A Public Art Installation Bridges the Gap Created by an Overpass

By SA2020 | Jul 8 2013

by Mark Byrnes, May 28 2013

The Atlantic: CITIES

Joe O’Connell and Blessing Hancock are two Arizona-based artists who specialize in public art. But they’re not the type to build your standard metal sculpture on a public plaza.

The duo operates a 14,000-square-foot fabrication facility in Tucson with 14 other artists, designers, engineers and craftspeople, making art out of fabricated metal, acrylic materials, LED lighting, and electronics.

Looking to find new ways for people to live and interact with art, O’Connell and Hancock create design pieces that help define the space they occupy and encourage interactivity. Their most recent project, “Ballroom Luminoso,” debuted earlier this year under an elevated highway in San Antonio. Part of a neighborhood improvement plan, the project aims, through design, to bridge the physical boundary created by the I-10 highway, forming better connections between the different ethnicities and income levels in the area.

We caught up with one half of the duo, Joe O’Connell, to talk about their most recent work in San Antonio, how they approach placemaking, and what future projects they’re excited about:

Can you tell me about your approach to “Ballroom Luminoso”?

We began with extensive research into the cultural and social threads than run through the neighborhood. We didn’t want to represent the city as a whole, but we tried to delve into the specific neighborhoods surrounding Theo and Malone Avenues.

Through our research we discovered a long history of agricultural achievements and horticultural beautification efforts from the turn of the century and through the early 20th century. We were interested in the roots of the area as a haven for moderate income families and the strong Hispanic heritage. Finally, we wanted to connect the piece with the nearby eco-restoration and recreation projects along the San Antonio River.

Our piece was an attempt to span these histories and project an aspirational picture of the neighborhood’s future. It’s a piece about rejuvenation and reinvention. We certainly embraced the iconography of La Loteria, which we were drawn to because of it’s flexible imagery and Mexican narrative. We adapted the designs in our medallions, and were able to communicate many aspects of the neighborhood through these simple graphics.

It is an area of mixed Mexican and Anglo heritage and we wanted to express that through the mixed-language name “Ballroom Luminoso.” Ballroom dancing is also something that crosses cultures. When we first saw the underpass, we were drawn to its formal elegance and clean lines. It possessed a certain dignity and rhythm of its own that we tried to call attention to with the chandeliers.

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