National Parking Garage
Artists transform Station North garage into a national park for Artscape
Published: July 18, 2012
Marian April Glebes had her freak-out a week ago, but a relapse would certainly be justified now, mere days before Artscape, as Glebes sits amidst the ribs of wooden cubes, flimsy and shining at the midnight hour, that should resemble four distinct ecosystems. It’s the oh-shit moment, where grand vision and highfalutin talk of Where the Wild Things Are-ish creations made from sod, vinyl strips, trees and shrubs, and 1,500 square feet of Astroturf slam against the reality of building—and let’s not forget transporting—these structures and transforming the ground floor of one of the danker garages in the city into something that resembles a national park.
Glebes is the curator of the Charles Street Parking Garage Project, the popular, faux-environmental lounge spot straddling the wilder edges of the Artscape Festival, and she has hit this rumble strip before.
Picture her surrounded by “The Psychiatrist Is In” stands from Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comic strips. “Really at this point, it’s just a boulder rolling downhill,” she says with an uncanny sense of optimism.
Maybe Glebes, 29, knows that all she has to do is turn the sprinkler on the field of sod stretching across a sizzling Charles Street and the heat-stroked masses will forgive any imperfections. “This is so ordinary. You can have a sprinkler anytime,” she says. “But in the middle of Charles Street, any person is liberated” when they see it, she says.
Success for the Parking Garage installation depends on a knack for utilizing everyday objects like the sprinkler, a porch swing, or tropical plants in a frantic, sweltering environment where people are most appreciative of a mobile exhibit that doles out free lemonade.
So how about a tribute to America’s national parks in the form of four separate cube installations that represent grassland prairies, deciduous forests, the tropics, and the desert?
The national parks theme will be recreated without, as Glebes’collaborator C. Ryan Patterson puts it, the micro-attention to detail of, say, the National Aquarium’s rainforest. Instead, Glebes, Patterson, his wife Rachel Valsing, and Fred Scharmen aim for whimsical wowing rather than scientific accuracy. They rely mostly on pushing the limits of their shared artistic license.
In other words, the Parking Garage artists aren’t looking to create a Kansas prairie in an 8’x8’ cube, but instead hope to build an exhibit that simulates the feel of the grasslands.
“It’s a sketch of an environment more than an environment,” Scharmen says. “What that adds up to is that the surface that would be prairies, hills, or mountains are at a human scale and useful to humans. So a slope doubles as a couch. These are fully occupiable environments,” he says.
“The ordinary becomes so bizarre, humorous, absurd, and attractive,” says Glebes of the environment. Inside, the Parking Garage will double as a cave, offering roll-around boulders made of carpet; columns, swathed in blackboard material for painting; and a kiddy pool, set up for beer fishing (visitors can “catch” their beers with actual fishing poles).
The cave-like interior will be filled with a series of lounge-in installations. One is dedicated to U.S. Hostels, where nationwide hostel operators have submitted favorite “local attractions.” There is also a gift store, run by the Free Store, and a lecture series offered by the Free School.
On one level, the Parking Garage is a fun land that substitutes art for carnie rides and games. But Glebes ’fessed up to a pushing message: “It’s designed for thinking critically of what is a parking garage,” she says. “Although this will last for three days and is part of a larger festival, it has that suggestion of, Why can’t we do this somewhere else?”
But her primary purpose at Artscape is to please the sweaty masses, making a garage into a cool, even transcendent, hangout spot. “The space itself doesn’t feel preachy when you’re in it,” Glebes says. “But I need a little bit of optimism and subversiveness to make it worthwhile.”
Turning art composed from the detritus of everyday gewgaws into a playground isn’t new for Glebes, Scharmen, and Patterson, who also collaborated to build CampCamp, a take on a campground for the 2011 Transmodern Festival at Current Gallery. There was a certain clarity to CampCamp, which drew inspiration from the Arab Spring, but the plans for the Parking Garage—which also features a 15-foot yeti visitors can climb inside—are intriguingly nuts, and it’s proving quite the challenge for its creators to pull off in a week’s time.
As the clock pushes toward a new day, Glebes keeps trying to picture the singular impact statement of an exhibit that has yet to take shape. Still, she sits unfazed. Her neatly drawn plans hang in her back-alley studio off Kirk Avenue. A cool breeze seems to confirm that the heat wave isn’t returning, at least for right now.
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