The coronavirus pandemic has forced cancellations of many art exhibits this year, but University of North Texas alumni, faculty and students are part of an effort to bring the public together in a new way to safely experience art.
Dallas-based art organization AURORA, co-founded by UNT alum and Executive Director Joshua King, transformed a 100,000-square-foot parking garage in downtown Dallas into a drive-thru immersive art exhibition — Area 3. The unique project marries art and technology through large-scale light, video and sound installations, creating a new experience during these unprecedented times.
Area 3 features 15 artists, including many with UNT ties. College of Visual Arts and Design faculty members Alicia Eggert, Zak Loyd and David Stout, who also teaches classes in the College of Music, all have work in Area 3. CVAD student Zuyva Sevilla and CVAD alumni Julie Libersat (’16 M.F.A., ’17 M.A.) and Blake Weld (’18 M.F.A.) are taking part as well.
“Artists, at this point in time especially, need to be invested in ways to engage the public and this seemed like a really great opportunity for artists to do something for the community,” Stout said. “The general public has very few ways to come together in any form if they are practicing social distancing, and for artists, there aren’t many options for making creative statements about the circumstances we’re in right now.”
The idea of using a parking garage as an exhibit venue has long been on King’s mind. With social distancing causing car-related activities such as drive-in theaters to become more popular in 2020, King thought timing for a drive-thru art exhibit seemed ideal.
Garage owners were more than willing to collaborate. Dallas-area parking garages, and the local arts and culture sector, have suffered financial cuts totaling $68 million this year with the pandemic impacting how people work and experience art. AURORA started an Artist Relief Fund to support North Texas artists impacted by the pandemic, but they wanted to do something more. With Area 3, they have a mission to support the artists and garage owners using a shared profit model to lessen some of the financial toll from COVID-19.
“This project has given us a lot of opportunities to form new alliances,” said King, who graduated in 2005 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in studio art.
Artists had less than a month to prepare works for the event, with the added challenges of figuring out how to install work in a space not traditionally used for art.
“It was stressful doing something this large and interactive in less than a month,” Eggert said. “We had to figure out how to mount things into the ceiling without bolts and how to run power. It was all worth it and I knew it was going to be an exciting opportunity for me.”
Eggert’s piece, “The Future Comes from Behind Our Backs,” is the first large-scale installation drivers pass through. She explores the existential question of time and place and the roles individuals play in these themes with a six-line poem projected onto a series of curtains made from satin ribbons hanging from the ceiling. The poem, which is an adaptation of a quote from Robert M. Pirsig’s novel, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, reads:
“The future comes from behind our backs, the past recedes before our eyes, there is no beginning there is no end.”
“Moment by moment, the future is always coming, and we don’t know what to expect,” Eggert said. “There’s no way we could predict what happens next and we are slowly watching this time fade away.”
In Stout’s “The Chamber,” he uses a science fiction-inspired funerary chamber that resembles the passing of one age to the next. The installation uses 12 projectors with pre-recorded images and generative animation. He looks at the coronavirus and the social and political response to it, the death of loved ones on a large scale and the disruption of the social and economic fabric of our world.
“We speak of the new normal, but I don’t think we’re going back to the old normal,” he said. “I think we are really transitioning into something new, so I wanted to make a piece that acknowledges the death of something passing but is also an exuberant embrace of something new.”
This isn’t King’s first foray into an unconventional gallery space. During his time at UNT, King created and organized exhibitions at local spots in Denton such as Cool Beans, Lucky Lou’s and Sweetwater as a member of the underground photography group called Parallax. After college he moved to Dallas and joined Second Thursday, a group of artists who gathered in obscure places such as empty apartments, warehouses or alleyways behind silos to host formal critiques of each other’s work.
In 2010, King joined artist Shane Pennington and veteran Dallas arts supporter Veletta Forsythe Lill in founding AURORA, a public art event mixing technology and nature to cultivate immersive art experiences in Dallas neighborhoods. The biennial event has grown to attract more than 60,000 attendees and evolved into a nonprofit that works to foster and push the boundaries of art in North Texas.
“You have to tear away the white walls of the galleries and museums and go searching for places that really can be beautiful,” King said.
Where: 1600 Commerce St., Dallas
When: On display through Jan. 1.
Cost: Tickets are $30 per car.
For Tickets and More Info: Visit area3.site.