Among farmers’ market attendees, corporate commuters, and bar-goers in Ballston last Thursday night (Aug. 7), something else stood out. Two new interactive art displays debuted on Ballston’s sidewalks in the forms of beach chairs and Craigslist poetry.
The brightly painted chairs on the corners of Fairfax Drive and N. Taylor Street, Glebe Road and Wilson Blvd, and in Welburn Square encouraged passersby to sit back and consider rising sea levels. Outside of A-Town Bar and Grill, the jumble of words pulled from Craigslist and projected onto a screen piqued the interests of pedestrians.
These two art installations were part of a series of “Public Displays of Innovation” sponsored by the Ballston Business Improvement District. “Beachfront Potential” and “Missed Connections” were the first of eight projects in the series intended to “bring the character and personality of Ballston to its streets,” according to Ballston BID CEO Tina Leone.
“We wanted to see how to incorporate technology and different forms of media for people to experience on the streets,” Leone said.
With Beachfront Potential, artist Patrick McDonough wanted to pose Ballston residents with the a new, hypothetical shoreline, and suggested that climate change could bring the beach to Ballston. Those who sat down at each of the beach chairs’ three locations were educated and engaged by mobile activities accessed by scanning unique barcodes with smartphones.
“With this project, it’s really the juxtaposition of leisure and this mixing of serious and non-serious imagery and content that’s really an effective way to deal with these things,” McDonough said.
Scanning the barcode at the Fairfax Drive location outside Zoe’s Kitchen and The Nature Conservancy brought up an informative video on climate change. McDonough created the 7-minute video using footage he took along Maryland’s eastern shore and from interviews with Nature Conservancy scientists. A “Skippin’ Stones” melting ice caps game and a list of suggested “beach reads” showed up from the Glebe Road and Wellburn Square locations’ barcodes, respectively.
“If you sit in your house and think about global warming, then you might become so morose that you never leave your house,” McDonough said.
McDonough teaches art at Corcoran College of Art + Design and American University. He said he got the idea for Beachfront Potential when he was looking at a map of rising sea levels.
“It was a happy correlation that this [predicted shoreline] went straight through the Ballston corridor,” McDonough said.
Artist Peter Lee projected a slideshow of black and white imagery and word fragments pulled from Craigslist’s Missed Connections section onto a small screen outside of A-Town.
“I worked in the area and it’s IT heavy and government heavy,” Lee said. “One of the most human things you can have is romance, and living in the D.C. area that’s normally synonymous with power and stuff [made it] interesting to find a human element here.”
Lee used a prepared slideshow Thursday because of a bad wi-fi connection outside the bar, but he said he can funnel bits of text from Craigslist as they’re posted with the algorithm he and co-creator Blake Turner wrote.
“We definitely tailored the data and the aesthetic toward Ballston,” Lee said. “We wrote the algorithm so it can chop up the data more, [because] previously we were just pulling subject lines from Craigslist. Now we’re pulling the content, and it’s like stream of consciousness poetry.”
Some of the pre-prepared bits of text said, “was wearing sunglasses” and “interested noww hit me/regularly/up.”
Lee and Turner are both George Mason University graduates and members of the Floating Lab Collective art group in D.C. Although their installation only showed Thursday, Friday (Aug. 8) and Saturday (Aug. 9), McDonough’s installation will remain on Ballston’s streets through September, Leone said.
Leone said the BID plans to debut its other six projects in the next three months. “Quantum Tours Americana” and “Site: WA + FC (Ballston)” will show in September, “Cloud,” “Urban Oasis,” and “Forest of Knowledge” in October, and “Axon Xylophone Bridge” in November, Leone said.
“We really try to look for things that are unique or haven’t been seen before,” Leone said. “It’s been a long time in the works, but they’re really amazing, extremely high quality projects that people can experience together.”