An Impermanent View


Last week Janet Zweig’s public art project, “Pedestrian Drama,” was installed on the first block of East Wisconsin Avenue.  This week I went to see it. There are five kiosks attached to five light posts along one block on the north side of the street.  Each kiosk contains three flap signs that create short, animated theatrical stories.  They are staged dramas.  There is no scenery. The stories take place in a white-box, versus black-box theater space, with actors and a few props.

My favorite trio is the middle kiosk.  On the left, a man and a woman look as though they are experiencing a windstorm, turning their umbrellas inside out. But then out pops an imp with a fan.  On the right, five people are holding up colorful umbrellas. They lower them so the umbrellas hide them.  When they raise them up, there are different people underneath, except for the youth in the middle.  In the center, a woman stands soaked and distressed, looking up at the sky.  A man enters from the left with a closed red umbrella.  He looks at her, doesn’t feel any rain, shrugs, and walks off.  This one I watched over and over again, mesmerized by what was expressed in less than ten seconds.

Here’s what excites me the most about this project: It is permanent public art with a temporary element.  Next year, and the year after, the animations will be replaced with new ones.  After that, they will rotate.

This brings to mind another temporary opportunity.  Debra Brehmer, director of Milwaukee’s Portrait Society Gallery, also teaches part-time at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design.  She sees Jin Soo Kim’s sculpture, “Stratiformis,” in Catalano Square across the street from MIAD all the time. Brehmer has suggested that the piece, which forms a rectangular frame, could have temporary “interactions” installed.  The frame could be viewed as a kiosk, with similar possibilities. For example, there could be elements added inside that would encourage people to explore the interior of “Statiformis.”   There could be a competition for MIAD students once a year to come up with a temporary response inside, outside, or maybe within it.  Perhaps Jin Soo Kim could be the judge.

In 2006, IN:SITE approached Jill Sebastian to seek permission for Harvey Opgenorth and Nathan Page to mount a temporary installation within her “The Vliet Street Commons” public art project.  Sebastian responded, “From the outset, I envisioned it as a backdrop for other artists to use as a framework.  The project was about creating a living place that could be a part of people’s lives.”

So often permanent public art disappears because people passing by incorporate it into a visual landscape and stop seeing it.  This won’t happen with “Pedestrian Drama,” and perhaps Zweig’s concept will trigger other temporary/permanent projects in Milwaukee.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Jill Sebastian
    Aug 18, 2011 @ 19:33:31

    In fact many things have been added to Jin Soo Kim’s piece. From the beginning she cited the tradition of tying wishes outside Taoist temples and hoped Stratiformis would spontaneously attract contributions. There have been many scarfs lost and found there. However, the biggest anonymous permanent addition is a wonderful, old, large hand truck. The Third Ward chose to mask the sculpture’s presence by planting trees on the north side – pointing to how fluid public space is. My appreciation for this prickly piece has grown with familiarity. Not everything in public space needs to be a crowd pleaser. Her intent was to point to darker aspects of consumer culture and our local history of backbreaking labor (garment industry) now sent overseas that makes our comfortable life style possible. Though I had no vote in choosing this artist, I applaud her courage.


    • Pegi Christiansen
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 03:23:02

      Thank you for this information about how temporary and permanent can coexist. You bring up the intentions of “Stratiformis.” Temporary “additions” could also respond to the content.


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