Congregation kicks off Market Square Public Art program

Claire Murray / Asst. Photo Editor – Congregation opened Friday in Market Square and will be on display until March 16.

By:  Katie Auwaerter  |  Asst. Features Editor

When the snow rolls in and the weather drops below 20 degrees, it’s easy to forget about all the things that the city of Pittsburgh has to offer.

The Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Office of Public Art are trying to remind people through Market Square Public Art, a program that will turn the square into an art destination by installing temporary public works during the winter months.

“It’s an activation of Market Square, which is such a fantastic public space for everyone. In the winter months, it gets a little slow- people kind of stay in the restaurants, there’s no outdoor dining, they stay in their homes- and we want to give them an opportunity to get out and enjoy our city even when it’s cold outside and this is a great piece to do it,” said Jeremy Waldrup, President and CEO of Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

The christening project of the Market Square Public Art program is Congregation, an interactive light and sound installation that turns viewers into the artists. Pedestrians influence the video being projected onto the ground and can see how their interactions change the video through a live feed being projected on a screen. The artistic group KMA, which consists of artists Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler, was chosen for the inauguration out of the 130 applicants that the program received.

According to Renee Piechocki, director for the Office of Public Art, the PDP (Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership) and Office of Public Art were hoping that projects would have a daytime and nighttime presence, one that would bring people together in the square. Congregation had that.

“I think anyone who comes here has to agree that there’s a huge variety of people here in Pittsburgh tonight and I can’t be happier than having [Congregation] as our first project. It’s been a great partnership on the back end with the artists and with the PDP and it just seems to be a project that really captured people’s imagination,” Piechocki said.

In its first weekend, Congregation already has caught the attention of Pittsburgh residents and visitors. The audience, made up of those young to old and human to canine, not only engaged in the kinetic work, but also caused them to explore and engage their own form. Whether lying on the ground in the projected human outline, forming shapes with multiple bodies to spell a word, or joining hands in a circle of strangers, Congregation took people who would normally pass each other on the sidewalk and brought them together for a greater purpose: public art.

Congregation is quite contemplative, it’s not a piece that demands you to perform in any kind of demonstrative way. Your presence is recognized in a very real way by the system that runs it and you all collectively make something which sometimes is less interesting and sometimes it’s more interesting but the dynamic is always the people in the space- it’s not what we do, it’s what they do.”

Having been featured in both China and the UK, Congregation is making its North American debut here in Pittsburgh, an exciting feat for those in the Public Art field of Pittsburgh.

Why Pittsburgh?

Piechocki, having worked in the Office of Public Art since its inception nine years ago, says it feels great to have the exhibit.

“I mean I feel like the rest of the country can eat our dust! I am thrilled that a city like Pittsburgh, which has a long history of excellence in public art and excellence in technology, has this project. It just feels like a natural to be here.”

When the PDP and Office of Public Art made a call for artists for the program, Kit Monkman felt that KMA’s installation would work well in Market Square, with the space being “absolutely perfect.”

“It was just very exciting for us to bring it to a new environment, a new culture because as I said, there is no work without participants. And every country you take it to, every culture you take it to, has a different [approach]- maybe sometimes subtlety, maybe sometimes radically- but different approach to the work and it’s just great to see that. And it’s fantastic because North America is still so much a part of the central part of the world so it’s great to finally see how Americans respond. “

With the quickly apparent success of its first installation, the Market Square Public Art sets its own bar high, leaving a lot for the installations of 2015 and 2016 to live up to. So what should Pittsburgh expect to see in the future for Market Square?

“While [Congregation] is a project that was brought here, that was started somewhere else, the commissions for 2015 and 2016 will be unique to Pittsburgh and will have their international debuts here,”Piechock said. “So they may travel to other locations, but the first place that they’re going to be is here in Market Square so we’re really excited about that.”

For more information about Market Square Public Art and Congregation, check out www.marketsquarepublicart.com.

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