Symphonic alley intended to frustrate and challenge residentsby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
When thousands of people gather in downtown Fargo Tuesday evening for the annual holiday lights parade, they might be distracted by some unusual activity in a nearby alley.
North Dakota State University students will be pleased if people find their environmental art installation a little frustrating and irritating.
Fargo, ND. — Alleys don't get much respect. They're often dark, dirty, and dangerous -- places to avoid.
It's not the first choice for an architect or landscape designer.
"It was a place that people don't think about normally. It was just a different space than we're used to. It wasn't a yard or park or business complex," says North Dakota State University landscape architecture student Kylie Satterman.
About 20 students chose the alley for their art installation after hearing frustrations about noise, crime and garbage from downtown business owners and residents.
The students will transform two blocks into a Symphonic Alley for four hours.
Satterman and fellow student Brad Nordling move large rusty metal sheets that will be part of the installation.
"These are part of what we'll be using as a wall. They'll be hanging at the entrance," says Satterman.
"We'll have hanging sheets of metal on a steel cable. This will cause human interaction at the very beginning so people will have to move these sheets of metal aside," adds Nordling. Those who dare venture through the rusty metal curtain will find a 60-foot wall of aluminum cans hanging on strings,
And a carpet of aluminum cans covering the pavement.
Students are using 14,000 aluminum cans. All of the materials for the installation are recycled. Some are the kind of trash you might envision discarded in an alley.
A large abandoned fuel tank, the spiral of metal from a grain auger and various odds and ends pipes create a kind of junkyard instrument passersby can play by pulling on a cable.
"We'll have a piece of metal and it will go down on that pulley system which is connected by cables and it will hit the auger and the piping and finally hit the drum to create a very large reverberation," Satterman says.
The alley will also have six large speakers playing a series of stereotypical alley noises like garbage trucks, gunshots, and running feet.
Professor Stevie Famulari says this is interactive art.
"They can't stand back and say oh, I can see it from a block away. They have to actually physically interact for the pieces to work. They're required to be there for it to work," says Famulari.
Saturating the alley with those sounds is designed to challenge perceptions.
"The stereotype is an alley is a dangerous terrible dark place," says Famulari. "In reality the alley is one of the best lit places in downtown. You can read a magazine, it's fantastically lit and yet people still perceive it as dangerous."
One thing is certain. Thousands of people enjoying the holiday lights parade will undoubtedly hear Symphonic Alley along with the Christmas music.
Kylie Satterman says she wants the noise to force people to look at the alley.
"I hope they see this project as kind of frustrating, all these sounds going off because that's what the community members and business owners feel towards the alley. I hope they get frustrated by it and also learn how frustrating the alley can be," says Satterman.
"And hopefully, maybe it will help change the context of the alley. People will start thinking about it differently or try to clean up the alley a little more."
Symphonic Alley will be clanging, banging and booming for four hours this evening in downtown Fargo.
- All Things Considered, 11/25/2008, 4:54 p.m.