It may seem counterintuitive for two architects-turned-artists to have crafted an artistic exploration of urban landscape around the idea of tearing down buildings, but that’s exactly what Andres Luis Hernandez and Amanda Williams want you to concentrate on with their recent project in Grand Center.
The two Chicago-based artists want you to think about the process of “unbuilding” as much as you pay attention to the new construction and developments around town when you observe their process deconstructing the former Bruno David Art Gallery on Washington Ave.
“We see our cities constantly being unbuilt over time, whether through urban renewal or just the buildings begin to fall apart and come down,” Hernandez said. “We saw it as a platform to discuss what’s happening in cities but also harvest materials from other projects to give life to new projects. Our project is stop-motion in some degree, playing out the process of unbuilding, shining a light on what happens to a building after it is gone.”
The project, called “A Way, Away (Listen While I Say),” is the next iteration of PXSTL, a collaboration between the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts at Washington University and the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, which sits directly across from the project site.
Williams explained how the artists grabbed the attention of the community to think about the stop-motion process of unbuilding urban landscapes.
First, the artists entered the “marking” phase, when the Bruno David Gallery was painted entirely gold.
“We were announcing the beginning of the end,” Williams said. “In this instance, the selection of the color, gold, was not only to draw attention but to also use it as a touchstone to say: what do we value and when?”
Second, the building entered the “subtraction” phase, which included the demolition of the building itself.
Third, the project entered the “translation” phase, which involves taking materials from the demolished building and preparing them for the next life. Examples of this might include the use of the bricks in other nearby buildings or walls. This is the stage the project is in currently.
Fourth, the process of “shaping” includes shaping the land where the building is in a different way, to create a green space.
Fifth and finally, the area is ready for “healing.”
Williams said the point of these steps is to make sure the community is keenly aware of the process that a building goes through when it ceases to exist.
“We want to give pause, give people an opportunity to have a conversation about things they take for granted or that they share,” Williams said. “If you’ve experienced a natural disaster or an area of eminent domain, there are a lot of reasons something has to go away, but what are the shared moments where we can come together to gain comfort, share stories, and think of potentials of different ways these processes could actually happen.”
Hernandez said those types of conversation are essential as urban areas continue to be rethought and redesigned.
“It falls on artists and art institutions to have other kinds of conversations or present other alternatives,” Williams said. “Real estate rules the day, but green space, open space and landscape architecture are important.”
This weekend, the artists invite community members to a public celebration for “A Way, Away (Listen While I Say).” The event, running from 12-1:30 p.m. on May 6, will feature a reception with the artists and other public programs, as well as food from Seoul Taco. More information can be found here.
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