WASHINGTON -- It's more than just cherry blossom season. It's also the season for a Howard University student to cover himself in stamps and ask post offices around the District of Columbia to ship him -- an homage to Henry "Box" Brown, who escaped slavery by mailing himself in a crate to Philadelphia.
Twenty-five art projects will be installed around the nation's capital. They range from performances, like the one about Henry "Box" Brown, to classes and workshops, to a large-scale xylophone made of cherry wood. (Yes, it can be played. Drumsticks will be on hand.)
Curator Amy Lipton's 5x5 project BiodiverCITY includes pieces that seem perfect for springtime: a "Butterfly Bridge," a large walkable labyrinth in an open grass field, the "Love Motel for Insects" and a hotline for making wishes.
The Huffington Post recently spoke with Lipton to find out more about insect love lives and the coalescence of nature and human creation.
The Huffington Post: Can you explain what Butterfly Bridge is? It's described in the 5x5 background materials as a way of "re-imagining our urban infrastructure to account for the diverse species that we share space and resources." What does that mean?
Amy Lipton: The "B Bridge" will be a literal bridge that will suspend and span across a roadway. The bridge will be made of a high-tech material that contains a plant medium and an irrigation system to water those plants. The plants will attract butterflies, the point being to help them to cross busy streets filled with traffic. I'm not sure exactly which butterflies are common in the D.C. area, but it should attract various types. There is no special significance to which types of butterflies.
HuffPost: p:ARK is a walkable labyrinth in a wild field. Labyrinths traditionally have a spiritual, religious or meditative element to them. Is that the case with this labyrinth? If so, what is the goal of walking the labyrinth -- is it to think about nature more spiritually?
Lipton: The point of p:ARK is to raise awareness about differences between what we think of as "wild" and cultivated. Since lawns (both household and at public places) are highly cultivated and often use non native grass seed, the artist will re-plant the lawn at Yard's Park with weeds and native plants and will let them grow before mowing the labyrinth pattern into the grass.
Of course there will be the opportunity for viewers/walkers to convene with the labryinth is a meditative way and to think spiritually about nature and what constitutes natural, but the artist being an immigrant himself would like people to focus on the idea of what is native and how we might be able to expand our ideas about that both culturally and aesthetically.
HuffPost: "Love Motel For Insects" is designed to attract insects to a place where people can see and interact with them. What do you imagine people doing with the insects? Is it a love motel -- will mating be taking place?
Lipton: Yes, the Love Motel for Insects is designed to attract insects and they will mate! They will also leave traces of a type of pheromone as part of the mating process and these traces will leave a "Jackson Pollock" style painting on the fabric surface of the sculpture (though faintly). People can interact with the insects by taking photographs, drawing and studying them. Brandon has done these light sculptures in several other places and hopes to have a workshop at the zoo with kids and people of all ages to study the insects in a variety of ways.
HuffPost: The "Natural Wishing" project sounds like it has the potential to be kind of sad! Do you have any sense what sorts of wishes people will make? What will you be doing with the wishes?
Lipton: Chrysanne Stathacos has been doing "wishing art projects" for the past several years all over the world. She was inspired by spending time in India and Japan, cultures where people make wishes on trees and often leave bright colored ribbons containing their wishes tied to the trees. She has collected thousands of these wishes and made a book out of many of them.
There are every possible type of wishes -- for hope, for happiness, for love, for health, for peace, for money -- you name it. So yes there is the potential for sadness and therefore wishes are needed.
It is a colorful and vibrant art project so I think there's a lot of potential for viewers to experience joy looking at the work -- even if they don't feel inclined to make a wish. There will also be a public component to this project which will take place on many D.C. buses. Posters on the buses will direct riders to call a number on their cell phone and leave a wish recording or post a photo.
HuffPost: What's it like curating nature, like you are in these projects? Do you walk around looking at trees and squirrels differently than you used to?
Lipton: The intersection of nature and art in their varied relationships has been my focus for a long time now. I have a non profit -- ecoartspace -- with a partner who works out of L.A., Patricia Watts. We have been curating art and nature related projects for public spaces, museums, galleries, nature centers, parks, environmental centers and schools for over 10 years. So to me this is a normal way of working now.
We have worked with hundreds of artists who focus on a wide variety of environmental issues -- water, rivers, oceans, pollution, sea level rise, global warming, animals, habitat disappearance, loss of species, forests, sprawl, just to name a few. Some are painters, some are photographers or sculptors and some create public art or infrastructure design such as for water filtration systems, etc ...
p:ARK by Tattfoo Tan is a large walk-able labyrinth in an open grass field that has been left un-mowed to grow wild with weeds, grasses and other volunteer plants. This piece is part of the curator Amy Lipton's 5x5 project titled "BiodiverCITY" -- it will be on view from March 20-July 20.
Howard University student Wilmer Wilson IV will create a suite of performances based on the historic 19th century figure Henry "Box" Brown, a slave from Richmond, Virginia (the artist's hometown), who mailed himself to freedom in the North by paying to be shipped in a crate. Wilson will cover himself with three grades of postage stamps and walk into post offices, asking to be mailed. Wilson's 5x5 performance will take place on April 5 at the University of the District of Columbia and on April 13 at the Old Post Office Pavilion.
Spore by Ben Jeans Houghton is both an enigmatic object overlooking the National Building Museum's Great Hall, and a viewing device through which something unseen yet fundamental is revealed within that space. In biology, once a single spore is released it has the potential to develop into a new organism, and similarly, the Spore artwork promotes a shift in the way we perceive our everyday environments. This project runs from March 20-April 27.