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Fort Worth Public Art, Dallas Aurora to light up Will Rogers Memorial Center with public art show

Called “New Stories: New Futures,” the light, video and sound exhibitions will feature international and local artists on Aug. 20 and Aug. 21.

Drive down I-30 in August and you may see a psychedelic light show beaming from Fort Worth’s cultural district.

Its organizers and artists are asking that you get closer, spend a night on the grounds around Pioneer Tower and challenge yourself to think differently — not only about art, but also about the future.

“New Stories: New Futures” is the first of four major public artworks commissioned by Fort Worth Public Art. It will take place at the Will Rogers Memorial Center on Aug. 20 and Aug. 21, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The Pioneer Tower installation and supporting exhibition, both at Will Rogers, are free and open to the public.

These major public artworks are not only designed by and for the community, but also meant to be local and tourist attractions that define a place — like Chicago’s Cloud Gate, the reflective, bean-shaped sculpture that has become synonymous with the city.

“The whole idea is not only having a work of art of high caliber like that, but also having artwork that the public really associates with Fort Worth,” said Martha Peters, director of Fort Worth Public Art, a city initiative managed by the Arts Council of Fort Worth.

Fort Worth Public Art, which was founded in 2001, updated its master plan in 2017 after a yearlong process of asking nearly 2,500 residents questions about public art, like: “Where do people gather in Fort Worth?”

There was not one answer but four: the cultural district, downtown, the Stockyards and the Trinity River.

Public art “exists for people to encounter,” so it should meet a community where it already is, said Wesley Gentle, director of advancement at the Arts Council of Fort Worth. “It’s supposed to create a sense of place and create an experience when people interact with it.”

Pioneer Tower, which is more than 200 feet tall, was a natural candidate to be the first site. The building underwent rehabilitation in 2018, an opportunity to install the data, electrical and lighting cables needed for large-scale projections.

Dallas Aurora consulted during the rehabilitation project and later became a partner for the exhibition itself. The public arts organization, founded in 2010, has held biennial art festivals featuring light, sound and video and will return to Dallas in 2023.

Although “New Stories: New Futures” is a temporary new media exhibition, it will remain in Fort Worth Public Art’s collection, so the projections can take place again in the future. Fort Worth Public Art will also document the event through photo and video, so residents can experience it at their own leisure online.

“Artists using technology is the way of the future. For our program to really reflect what’s happening in the art world, we need to move with the times,” Peters said.

The Pioneer Tower installation was curated by DooEun Choi, a New York-based artist who co-curated Aurora 2018, and features Davide Quagliola, also known as Quayola, and Refik Anadol. Fort Worth’s city council provided $930,000 in funding for the installation.

A rendering of Pioneer Tower Dreams, a projection by Refik Anadol created for "New Stories: New Futures" in Fort Worth.
A rendering of Pioneer Tower Dreams, a projection by Refik Anadol created for "New Stories: New Futures" in Fort Worth.

Anadol was inspired by Blade Runner and a childhood love for science fiction to create Pioneer Tower Dreams, a video and audio projection of data from local archives, libraries and museums.

“The past, present and future come together in this algorithm,” he said. “As an artist, can I dip a brush into the mind of a machine, and paint the memories of Fort Worth onto a building? In this context, light is paint and data is pigment.”

Anadol described his piece as “a data sculpture” and “synesthetic architecture.” For him, machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence are tools for imagination.

Earlier this year, he called out to Fort Worth residents for their memories and received more than 1,000 submissions. The memories date as far back as the 1930s. Some are written stories of first days of school, while others are snippets of local radio and TV.

As an Istanbul native and Los Angeles-based artist, Anadol said, it was especially important that he engage with Fort Worth while creating his piece. The community contributions will occupy outsize space in the projection.

Quayola, a Rome native and London resident, drew from the nature that defines Fort Worth to create Texas Surveys: New Pointillism, Landscape Scans and Horse Paintings.

For his piece, he built custom computer vision systems and graphics software to capture billions of data points from trees in the Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Fort Worth Nature Center, as well as from a horse show at Will Rogers, to create “impressionist-like textures.”

The rhythmic gallop of a horse, for example, will become strips of brown, orange and white rippling across the Pioneer Tower. His artist preview described the resulting “computational paintings” as both “completely abstract” and “fully driven” by Fort Worth.

The supporting exhibition on the grounds of Will Rogers was curated by Lauren Cross, a Fort Worth-based artist, and features 10 artists from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It is funded, in part, by $235,000 in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Texas Commission on the Arts.

Cross, who called her involvement a “no brainer,” had helped to develop Fort Worth Public Art’s new master plan. For this curating process, she asked herself: “These stories which these artists are presenting, what do they provoke us to do about our future?”

Jin-Ya Huang will explore the experiences of Asian and immigrant women in Fort Worth in Your Lost Asian Sister. Inspired by her work at Break Bread, Break Borders, which economically empowers refugee women through food and storytelling, Huang’s video projection will illuminate stories that have been “told but not heard.”

Founder Jin-Ya Huang addresses diners ahead of the first Break Bread, Break Borders dining event at Cafe Momentum in Dallas.
Founder Jin-Ya Huang addresses diners ahead of the first Break Bread, Break Borders dining event at Cafe Momentum in Dallas. (Brian Maschino / Brian Maschino)

“For people who have not been hearing from other perspectives, they are literally hearing these stories for the first time,” she said. “When you have representation of all different manners, people really do see those possibilities happen.”

Huang will include submissions from community members about what Fort Worth has meant for them. For her, Fort Worth is “the city of good fortune and peace,” a Chinese translation which will be written in calligraphy for the projection.

Ciara Elle Bryant will create a projection inspired by Soul Train, Jordan commercials and other visuals by Black creators from the 1970s and 1980s — all of which she views as Black contributions to the zeitgeist.

“When Black people do it, it’s ghetto, but when it’s appropriated and marketed in high fashion, it’s a new cultural renaissance,” Bryant said. “I wanted to talk about something that was very specific and tied and rooted in Black culture.”

Dallas artist Ciara Elle Bryant poses for a portrait in front of her installation "Server: A Streamed Revolution" in 2020.
Dallas artist Ciara Elle Bryant poses for a portrait in front of her installation "Server: A Streamed Revolution" in 2020.(Jeffrey McWhorter / Special Contributor)

She ultimately landed on exploring sneaker culture in her piece. For Bryant, a self-professed “huge sneakerhead,” it is an accessible entry point for discussing the role of style in culture.

“It doesn’t have a fancy suit-and-tie guy telling you ‘don’t touch the artwork.’ You don’t have to drive completely out of your neighborhood,” she said.

The Pioneer Tower installation and supporting exhibition, Anadol said, function as catalysts for open and communal conversations — ones that are meant to continue beyond the two-night event.

“My hope is,” Anadol said, “this is a campfire for the 21st century.”

Reserve tickets for New Stories: New Futures at newstoriesnewfutures.org. The Kimbell Art Museum will also host artist talks on Aug. 18 and Aug. 21.

Kalley Huang, Staff Writer. Kalley Huang is a New York native and a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she studies statistics and reports for The Daily Tar Heel. She previously reported for the El Paso Times and The 9th Street Journal.

kalley.huang@dallasnews.com KalleyHuang
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