Austin's newest public art project may not solve the city's traffic woes, but it will make the experience more beautiful.
As part of the city's sixth annual "TEMPO 2018" temporary exhibition, local artist Laurie Frick is reimagining the Lamar Bridge Underpass, two 500-foot concrete retaining walls that stretch from West Fifth Street to Lady Bird Lake. The temporary piece marries Frick's skills as a data-driven artist with Austin's penchant for public art to create sweeping, colorful murals along both sides of Lamar Boulevard.
Frick, who has a background in the technology sector, uses data to both inspire and drive her art. She's used GPS tracking to create a floating wall, data gathered from a neuromuscular clinic to illustrate the heartbreaking stages of ALS, and OkCupid survey answers to illustrate personality quirks.
"Rather than worry or try to hide, I think you’ll eventually want to see your data," Fricks says. "Unconsciously, the patterns of places you go, your time, sleep patterns, steps, genetics all make beautiful patterns, eerily familiar and hopefully comforting. Imperfect, but definitely human."
For the Lamar Bridge Underpass, Frick's first foray into outdoor art, she found an unexpected muse: tourism. "I was astonished to see over 25 million visitors come to Austin each year," Frick explains. "The number was unreal, so I got more data from VisitAustin — why visitors come and what they do once they’re in Austin."
Driven by the data, she turned to Instagram to better understand what visitors do once they reach the Live Music Capital of the World. "I was hunting through Instagram for what visitors post from Austin, and I was completely captivated by the images," says the artist. "Austin murals are becoming the highlight of people’s visits to Austin. These are unique places, only found here — and they are completely free."
As Frick scrolled through her feed, she saw kids posed in front of I Love You So Much and married couples kissing beside You're My Butter Half. After studying the posts, Frick found a way to data mine the murals' colors, and turn them into abstract visualizations.
Though an artist would be hard-pressed to find a more prominent location for her first foray into outdoor art, the underpass does present an interesting challenge: it's already the site of a permanent, city-owned art installation.
For 15 years, Carl Trominski’s Moments, a collection of blue panels that runs the length of the wall on either side, has greeted (and confused) drivers heading down Lamar. Because of its prominence (it's "one of the most discussed artworks in the city's collection") the City of Austin tapped Frick to "temporarily intervene" on the piece as part of the inaugural "TEMPO Refresh," a new program that "refreshes" current public artworks.
Frick is using those famed blue signs as inspiration for the new piece — and as an opportunity to work with another Austin artist.
To transform the prominent panels, Frick is collaborating with Sheri Bingham of Iron Threads to turn them into "squishy comfy upholstered panels."
"Sheri ... brought her magic to the plan and suggested we use outdoor fabric that won’t fade, in both patterns in colors," Frick says. "She came up with crazy unusual layouts that weirdly match the feel of each mural, and stitched each one by hand."
Once the panels are installed and walls painted, the artists will create side-by-side Instagram posts to show viewers which color story goes with which famous Austin mural. The underpass mural should be complete by the end of September.
The Lamar Bridge Underpass refresh is one of 23 public artworks on display this year as part of "TEMPO," including 10 sculptures and 12 murals displayed throughout each of the city's 10 districts. "The works reflect a broad range of styles and materials and address subjects such as cultural identity and the environment," the city said in a release.
TEMPO 2018's sculptural pieces are currently on display throughout the city (a map with locations can be found here) before the entire collection is gathered in Edward Rendon Sr. Park November 10-18 as part of the East Austin Studio Tour.