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Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

GR interactive art installations encourage playfulness

GVL/ Annabelle Robinson

Three temporary large-scale art installations were recently installed in downtown Grand Rapids. They were introduced during the Return to the River festival and are on display to the public until the end of ArtPrize on Oct. 1. 

“Evanescent” and “Lovebirds” are two of the installations currently on display, created by design studio Atelier Sisu, which is based in Sydney, Australia. “Evanescent” features a series of giant inflatable translucent bubbles that people can walk under and navigate through. Atelier Sisu’s second installation, “Lovebirds,” is a collection of multi-colored birds strung together in rows to form a beautiful and unique overhang. 

Located at 555 Monroe Ave. and Sixth Street Park respectively, the installations are designed to “provide a unique spatial experience for visitors, while also contributing to the visual identity of a place,” according to Atelier Sisu’s website

Optik,” also located in the city-owned lot at 555 Monroe Ave. NW, is a set of ten gyroscope-like interactive structures that reflect light and emit musical sounds as the work rotates. Created by The Urban Conga, a multidisciplinary design studio based in Brooklyn, N.Y., “Optik” was designed to create a playful environment that encourages community interaction and connection.

“Play beyond the playground is a valuable tool in creating community connection,” said Ryan Swanson, creative director for The Urban Conga. “Play can affect the social impact and health of the space and the people in it.”

The concept of play, as Swanson said, is extremely beneficial for both children and adults. Play has been used in clinical and therapeutic settings. According to the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy, play therapy provides “a comfortable and safe environment for people to explore the issues they’re facing, using the creativity that’s inherent in everyone.” 

In addition to initiating play, public art installations make use of underutilized spaces.

“555 Monroe is a great example of making use of underutilized spaces,” said Bill Kirk, communications director at Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. (DGRI), an organization responsible for managing activities and events in the city’s urban core. “The space used to be a giant car park and now it holds festivals, public artworks and even a skate park.”

Kirk also said large-scale art installations like “Evanescent” and “Optik” are ideal for spaces like the Monroe lot because of their size.

“You can really see when little kids interact with these big installations (and) the benefit that whimsical and joyful public art brings to our city,” Kirk said. 

As of now, DGRI does not have plans to bring more pieces from Atelier Sisu or The Urban Conga to the city, but that does not mean it won’t happen in the future. Festivals like Return to the River and ArtPrize, an art competition in Grand Rapids, often serve as trial runs for temporary installations that could become permanent. 

“We are always open to working with our partners to bring more art to the city,” Kirk said. “We have purchased pieces in the past, so if a piece fits the space well and it makes sense to make it permanent, then that’s something we’d definitely consider.”

With ArtPrize officially beginning on Sept. 14, Grand Rapids residents and visitors can expect more vibrant and unique art to start filling the city in the coming weeks.

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About the Contributor
Dylan Hoffius
Dylan Hoffius, Arts and Entertainment Editor
Dylan Hoffius is the Lanthorn's Arts & Entertainment Editor for the Winter 2024 semester. He previously worked as an Arts & Entertainment staff writer during the Fall 2023 semester. Dylan is a senior at Grand Valley State University, majoring in journalism, broadcast, and digital media, with aspirations to critique film and write for a sports and pop-culture outlet after graduation. He loves to watch movies at the theater, play disc golf and cheer for Michigan-based sports teams, specifically the Lions and Pistons. Follow his Letterboxd account for unbiased movie reviews and rankings. Graduating Winter 2024 Major: Journalism, Broadcast, and Digital Media