Public Art Proposals

In 1979 I received from the Visual Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts a Planning Grant for Art in Public Places. Since most of my creative work has been literary, the people awarding me this grant no doubt expected that I would come up with proposals for public art different from the common run. Well, I have. One principal way in which they differ is that most are for extended spaces, such as the edge of a train platform, a series of vaults in a hallway ceiling, the vertical risers of a wide flight of steps, or the floor of a very long passageway, such as that connecting one train line to another or the airline terminal to the departure pad. Although I can submit slides of certain work I have done, some of which incorporate kinds of images that might fill such spaces, please consider these less relevant than my declaring first my preference for such spaces (which most other artists inclined to public art finds impossible) and then that I work within a literary tradition--with language and/or literary forms.

For the edges of train platforms, for instance, I am proposing the installation, in brass letters at least 4" high, two feet from the edge, their bottoms facing away from the tracks, of texts I call strings. These texts are extended sequences of letters that are composed of overlapping words, each new word including at least three letters of its predecessor. Let me quote, as an example, the beginning of Stringfive:

Stringfiveteranciderideafencerebrumblendivestablishmentertainteger|unde rwritemperamentorthographysicisternumericalibereavesdrpenervous....

I calculate that, if the letters are 4" high and set lower-case, an exhaustive text (that is 100" on my typewriter) would be 200 feet long, which happens to be the length of a typical subway-train station. Since, unlike most public art nowadays, these strings cannot be assimilated in a single glance, they need, to be frank, a captive audience, like one waiting impatiently for a train, willing to work on a puzzle, with full assurance that should they not entirely solve it now, it will surely be there the next time they return.

For extended passageways and ceilings, like the interior of an arcade, I have works I call constructivist fictions which are sequences of square symmetrical abstract line drawings that metamorphose in some sort of systemic narrative and, in contrast to verbal fiction, can be "read" from either end. Some involve only a few successive drawings; others fall in the range of nineteen images (and are thus suitable for spaces extended to the ratio of nineteen to one); one is nearly four hundred images long (and thus perfect for the driveway to the CIA!). One of these was a finalist three years ago in a competition for a hallway ceiling in the Portland Justice Center.

A final proposal I have is for a film installation of Epiphanies ideally in a place where people are waiting against their wishes. Now that I have written this letter, as well as the enclosed proposal, could I please ask you to show both, which may be freely copied, in addition to several slides (enclosed), the next time your panel meets to consider artists' ideas for art in public spaces.

Naturally, if I pass the first hurdle, I would be willing to make more specific models for more specific sites. If you or your colleagues have any questions, don't hesitate to ask. Thank you for your continuing interest.