Transformer Station Curates RTA Public Art

Red Line riders 'hold up' Tower City ceiling in latest 'Inter | Urban' art project
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Steve Litt - Cleveland Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The newest addition to the ongoing Red Line rapid transit public art blitz creates the illusion that a small and diverse army of anonymous Clevelanders is holding up the roof of the station platform at Tower City Center.

To create the work, Cleveland photographer Peter Larson set up a photo booth at the station last month and asked transit riders to volunteer to be photographed with their arms straight overhead and their palms pressing upward as if they were carrying a huge imaginary load.

Larson then had the enlarged black-and-white photographs printed on sheets of vinyl so they could be stuck to the station's white ceramic tile columns in a process that involves pressure, and heat from a torch.

Colton Gravo of Brand Installers Inc., based in Canal Fulton, which carried out the installation Tuesday and Wednesday, said it should last 10 years.

The project is both playful optical illusion and a visual metaphor about the role that residents play literally and figuratively in supporting the city.

"It's very ennobling," said philanthropist and art collector Fred Bidwell, who conceived the project and who chose Larson to carry it out. "It doesn't look goofy or gimmicky. I love the dignity of those portraits."

The installation is part of the $507,000 "Inter | Urban" public art project, led by the nonprofit LAND Studio and funded by the Cleveland Foundation and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.

The Cleveland Foundation has added its backing to a $507,000 project to adorn the Red Line RTA Rapid route from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport to downtown with public art before the 2016 Republican National Convention.

LAND Studio's current portfolio includes managing the $50 million renovation of Public Square and additional public art projects on the square and the adjacent downtown Mall, all scheduled for completion before the Republican National Convention, which begins July 18.

The goal of "Inter | Urban," the first phase of which is now largely completed, has been to create a dozen large-scale public art installations at strategic points along the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's rapid transit Red Line, also before the convention.

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The RTA Red Line art blitz unfolds with vast, eye-catching artworks (photos)

The public art blitz led by LAND Studio with funding from the Cleveland Foundation and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency unfurled Monday along the RTA rapid transit Red Line, heading for completion this week.

In a larger sense, the project is intended to be a long-lasting artistic intervention – consisting mostly of murals – that adds surprise, delight and beauty to overlooked bridge piers and retaining walls along the Red Line. Future phases could involve additional spots on RTA's Blue and Green lines.

LAND Studio tapped Bidwell to curate three photographic installations for the current phase, including the new work at Tower City.
In all, some 50 Clevelanders posed for Larson. They were young and old, black and white, male and female.

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There's a middle-aged African-American man dressed in baggy camouflage trousers and a down vest, nonchalantly holding his left arm erect as if carrying big loads is easy for him.

A young white woman in office attire extends her right arm upward in a gesture of power and strength. And an older white woman in a coat with a broad-brimmed hat beams with pleasure. For her, lifting the ceiling looks like fun – something in which she's thrilled to be involved.

Bidwell, a former advertising executive and co-founder of the Transformer Station gallery, said the creative process of conceiving the project was "a little bit like conceiving a project for an ad campaign."

He said he felt as if the rapid transit station platforms for the Red, Blue and Green lines at Tower City were heavy, dark and pressing down from above.
"I was thinking, 'Gosh, this is oppressive,' " he said, adding that he felt, " 'You've got to have something that turns that around.' "

The a-ha moment came when Bidwell realized "it's not that the ceiling is pressing down, it's that we could be holding it up."

He then came up with the idea of asking a diverse group of Clevelanders to pose like giant caryatids – such as the sculpted maidens that hold up the Erechtheion on the Acropolis in Athens, one of which on view at the British Museum in London. "It seemed a very democratic statement of rising up from adversity and oppression," Bidwell said.

Gravo, who worked on the installation Wednesday with his cousin, Jarrod Gravo, said he was impressed with the concept – and the investment behind it.
"I love it that the city puts money into artwork," he said. "It's definitely a cool project."