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Figure/Ground at the Cleveland Public Library

Cleveland Public Library’s See Also program is an innovative partnership with LAND Studio that brings a rotating suite of contemporary art installations to the library’s Eastman Reading Garden.  See Also is a clever pun that plays on a reference cataloging term; if you find it on a digital book record (or on a card-catalog card, if your library is old school), it means “check out these terms too; they’re related to what you’re looking for.”  In this case, See Also suggests that the visual arts can help the community see their library with a new perspective.
The latest installation in the CPL Eastman Reading Garden, which opened last month, is a perfect example of how art can force a viewer to see something new, or to see a familiar scene in a new way.  Artist Scott Stibich used reflective mirrors, bright pink paint, and 100 pink chairs to transform the space into an interactive artwork, called Figure/Ground, which plays on the idea of the Reading Garden as a contemplative oasis in the middle of downtown Cleveland.  The mirrors reflect the movement of patrons back into the peaceful garden, making their passage part of the artwork.  Pink windows at the library’s entrance and pink chairs dotting the Garden call attention to otherwise familiar surroundings by creating an exciting contrast with bright, unexpected pops of color.
The idea is simple and elegant, and Stibich describes the evolution and the message of the piece eloquently:

 One of the other great features of Cleveland Public Library is the Eastman Reading Garden; it’s an amazing courtyard downtown where you can get away from city distractions for a moment. That was what I wanted to highlight with Figure/Ground. I wanted to make a piece about the location and the people that use it everyday. I wanted to shift people’s perception of the courtyard through the introduction of a bold color to what is a pretty neutral environment. Reflecting the window colors on the chairs was a way to make people part of the work– as they pass through, sit, and rearrange the chairs, they are actively participating in the piece. This application of color to the building and the chairs was a way to emphasize the continual relationship between the library and the community.

Stibich’s Figure/Ground reveals a nuanced understanding of the library as place–especially in an urban setting– and how the library can incubate the arts and bring communities together.  ”I use libraries as a place for creative inspiration,” Stibich says,”whether I’m researching something specific or technical or just going to stumble upon something new.” With Figure/Ground, he has re-created this experience for the patrons at Cleveland Public Library.

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