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Light Show Under Harlem Viaduct Hopes to Brighten Local Arts Scene

By Jeff Mays | April 30, 2014 2:57pm
 There are a couple of projects in the works to light the viaduct at 125th Street and 12th Avenue in Harlem. One would place a giant "H" there to attract visitors and the other would make the area safer at night with a series of LED lights. But those projects are at least a year off. In the meantime, Savona Bailey-McClain from the West Harlem Art Fund is curating a project called "REPURPOSE" to bring in dozens of cutting edge lighting artists on May 10 to illuminate the area in new and creative ways.
12th Avenue Viaduct Light Installations
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HARLEM — An art project at the Riverside Drive Viaduct is adding new lights to attract visitors and make the area safer at night.

Savona Bailey-McClain, founder and CEO of the West Harlem Art Fund, is curating a project called "REPURPOSE Public Art Intervention" to bring in dozens of cutting-edge lighting artists to illuminate the area in new and creative ways on May 10.

The project comes ahead of two other light projects on the viaduct slated for later this year. One project would put a giant "H" in lights at the 125th Street and 12th Avenue viaduct while another series of LED lights would brighten the area.

"It could take a year to bring lighting design to that area," said Bailey-McClain, whose organization focuses on public art, referring to the two other lighting projects. "We want to use these mini-projects to get people to come to that area of Harlem and patronize the restaurants over there."

The event, part of this year's NYCxDESIGN annual festival, will feature more than 16 local, regional and international artists producing works dealing with light at the clubs and restaurants along 12th Avenue.

The billboard for the Cotton Club on 125th Street will show videos by artist Vicki DaSilva, who along with her husband, Antonio, creates what she calls "light graffiti" using a camera to document the movement of a light source through the air, creating words or sculptures of light.

Outside of Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, images of cells produced by the companies at West Harlem biotech incubator Harlem Biospace will be projected onto the sidewalk.

At Route 9A, four or five monitors will loop digital art and 3-D photographer and filmmaker D. Carlton Bright will create live projections onto the sidewalk out front. Works by two digital artists will also be displayed on the sidewalk outside of Covo.

And at a wall between Covo and Route 9A, graffiti artist Lady K-Fever will create a temporary piece of graffiti using light-reflecting tape.

Work from other artists such as Peter Rogina, who makes holograms, and Steve Pavlovsky, who creates light shows using oils, glass, dye and live video among other tools, will also be on display.

"I think we humans are similar to moths in our attraction to light from sunshine to screens," DaSilva said. "When light art interacts with the public it can be very seductive and create a general message of positivity."

The area underneath the viaduct, built in 1900 to extend Riverside Drive, is developing as a restaurant and bar scene. But there has been violence at a few clubs in the area, including a recent shooting and a robbery, which some attribute to a lack of lighting at night.

"The more people you bring to the area the less those types of things will happen," said Bailey-McClain.

Jonah Levy, project director at the Center for the Holographic Arts in Long Island City, agreed. The center has partnered with the West Harlem Art Fund on the project and several artists associated with the center are contributing work to ""REPURPOSE."

"New York City is a place where we are constantly engaging with the street," said Levy. "I hope people see a new way to envision the street, the restaurant and that graffiti they see all the time. I hope they see something new and fresh and interactive."

Bailey-McClain says the area has a lot going for it. With the steel architecture of the viaduct above, 12th Avenue has a feel similar to the old Meatpacking District with potential to spare. The nearby piers on the Hudson River could serve as an attraction and events could be geared to be either more adult or more family-orientated.

That's why Bailey-McClain said the May 10 event will be the first in a series underneath the 12th Avenue viaduct dealing with light.

Two others are planned this year. An event on July 12 will coincide with City of Water Day, part of the effort to highlight the area's proximity to water. On Oct. 4, another event will coincide with Nuit Blanche, an international nighttime arts festival.

"Harlem does not have a major modern contemporary art scene. It's usually based on the Harlem Renaissance, the civil rights movement or things that happened a long time ago," said Bailey-McClain. "The viaduct could become a permanent venue for contemporary art — we just have to repurpose it."