklong residency.
Children and adults often tell Reese they're not artists when he presents them with an artistic challenge. "You're dealing with their conception of permanent major works of art," he said.
By the end of the process, he says participants -- himself included -- are transformed. By watching a community struggle and converse on their journey to creation, he says he gains insights on their humanity, engagement and spirit of cooperation.
"In Wisconsin, we did a slew of nearly 45 mobiles in six weeks. They were displayed, then reinstalled in businesses and clubhouses. I got a call telling me that a young girl told a teller that she had balanced the mobile hanging above. The president of the bank came out to ask her to explain (the engineering). Here you had this 10-year old girl telling the man in the suit her expertise. How powerful do you think she felt?"
The mobile pieces resemble steel or wood but are made of foam core. The lightweight, panel-shaped material is one-twentieth the weight of wood and one-fiftieth the weight of steel. It is sanded, treated with fire-retardant coating, painted in bright colors and poised with special steel wire to balance perfectly yet move freely when touched by air currents. Reese says he'd be surprised if either of the two 7-by-14-foot sculptures weighs more than 12 pounds.
If there's heft to the mobiles, it will be in the lasting impact had by a community coming together to create public art.