Performance art movement

With willing subjects jumping in, Public Moves hopes to make a mountain of discovery out of a hill

October 23, 2008|By Mary Carole McCauley | Mary Carole McCauley,mary.mccauley@baltsun.com

If you're near Federal Hill on Sunday afternoon, and 200 people simultaneously drop to their knees and begin crawling on the ground, you might think that you're witnessing a mass, public-spirited search for a lost contact lens.

You'd be completely wrong, but also kind of right. Public Moves Federal Hill has nothing to do with locating a tinted disc roughly the size of a fingernail. But the community art project has everything to do with seeing the world from a sharper, more focused point of view.

"Hopefully, this will encourage both the people participating and accidental observers to open their senses to what's happening around us," says Joshua Bisset, 34, who is organizing the event with his wife, Laura Quattrocchi.

"That's really one of the purposes of art. If I'm in a gallery looking at a painting, and then go outside, I'm flooded with details about my surroundings that I hadn't noticed before. If people see this work, and a day later, see a kid scrambling down Federal Hill, they might look at it in a new way. One of our goals is to show how everyday movement is inherently aesthetic and can be transformed into art."

Bisset and Quattrocchi operate a New Jersey-based arts group called the Shua Group, which specializes in mounting site-specific public art performances that blur the lines between performers and spectators. Public Moves Federal Hill, being hosted by the American Visionary Art Museum, is open to anyone who wants to participate and who can physically make it up the steep incline of the hill that is adjacent to the Inner Harbor.

"The idea of community art is to make living theater," Bisset says. "For part of the performance, people will just be accumulating and enacting and playing with the movement already on the hill, such as couples strolling on the top ledge or football players working out.

"There also will be some geometric expressions, which sort of occur naturally because the hill is so geometric. For instance, everyone might stand in one line and very, very slowly, walk from the top of the hill down to the bottom. A bit later, people might suddenly start crawling like crabs. Still later, everyone might lie down on their backs and form a human carpet."

Accompanying the performance will be a soundtrack composed by Steve Bradley, an assistant professor of visual arts at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The score will consist of magnified and amplified sounds that naturally can be heard from the hill, such as the chirping of birds, the creak of a swing set and the roar of passing traffic.

Bisset, who attended high school in Laurel, was inspired to create this project while visiting relatives who live in Charm City.

"One day, I was strolling through the area, and I realized Federal Hill would be a perfect setting for community art," he says. "It's a very well-known public square, it's beautiful, and any movement set against the hill is very visible from the whole harbor."

Bisset and Quattrocchi secured funding from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation and arranged for AVAM to act as a local sponsor. The couple then picked a date when the harbor is likely to be bustling. Not only does the last Sunday in October coincide with pleasant autumn weather likely to attract tourists, the crowds will be enhanced by football fans departing M&T Bank Stadium after the Baltimore Ravens-Oakland Raiders game.

"People who happen to be in the area may be absorbed into the project," Bisset says. "For instance, if there's an old couple strolling hand in hand between the two sections of the hill, they could easily be perceived as part of the performance."

The show will go on even if it drizzles. If there is a downpour, the rain date is Nov. 2. The first performance begins at 2 p.m. and lasts for an hour; another performance will be held at 4:30 p.m.

"We want to invite everyone who is curious and interested in connecting with other people to make something beautiful on the hill," he says. "Pardon the pun, but it really is a moving experience."

if you go

Those wishing to take part in Public Moves Federal Hill should attend the final rehearsal from 2 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Saturday. Participants will meet outside the American Visionary Art Museum, 800 Key Highway. Performances will begin at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sunday; they are free. Go to publicmoves.net.

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