Artist Brian Eno once remarked, “Sometimes the strongest single importance of a work of art is the celebration of some kind of temporary community.” As public art becomes recognized as a powerful tool for adding social and cultural value, towns across the U.S. have begun rallying around it to create a shared sense of community and for invigorating lifeless public spaces.
Westport, Connecticut, a small town located along the Long Island Sound, recently played host to one of the most unique community-focused public art installations. The town invited lifelong resident and artist Miggs Burroughs to transform an “ugly” pedestrian tunnel in downtown Westport into an art gallery.
Trained as a graphic designer, Burroughs, who has the design of the Westport town flag, a U.S. postage stamp and several covers for TIME Magazine to his credit, approached the project with the minimalism and compositional style of a graphic artist. Conceptualizing an art installation focused entirely on the interaction of hands, Burroughs identified 32 residents of Westport whose hands would bring their deeply personal stories into the public realm. However, instead of employing static photography for telling the stories, Burroughs captured the interaction of each pair of hands by expressing “emotion through motion.” Being well versed in the unique technique of lenticular imagery, Burroughs photographed each pair of hands “speaking to each other,” in two separate frames, then worked with us at Duggal Visual Solutions to transform these frames into a filmlike narrative.
To create effective motion through lenticular photography, different images need to be carefully combined or “interlaced.” They need to be printed on an extremely high-resolution digital print, which is meticulously matched and laminated to a grooved optical plastic sheet that refracts light in different directions, bringing the separate images into a cohesive identity. The lenticular process takes photography to a cinematic level, engaging the viewer through the shifting of the image in a meaningful manner, transforming the experience of the images into a filmlike setting.
Of the many notable artists, entrepreneurs and others featured in the show, the most remarkable is Anita Ron Schorr, a Holocaust survivor in her 80s, whose arms, interacting with an eight-year-old girl’s, bring us face to face with one of the darkest symbols of humanity: a tattooed number seared into the skin. Choosing to juxtapose the darkness of the past with hope for the future through the interaction of the woman’s and the young girl’s hands, Burroughs creates a powerful emotional message.
In the words of Anita Schorr, “I am delighted to be a part of this project. The number tattooed on my arm represents the time in history that humanity was forgotten and innocent people were deported to concentration camps. I was in Terezin, Auschwitz, slave labor in Hamburg, and after 4 years, finally liberated in Bergen-Belsen on April 15, 1945. My dream for the future, represented by Scarlett’s hands, is that the world should be without hatred, discrimination and pain. My mission is to go to schools and empower students to make a difference by committing themselves to make a better world. And I believe they will.”
The lenticular images Duggal helped create for Burroughs move with pedestrians as they gaze at a single frame. “When my own project, called ‘Tunnel Vision,’ became a reality, Duggal was my first choice,” says Burroughs, as he describes the process. “The creation of lenticular imagery is a fairly arcane, but very demanding and precise process, and there are probably only a handful of businesses in the entire country with a crew skilled enough to do the job. ‘Tunnel Vision’ required the creation of 16 different lenticular images measuring 30×30 inches each, and mounted on Duratrans, to be backlit, with an optimal viewing distance of 48 inches, which was half the width of the space between the walls they were to be mounted on. I needed to work with people who understood the challenges involved, and who were prepared to partner with me in creating a stunning permanent display. The project got started late, and so time was a big issue, but Duggal rose to the challenge by quickly creating a prototype for me to look at in their facility. To simulate the correct viewing distance, the images were placed on top of a lightbox placed face up on their worktable. I hopped up onto the table to look down on the images with my head at a measured 48-inch distance from the image, swaying back and forth to simulate what the viewer would see as they walked by. I was almost brought to tears when I finally got to see these images, which I had worked on for more than a year, emerge with such depth, clarity and perfection. The entire Duggal crew lived up to every expectation of service and quality, and beyond.”
Choosing the simplicity of the interaction of hands to express profoundly emotional, yet invisible stories, Burroughs mesmerizes the audience with his imaginative storytelling style, depicting the passage of time while keeping us firmly in the present with the unique application of lenticular imagery. His work, both suggestive and descriptive, is like a strand that ties the residents of the Westport community into a strong bond. Giving the public such a beautiful platform to connect with its own is what makes public art create enriching communities while also reminding us that powerful stories are always amidst us, should we choose to stop and look.
It gave us great pleasure to help someone as creative, yet down to earth, as Miggs Burroughs. One exemplary remark from the audience sums up the beauty of what he created:
“Once again you have rescued the ordinary and delivered a triumph. A lifeless passageway is now an astonishing portico. The iridescent images compel us to not turn away. Artistic simplicity is truly a form of magic. One of the grand missions of art is to bring purpose to public spaces. You have given us all a visual annuity.”