Rare plants and animals are the theme in Tatiana Hantig's proposal for ZAP I Courtesy of the artist.
Local artists gathered at Cambridge Recreation Center Friday to share their Zap7 utility boxes proposals with Clark County Commissioners Mary Beth Scow and Chris Giunchigliani, Nevada Energy, and each other. Their designs ranged from abstraction to illustration, works in graphic forms to experiments with text-type imagery, showing the immediate impact of funding and opportunity.
The artists presented big ideas on how art can reside in public space. Each took their turn to talk about exploring environment and traffic patterns, scaling image to structure, or adapting design for foot traffic or anyone waiting for public transportation. Some renderings showed a direct response to strip mall or parking lot architecture within the sightline of their appointed metal square sculpture. A little footwork brought out deep thinking.
It may have shown how Nevada Department of Transportation’s (NDOT) interpretation of public art missed the onramp to great works. Granted, the scale is bigger and there’s a complicated infrastructure to negotiate, but the the 3 percent set aside for landscaping or enhancement (sometimes cited as high as 5 percent) would have been a well-budgeted public art process, not expensive decoration.
And NDOT isn't afraid to accept the works on the Interstates as public art. In a 2012 RGJ article “Public art’s link to Northern Nevada’s economy,” new works along the I-80 and U.S. 395 were covered. It said:
Among the pieces of public art folks might recognize are the cantilevered coffin that hides a gas manifold near the downtown movie theater, perforated gates at West Street Market and 15 sculptures near Interstate 580 and Fairview Drive in Carson City that capture frontiersman John C. Fremont’s exchanges with indigenous people living here.
Someone was thinking on behalf of Nevada of the north. In Southern Nevada, there's a generic reading in the repetitive imagery with the replication of indigenous rock art, called “Sculptural Applique,” by landscape architects. Even the supplementary flat iron animals are not any more ambitious than garden gnomes, and the vendor declared would be the most photographed art in Las Vegas next to the welcome sign (Which is improbable since most only see them traveling at 60 miles per hour and the adjacent roads forbid parking or stopping). The same for Springs Preserve’s giant roadrunner, gray fox and Gila monster that work as signs, not public art. It’s also an undocumented invasion unless captured by someone riding shotgun with a camera.
That doesn't mean NDOT preparation and research wasn't robust, as seen in their paper trail that shows how they partnered with the Landscape Architecture and Planning Program at UNLV during the master planning to gather expertise and research on the "I-15 Corridor Plan." NDOTs use of landscape architecture, as internal thinking or farmed out to bidding firms, limited real public art foresight. The report read:
NDOT specified that the composition of the consultant team was to be truly multidisciplinary, with landscape architects, civil engineers, planners, designers, graphics professionals, a professional facilitator, and a web designer.
No word of an artist.
Having one or two could be helpful when making art. With minimal instruction and short window the artists selected by ZAP found visual interaction between neighborhood, and history, and experience. The outcome will be intimate storytelling.
It almost happened, by accident, at East Craig Road near Nellis Air Force Base. The landscaping forms a graphic of jets in flight. From a car it is read as an abstraction, fulfilling how roadside décor works as a traffic calmer. From above it is site-specific, and in its way, an accessible response to land art in the deserts of Nevada.
E. Craig Road at I-15 I Google Maps
That thought could have been applied other interchanges with vast parcels. Near McCarran Airport, LAS in letters with flight paths leading in could readable by plane, or be an actual reference to Blue Diamond Hill Gypsum Mine. An overpass that bears the name of an imploded casino could have been had been landscape shaped in the lost silhouettes of structures, so they appear as ghosts in the road.
Viewership would not just by car or plane. Anyone planning a trip with Google Maps would see the graphic symbols as alternative way-finders.
After a decade of ZAP there are enough boxes that demonstrate how artists approach a simple box as public art. NDOT and landscape firms may want to take a tour of the new work that will be completed by early April. They may find someone to help design something, or hired to be on a panel, and help create more than the desert enigma made of rusted iron and concrete reliefs.
Above: Stephen Hendee created sculpture for the celebration of 30 years of public art programming in the City of Las Vegas.