Diana Nelson Jones' Walkabout: Interactive art piece to make U.S. debut in Market Square

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People who congregate in Market Square next month will be able to interact with a newly commissioned work of art, creating lines based on their own movements and interacting with others to create images.

Aptly named "Congregation," the work by the British team of Kit Monkman and Tom Wexler will be installed on Feb. 21 as the debut piece in the Market Square Public Art Program, a city-legislated entity formed in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council's Office of Public Art.

A 50-foot screen installed in the square's northwest corner will show images that people create as they interact with lights that will be projected onto the terrazzo from a crane in the same corner. The piece will be turned on by human activity after dusk and run in 25 minute loops until 10 p.m. during the week; until midnight on Friday and Saturday nights.

The commission of $75,000 is being covered by foundations. The work originally was commissioned for the 2008 Shanghai Expo in China.

A video played during a news conference Thursday at the Market Square champagne bar Perle showed people in China tracing lighted lines as if measuring off distances. They stepped into and out of circles, waved, spread their arms, held hands in a circle, danced and sat down, prompting lights to draw their shapes on the concrete.

The Pittsburgh installation will be the American debut of this work.

"I am so excited and so proud that the rest of the country will eat our dust," said Renee Piechocki, director of the Office of Public Art. "What our committee and the stakeholders in Market Square loved about 'Congregation' was the quality of the work and its interactivity.

"Visitors who move through the projection have the ability to change the trajectory of the video and the images you see."

"Congregation" was chosen from among 130 submissions worldwide in response to a call for art, said Jeremy Waldrup, president and CEO of the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership.

Mike Mitcham, operations director for Primanti Brothers in Market Square and a member of the Market Square Merchants Association, said the merchants plan a kickoff party the night the piece debuts. The local production team, Fly Space Productions, will work with the artists on the installation.

"We've seen the transformation of Market Square as a place where people want to come to be with other people," Mayor Bill Peduto said. "We're taking it up a notch" with public art that is world-class, he said. "The challenge will be then to do this kind of thing in other parts in the city -- Beltzhoover, Homewood, Deutschtown."

"Congregation" will run through March 16. Another work will be commissioned for the winter of 2015 and another for the winter of 2016. To see more about the work visit www.marketsquarepublicart.com.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.

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