Washington, D.C., is soon to become a city of “Nonuments.” No, that’s not a typo. It’s the name of a temporary sculpture show being organized as part of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities’ (DCCAH) “5×5 Project,” featuring five curators, each overseeing five different artists. Running from September 6 through December 6, the show comprises 25 unique public art works spanning all eight wards of the district’s neighborhoods.
Lionell Thomas, the executive director of DCCAH, says the project arose in 2012 following community feedback and a “master plan [that] established a framework for commissioning new artworks in the public realm.” No doubt, Washington, D.C., houses some of the most venerable arts institutions in the world. But, says Thomas, “The 5×5 Project allows residents and visitors to experience great art off the National Mall; it’s unique because we hand over the whole district to curators and artists as a canvas on which to create ephemeral public art.”
“What’s fascinating is that we didn’t direct the curators in this fashion,” says Thomas. “The curators developed their concepts organically based on what they saw in the city and on current events.”
In the case of “Nonuments,” a term coined by Gordon Matta-Clark, its curator, Fung, hopes to break the mold of building monuments that pay homage to a person, place, or event that “everyone for the most part, feels the same about. Art for me is about a two-way dialogue,” explains Fung.
Consider, for example, the mother-daughter team of Nora and Eliza Naranjo-Morse’s performance piece Digging. During some 580 combined hours, the duo will be dressed in costumes worn by service industry workers, business people, farmers and criminals, and use shovels and picks to unearth mounds of dirt to call attention to the devaluation of physical labor. Cameron Hockenson’s Migration will feature giant bird’s nests fashioned out of materials like PVC pipe, branches, chicken wire, rope, and burlap. Beyond offering a transitory resting spot for the swallows that regularly traverse the Atlantic Flyway bird migration route, this nonument will highlight the upheaval being caused by both climate change and gentrification.
All the resources from “Nonuments” will be donated to the neighborhood. Says Fung, “Most artists will get their commission fee, make their work of art and after the show they’ll take it home. If they’re established enough, their gallery will sell it. In this project we wanted the money to go back into the community.”