Whether walking down the street to grab lunch or marching across the state for an important cause, at some point in our lives, most of us are pedestrians. A new public art display in Downtown Milwaukee called "Pedestrian Dramas" celebrates this fact.
The much-discussed display went up last week and features five kiosks on the north side of Wisconsin Avenue in front of Northwestern Mutual.
"As intended, this public art project enhances the pedestrian experience through it's whimsical and interactive nature," says Department of Public Works' Commissioner Ghassan Korban.
Each kiosk is mounted to a light pole and shows a short animated "drama" that takes place in five different weather conditions. The stop-action-like pieces were created from a series of rapidly flipping photos. A motion sensor above the screens detects viewers.
More than 200 Milwaukeeans were involved with the project that was created by Janet Zweig, a New York-based artist who was born in Brew City. Zweig spent 55 percent of her commission hiring local filmmakers, actors, directors, engineers and more. She says Milwaukee's John Schneider, Deb Loewen, Rebecca Holderness and Dan Wilson were instrumental in the process.
A contest was held for local people to submit ideas for the ideas for the videos, which are very short vignettes. The dramas all feature a stark white background with a couple of actors and a few other props. They are about eight seconds long, but loop over and over and can be watched repeatedly.
One of the dramas, for example, features five people holding umbrellas. They lower the umbrellas in front of their faces and when they raise them again, all but one of the people have been replaced with new people. A lot is said and not said in the imagery, and all of the dramas can be deeply analyzed or simply entertaining.
"The idea was to create scenes that you might actually see on the streets of Milwaukee," says Zweig. "I didn't have specific messages in mind. People can bring to it what they want and take away from it what they want. I just wanted it to be thought-provoking and amusing."
Zweig was chosen from 50 artists who responded to the Streetscape Public Art Advisory Committee's open call for someone to design and implement a public art project that would promote walking as an alternative form of transportation.
Zweig has worked on public art in many parts of the country, including a moving light sculpture for a Washington library, a sentence-generating sculpture for an engineering school in Orlando, two sculptures for a bridge in St. Louis and a system-wide interactive project for eleven light rail stations in Minneapolis. She also teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design and Brown University.
"Pedestrian Dramas" took about two years to complete. According to Zweig, two years is an average amount of time for a public art project of this kind. Plus, she says she wanted to take the time to find as many local people as possible to be involved and for the cast to be as diverse as possible, with both professional and amateur actors.
"Pedestrian Dramas" is a permanent installation and there will be two more rounds of imagery in the next two years. Then, the dramas will rotate.
"The next rounds could be either radically different then these, or similar in feel," says Zweig. "We welcome input from any Milwaukeean who would like to participate: an e-mail address is on each kiosk."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.