Nashville’s annual month-long arts celebration, called Artober, is taking a turn toward the reflective this year. In addition to encouraging performance groups and galleries to program special events all month, the Metro Arts Commission has charged a handful of writers and musicians with creating pieces inspired by the city’s public art.
Composer Chris Farrell says he jumped at the chance to apply for the program without knowing which piece of art to use as a jumping off point. And then he drove down the street known as the 28th Avenue Connector. The sight of a combination bus shelter and art installation nearly stopped him in his tracks. "There’s a giant needle stuck in the ground. What is that all about?"
Just beyond that sewing needle as tall as the bus shelter it’s part of, Ferrell saw the rest of the art piece: high rails on either side of a bridge, dotted with metal quilt blocks. Some were abstract, others hinted at the histories of the black and white neighborhoods the street was built to connect.
He had found his public art piece.
As a musician, Ferrell says he saw possibility in the depiction of threads as curving metal bars. Those threads became the backbone of his music, undulating, intertwined melodies for flute, harp and viola, punctuated by moments where they play in unison.
"I can’t really represent a bridge, and I can’t really represent some of the panels that are on the bridge, but what I can do is take melodies and try and make something of those that shows differences that connect together."
Other artists took a less abstract approach. Sound artist Robbie Lynn Hunsinger says when she first saw the sculpture "Tool Fire" on the Shelby Bottoms Greenway, she quickly thought to try tapping it with whatever she had on hand at the time: a water bottle, her cell phone.
She decided to make the sculpture itself the primary intstrument in her composition. It’s made of tools that were used to clean up after the 2010 flood: hammers, trowels, shovels and pitchforks. Ultimately, Hunsinger used a rubber mallet, a bamboo stick and another water bottle to pound and scrape the sculpture as she recorded the audio. She even played it with a bow, like a cello.
Back in her studio, Hunsinger layered that audio with the sound of upright bass and the recording of a rainstorm. The end result is a sort of sonic recollection of the flood itself, complete with a point when, as Hunsinger puts it, "the water goes over the banks and everything gets just super chaotic."
In all there are seven of these artistic responses to public art, all paid for with grants from the folks that run Bonaroo. The music, sound art, poems and short stories will be presented at various points through this month, some performed live with others offered as recordings.