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Urban Planning: Lumen Collective’s installation for the Greenway’s Winter Lights series


 Lumen Collective is an interdisciplinary arts collective made up of eight to ten artists, aged 22 to 28 years, from diverse backgrounds and working in various media. Its members are Ben Aron, Andrea Zampitella, Angelina Zhou, Mary Booras, Danielle Freiman, Sonya Highfield, Brooke Schibelli, Kara Stokowski, and Laura Piraino. They recently began collaborating on a commission for the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway Conservancy's Winter Lights at Dewey Square Park, a series of lighting displays and art events. Their piece launches this Thursday.

With this project, Lumen Collective are revisiting the history of Dewey Square Park, particularly the physical and social transformation of the space brought about by the construction of the Central Artery Highway in the 1950s. The installation, titled Urban Planning: A History of Public vs. Private Space in the Heart of Downtown Boston, uses LED lights to outline a blueprint of the demolished buildings that once stood on Dewey Square.

Initially it was Ben Aron who brought the Greenway project to the Collective: "Since this piece was going to be very site-specific, and even project-specific, we dug through the history of the space, trying to find an interesting story. As soon as we came across the Central Artery construction, we knew we had found a really interesting parallel between the past and the recent history of the space. It seemed like a narrative that was begging to be told. One of my main thoughts when bringing this project to the Collective was that I didn’t want it to be just another decorative, aesthetic piece," says Aron.

In researching the history of the neighborhood, and delving in the archives of the Boston Public Library and the Conservancy, members Andrea Zampitella and Mary Booras extracted insightful and poignant stories of those evicted from the area. They also discovered family connections: Andrea’s grandfather had an advertising agency nearby, while Mary’s grandfather ran a wholesale grocery. "Before this project, I didn’t even know about the history of the place," said Zampitella, "and it was through this project that I learned part of my family had such a history." "In researching this project, we’ve been discovering communal history as well as personal history," Booras concurred.

Lumen Collective's collaboration acknowledges the Park's most recent history as the center of Occupy Boston's activities. "What makes the space feel so charged is its recent relationship to the Occupy movement and encampment in 2011. There are strong parallels between the history of people being evicted from the space in the 1950s and the government-forced eviction of the Occupy protesters," explains Booras. While Occupy isn't addressed directly in the piece, Lumen hopes that these parallels will be seen in the installation, and that the piece will spark conversation about the movement. "We found a reoccurring theme of displacement by government," added Aron. For these young artists, Occupy, as an event and movement, felt closely related to their generation. Danielle Freiman commented on how hard it was not to focus on Occupy, but stay true to the entire history of the place and its complete narrative.

On opening night, a sound piece by Amber Vistein will accompany this conceptual mapping. "The space has a real sense of infamy and energy; yet also a feeling of emptiness when you walk into it," remarked Vistein. "Whether you’re 25 or 70 years old, you have some real ideas of change in the landscape and the events that occurred. The sound piece tries to address the specificity of the businesses that existed in the square by tracing out the structure of a workday. The attempt is to reanimate and reinvigorate the space with these sounds that are no longer heard, in structures that no longer exist, and with modes of production that are no longer happening. The piece starts out with themes of opening and starting a business day with activities that would’ve been heard. Sounds of production and labor follow, as machines are turning on, telephones ringing, and eventually there’s a break in the day. It ends when the workday comes to a conclusion with sounds of closing down followed by a stillness that occupies the space."

The members of Lumen Collective come from incredibly different backgrounds and practices. Freiman spoke about the contrasting approaches of members working with more traditional media and others favoring new media. One of their biggest challenges was the disagreements that arose in approaching the same conceptual problem in completely different ways. Sonya Highfield and Angelina Zhou added that it was this diversity in everyone’s background and education that allowed them to collectively present such a multi-faceted project.

Urban Planning opens Thursday 14 March, 6:00-7:30pm in Dewey Square Park (between Summer St. & Congress St.)

About Author

Sarah Sulistio is a student at Boston University’s History of Art and Architecture department. From Singapore and Beijing, she interested in Chinese Contemporary Art and Curatorial Studies. She is currently the Curatorial Intern for the 8o8 Gallery. Follow her on Twitter @Spizzock.

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