In celebration of the Friends of the Public Gardens 50th anniversary in Boston, famed public artist Janet Zweig unveiled a large, participatory public sculpture a hand-crafted, double-sided, wooden cabinet with removable illuminated markers that invite discussion about ownership for an installation called What Do We Have In Common? on historic Boston Common until Oct. 22.
The Boston Common is a powerful backdrop for this experience. Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the land that became the Common was occupied by the Massachusett tribe that considered all land to be held in common. As Americas first public park, it has 387 years of history. It has witnessed executions, sermons, protests, and celebrations. It has hosted famous visitors and everyday gatherings of friends and family. The earliest townspeople grazed their cows and beat their rugs on the Common. The arrival of Bostons public water system in 1848 was heralded by a Water Celebration at the Commons Frog Pond attended by thousands. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke from Parkman Bandstand on April 23, 1965 after a mile-long freedom march through the streets of Boston. On October 1, 1979, Pope John Paul II celebrated the first papal mass in North America to 400,000 people.
What Do We Have In Common? is curated by Now + There
, a non-profit public art organization bringing temporary, site-specific artworks to all neighborhoods of Boston, and the installation is also part performance. Boston-based Guides pulls out blue illuminated markers from the cabinet each day and engages passersby in conversation around questions printed on the markers such as: Who Owns the Moon? Who Owns the Shadows? and Who Owns Happiness? Who Owns the Trees? At night, the cabinet and markers glow, lighting up the park as a reminder of the care needed to protect the beauty and dynamism of public spaces that we own in common. What Do We Have In Common? is on view for 30 days.
What Janet Zweig has so poetically brought to light is the crux of this work of being stewards of common resources: bringing people together to take care of something we all deeply value. Our partnership over these past 50 years has made us stronger and it makes our parks better for future generations, said Liz Vizza, Friends of the Public Garden President.
The cabinet also serves as a Giving Library for the public to take texts on the theme of shared resources. There is fiction, poetry, childrens books, and histories of Boston Common, available for all to take and book plates have been signed by Zweig. Reflective of the Commons rich cultural diversity, 34 of the 200 markers in the cabinet will be in Spanish, Haitian Creole, Mandarin, Cantonese, Vietnamese, and Cape Verdean Creole. Many of the Guides, who prompt conversations with the public, self-identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Color.
Now + Theres Executive Director Kate Gilbert adds: "Participatory public art enlivens spaces and galvanizes people. With Janet Zweigs decades-long history of sparking contemplation through subtly whimsical approaches, plus the 10 Boston area citizens acting as the pulse of What Do We Have In Common?, we're posing provocative questions that invite reflection and discussion about commonality in a way that encourages everyone to be part of crafting alternative solutions. This is the power of public art.
For Zweig, who lived in Boston and Cambridge in the 1980s and now resides in New York, this is her first public art commission in Boston. She has worked in the public art realm since the 1990s, consistently creating work that speaks to environmental issues. Her major projects include a kinetic installation on a pier along the Sacramento River, a performance space in a prairie on a Kansas City downtown green roof, a generative sentence wall in downtown Columbus, a light installation and memorial in Pittsburgh, a system-wide interactive project for eleven Light Rail train stations in Minneapolis, and a 1200' frieze at the Prince Street subway in New York. While she has created public sculpture, interactive works, and performance, What Do We Have in Common? seamlessly brings all three elements together for the first time.
After much research, I had more questions than answers about the idea of commons, Zweig said. The markers ask a lot of those questions. I am hoping the Guides, who spread the markers to the wider public around the park over the month, will facilitate many questions including an important one for us all: What do we have in common?
Janet Zweig is an artist based in Brooklyn, NY who works primarily in the public realm. Her sculpture and books have been exhibited widely in such places as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Exit Art, PS1 Museum, the Walker Art Center, and Cooper Union. Awards include the Rome Prize Fellowship, NEA fellowships, and residencies at PS1 Museum and the MacDowell Colony. She currently has a year-long residency with the New York City Mayor's Office of Sustainability and teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University.