Real Public Art
by Paul Shoesmith
The public art installation Human Construction by Carlos Dorrien sits in the heart of downtown Lowell on the Pawtucket Canal. It stands on the foundations of the former Martin’s clothing store/Strand Theatre and World Furniture buildings, perpendicularly placed off to the left and right of the Central Street bridge.
The many times I have walked through or driven by these pieces of granite in the last ten years, I never truly realized that they were even there until we walked through Lowell on the “public art” tour with my college class at UMass Lowell. The installation is so intertwined with the city, its downtown, and the backdrop of the mills that it blends into the cityscape, often escaping notice. Either it doesn’t work as a public art piece, since I never really noticed it, or works so well as public art and is so well situated in its urban context that you perhaps believe it to be the ruins of an old fallen building. This simple symbol of strength and durability mirrors the mills and certainly the city itself.
This is a powerful, strong piece of art, and with anything strong, it has evoked equally strong opinions. It does not answer all the questions of those who seek to define public art. Yes, it meets certain criteria; it is site specific and serves as an homage to the past, present and future of the community and its people. Where it fails is in its full availability to the public and because of that, it loses meaning and that interactive quality that I believe public art should have. It’s on a pier in a canal that is privately owned. It is a wonderful piece of stone with a great story and is rich with meaning. It makes a strong and abstract statement for people who are passing by to consider. . .
But doesn’t most plop art?
As with any judgmental blog entry about something that could cause some adversity, I think it is important to not only to explain myself, but to offer an answer to this dilemma. Since the air rights are owned by the city of Lowell, and not some money hungry energy company, like the canal, why not attach a walking bridge across the Pawtucket Canal on both sides allowing access to the installation from the sides that are owned by the city. There must be a way to truly include this in the realm of the wonderful Public Art collection into which the city has invested so much. Otherwise it will continue to be ignored and remain an impersonal artifact of a once great program, having the true public of Lowell wishing that the real public art of this site, The Strand Theatre, would be brought back from the dead.
Photo by Paul Shoesmith