The Most Creative Wall in Syracuse

The Urban Video Project brings a museum to life and enriches the city’s visual arts community.

Words and Images by Lauren Cover

During the golden hour, just after the sun sets at the Everson Museum of Art, a haunting track that sounds like something out of a ‘50s sci-fi movie reverberates through the outdoor plaza. The music, in addition to occasional honks and the rumbling of trucks passing through the city, accompany “Underground,” a short film by Robert Todd, a sound and visual artist and professor at Emerson College, which flickers across the façade of the museum. Fleeting images of a blind owl mingle with pans of delicate flowers and graphic shadows cast by thin branches of trees. The images reflect in a pool just beneath the façade. A man walks his labrador by the open courtyard, it perks its ears and barks once at the owl. As background, Todd explains the film in his artist statement: “A blind predator dreams through its prey’s eyes.” The film is part of the Between Species experimental series presented by the Urban Video Project. An extension of Syracuse University’s Light Work, UVP projects these experimental films in the plaza of the Everson year-round to highlight cultural issues and to enrich the arts community.

An inspiring class with a world-renowned Syracuse photographer helped launch UVP. During the mid-2000s, SU graduate students Christopher Gianuzio, Colin Todd, and Blake Carrington took a class about art and social practice taught by the world-renown photographer and video installation artist, MacArthur Genius Grant winner, and Syracuse local Carrie Mae Weems. Her work and the lessons of that class motivated Gianuzio, Todd, and Carrington to create something all their own. These students began UVP by doing what UVP director Anneka Herre calls “guerrilla projections” onto the sides of snowbanks, busses, and buildings using boat batteries to power the projectors. In 2009, Light Work took UVP under their wings and gave their brightest projector to the Everson, which would become the permanent venue for UVP’s video series.

The Everson Museum serves as a perfect visual home for the project. It was the first museum in the U.S. to dedicate itself to the collection of American art, to create a permanent collection of ceramics, and to collect video art through hiring a video arts curator David Roth, a Syracuse University alum. “UVP is a way of continuing that legacy,” Herre says. UVP itself is one of very few permanent public architectural projection venues, and as such, is a unique attraction to have right here in Syracuse. Crafted by I.M. Pei, designer of the Louvre Pyramid and Band of China Tower, the Everson Museum’s architectural design, is also a work of art and serves UVP as the ideal canvas for video projection. “The video fills the facade perfectly and really activates the architecture and requires minimal intervention on our part,” Herre says. Additionally, the expansive projection being outside allows for audiences to interact with the art by chance, perhaps while walking to their cars after work, or as students explore the city, which Herre calls a “magical way of encountering art.”

“… a magical way of encountering art”

Since 2010, UVP has hosted four-to-five exhibitions per year. In conjunction with those exhibitions, the project also orchestrates extra events such as indoor, curated screenings, artist-panel talks, and even live performances. “Events bolster, and make more robust, the exhibition programming that’s happening all the time down in the plaza,” Herre says. The events also allow people to explore a project in greater depth — especially in the winter, when viewers might not want to stand in the bitter cold plaza.

Because of the relationship between UVP and Light Work, Herre considers it critical that UVP has a strong relationship with the students at SU. These events serve as a way for getting students involved. And that involvement extends beyond viewing. SU students will act in an upcoming project “ChimaCloud” by Saya Woolfalk, a fictional narrative bringing a utopian universe and its plant-human hybrids to life.

While Herre takes pride in all of the work UVP does, there are a few standouts. Here are a few of her favorite things:

Urban Cinematheque

Professor of visual arts at UC San Diego and filmmaker Cauleen Smith, held a residency with UVP, and created her video project Crow Requiem in Syracuse to explore Central New York’s relationship with the Underground Railroad. Smith worked with UVP to shoot on-location at the Harriet Tubman House and the Auburn Prison, a maximum security prison in close proximity to the Harriet Tubman House. Smith was developing her project around the same time that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed. In “Crow Requiem,” the crow, an animal that is often considered a nuisance, becomes a symbol of the black community as it deals with ongoing violence and prejudice.

ChimaCloud

Professor of visual arts at UC San Diego and filmmaker Cauleen Smith, held a residency with UVP, and created her video project Crow Requiem in Syracuse to explore Central New York’s relationship with the Underground Railroad. Smith worked with UVP to shoot on-location at the Harriet Tubman House and the Auburn Prison, a maximum security prison in close proximity to the Harriet Tubman House. Smith was developing her project around the same time that Michael Brown and Eric Garner were killed. In “Crow Requiem,” the crow, an animal that is often considered a nuisance, becomes a symbol of the black community as it deals with ongoing violence and prejudice.

Crow Requiem

Every year, as part of Light Work’s artist-in-residency program, UVP reserves one of the time-slots for the artist to come in and create a new piece. In 2016, UVP worked with Saya Woolfalk, a New York based artist who uses science fiction and fantasy to re-imagine the world in multiple dimensions. “In the tradition of the fable or folk story, I map the desires and ideas of people to create narratives that attempt to be relevant to a contemporary audience,” Woolfalk says on her website. For “ChimaCloud,” she has also created prints onto silk, which are displayed at the Everson to compliment the video. Woolfalk shot video in the green screen space in the Newhouse School’s Dick Clark Studios and cast students as characters in the alternate universe she created. According to the UVP website, the project “blends science fiction, fantasy, and cultural anthropology to create a mythos that imagines the culture of tech savvy plant-human hybrids.” It’s something you’ll have to see to believe.