Artists' arrows aim to make you look up

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Neon-colored arrows pointing upward that have been hung high on utility wires around town were placed there by a mysterious West Coast street artist who has pulled similar stunts elsewhere in the United States, Canada and Europe.

A man who identifies himself as the artist, and who calls himself Above, said in an e-mail to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he was in Pittsburgh three weeks ago for 17 hours and hung about 15 of the arrows.

The arrow mobiles have been spotted around Downtown, including high on an electrical wire above a parking lot at the Boulevard of the Allies and Market Street, next to Papa J's restaurant.

"Keep your head up and you should see more," said the artist, a 23-year-old college student. "One of the main allures about my work is that once you see an arrow mobile spinning up on the overhead lines, it drastically changes your perception of your environment, almost as if you now live in a whole different city.

"The city is still the same, those overhead lines were always there, yet you disregarded them or thought of them as unimportant in the whole scheme of things. Perhaps they are. But I see those overhead lines as being multifunctional."

The arrow mobiles are hand carved and Above stencils word pairs such as "eyes" and "wide," "rise" and "above," and "love" and "hate" on each one to evoke an emotional response from people.

"The emotions a person could feel from seeing these words used together can range greatly," he wrote in response to questions sent to him by e-mail.

Above said he hoped people find the arrows inspirational and see in them positive messages about being optimistic in life, no matter what the challenges.

He began using arrows as art while living in Paris in 2002. The mobile evolved from that.

The artist said he hangs the mobiles himself, but will not say how he accomplishes such a feat safely or without getting caught, preferring to leave that to people's imaginations.

"I value and respect that we all have imaginations and for me to interfere with what your imagination is creating, or thinking, would be wrong," he wrote.

"Each person has their own ideas, and each idea holds its validity. No answer is wrong or absurd. This mentality corresponds and relates directly with the arrows as a whole. The arrows' subtle presence high 'above' a city has much potential to evoke a curiosity as to What? Why? Who? And How?"

City Public Works Director Guy Costa said that, like graffiti artists, Above has probably violated city ordinances by hanging the arrows without a permit.

"I don't consider that art, so it wouldn't need the approval of the art commission," Costa said. "But if we find any on the public right of way, we'll remove them and cite him if we can find him."

Above said he came to Pittsburgh because Philadelphia was too far out of his way, but he was glad to discover the city and found that its colors and buildings provided a terrific background for his mobiles.

He also has hung arrow mobiles in Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Louisville, Ky., Cincinnati, and Cleveland. Last year, he hung mobiles throughout San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Above's work can be seen on the Web site goabove.com.


Johnna A. Pro can be reached at jpro@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1574.


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