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Public art enters the spotlight at this year’s Piccolo Spoleto Festival with two installations — one current and one in progress — presented with the City of Charleston. Through everyday plastic items and handprints cut from metal sheets, these works aim to spark important conversations surrounding the environment and accessibility. 

Nature and sustainability collide

Three boxes nestled on the West Ashley Greenway between Timmerman Drive and Coburg Avenue display Greek-American artist Vassiliki Falkehag’s Future Offerings, this year’s Piccolo Spoleto Public Art Exhibition.

Tiger Strike Asteroids, an artist collective with organizations across the country, began the box idea in 2020 as a way to showcase art during the pandemic. After a successful installation in Asheville, North Carolina, and an outdoor series titled Yard Work in Charleston, the City of Charleston commissioned a trio of glass-paneled, white-framed square boxes set on wooden posts along the greenway.

“A lot of people that use that park, who are there to exercise, just kind of stumble upon it,” said curator Hirona Matsuda. “And it’s a fun surprise. That’s what we wanted. We wanted it to be a space that could be viewed by anybody at all times, even if they weren’t necessarily trying to go look at public art.”

Future Offerings reflects the environmental damage that has been caused by plastic. The first box, Forgive Me Sea. Forgive Me., includes a nest made from plastic bags perched on a branch to show how plastic has infected nature. The second, The Plastic Fullness of Nothing., is bursting at the seams with bags that Falkehag crocheted and knitted together. 

The final box, Between You and Me., draws on the everyday plastics that humans use, like takeout containers and Amazon packaging. It also includes nurdles, the raw material for anything made of plastic, collected by Charleston Waterkeeper, an organization dedicated to clean waterways. These tiny pellets were a major inspiration behind Future Offerings.

“Working with [Charleston Waterkeeper] was a really, really critical part of this project,” Falkehag said. “They were very gracious to donate these nurdles, which are pure plastic and the building block for all the catastrophe, if I can use another Greek word, for the extinction with all the consumerism.”

Future Offerings will be on display until June 30. 

A universal sign

South Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind (SCSDB) students, Charleston locals and tourists have all lent a hand making one of the city’s upcoming public art installations – literally.

Sculptor Bob Doster and the SCSDB are building an I Love You sculpture for Charleston, which gets its name from the American Sign Language sign it resembles. Doster has been working as an artist-in-residence for the school since around 2017, building I Love You sculptures with the students.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for them and for me,” Doster said.

He carefully traces hands on sheets of metal and then, hand over hand, guides folks in cutting them out with a plasma cutter. James Ouzts, the chief fabricator, will build the framework, and Doster estimates that at least 350 hands will be welded onto the final 6-foot-tall sculpture. SCSDB is working with the Office of Cultural Affairs to determine where the final sculpture will be installed; the hope is for a fall debut, though it may be spring. 

“We make sure the arts are accessible to our students,” said the school’s director of fine arts, Josh Padgett, Ph.D. “That is the key when it comes to working with our students. We’d like to show the accessibility piece to the community, but also the students get to be involved in a piece of permanent art for years to come.”

Doster’s I Love You sculptures can already be found in Spartanburg and Columbia. The sculptures, with their universal message and bold design, are some of his most photographed works. 

“Good Lord, we need something that says, ‘I Love You,’” Doster said. “With everything that’s going on in the world today, it’s good to have something to just sit there and say that.”

Katherine Kiessling is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

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