Volume 74, Number 34 | December 29 - January 04, 2004

The fence at Mercer Park. The Tile Project is a joint effort among 100 artists from 40 countries. The Mercer Park fence is one of 22 installations around the world.

A mending fence: Pieces of art for world peace

By Aileen Torres

The row of tiles adorning a section of the fence around Mercer Park — on Mercer St. between Bleecker and W. Third Sts. — blends in well with the black metal onto which it is bolted. The vibrant array of colors likely catches the attention of passerby, and there is something distinctly New York about the display. One tile depicts the entrance to a subway station. Another depicts a woman running to catch a train.

And yet, there are images that are clearly not related to the city; abstract pieces without a clear connection to urban life. Look closer, and the theme behind the installation will be revealed; one that evokes world peace through collaboration and cooperation between artists around the globe.

The installation, which opened Nov. 11, for a yearlong run, with hope of finding a permanent home in the city, is but one of 22 installations throughout the world that are part of the Tile Project, an international endeavor spearheaded by the TransCultural Exchange, a Boston-based organization that aims to promote communication and cooperation between artists worldwide.

“This project is a call for peace,” explained Mary Sherman, director of the Tile Project and founder of TransCultural Exchange. “I think of these installations as testaments of goodwill. While the world is in such strife, it’s amazing that artists around the world are willing to install each others’ work in their home countries without struggling with each other.”

But there were other political obstacles that the artists faced to get installations set up in their respective countries, particularly in post-communist states. For instance, when Sherman was in Romania to visit the artists directing the local installation, her presence as a guest at a local woman’s house was deemed suspect by the police. Sherman has encountered a similar difficulty in Vietnam, where the tiles will be installed at the Museum of Fine Arts in Ho Chi Minh.

“We had a lot of problems with the [Vietnam] site because it’s a communist country and the installation could be shut down at any time without us being told,” said Sherman. “You forget that there are still places where artistic freedom is so restricted.”

“Artists don’t need to do this project to build their résumé,” said Sherman, who is an artist herself. “They really believe that this kind of thing should be done.”

The bonus is that, in working on the project, artists come to be part of a worldwide network of like-minded people, all devoted to the creative life and the belief that art has the power to transcend and transform. Such a statement may sound far-fetched to skeptics, but considering that the global Tile Project was built, and continues to grow primarily via the Internet, the results are impressive.

More than 100 artists created 22 tiles each, with each tile to be sent to one of 22 installation sites throughout the world from 2004 to 2006. Thus far, installations have already opened in Wales, New Zealand, Israel and Romania. Upcoming openings in 2005 include installations in Bosnia and Azerbaijan.

The artists had almost no design restrictions placed on them. The only constant was the dimensions of each tile: 4.25 inches by 4.25 inches, and a half-inch thick. Some artists chose to use photography as a medium; some chose paint; some used glass.

“It was a whole exciting thing to wrap up a pile of tiles and send it off to a person you don’t know,” said Sherman. “And then, you get an e-mail back from them.

“It’s really nice for artists to meet each other. Artists become great friends through this project. It’s what starts to get people talking to one another, because artists often are very insular.”

The resulting work is diverse in media, imagery and ideas, as are the installations themselves. Each site bears a mark of the local culture by virtue of being set up under the direction of the participating local artists, who have their own visions regarding how the tiles should be installed. But the idea of each site being connected to other sites around the world as part of a larger mission maintains an international perspective in each local installation.

“The idea of doing something collaborative was very attractive to me,” said Enid Braun, a participating artist who co-directed the Mercer Park installation. “It just opens everything up. Everyone was friendly and excited.”

Karmela Berg, an artist in Israel, where an installation is set in Tel Aviv University, also enjoyed the collaborative aspect of the Tile Project. “I like to be involved with artists from different countries and different ideas and disciplines,” she wrote in an e-mail. “This project was an opportunity learn about so many people and their art.” She was also grateful for the opportunity that the Tile Project offered to all participating artists to visit sites outside of their home country.

The particular mission behind the Tel Aviv installation was to foster better relations between the sciences and art. Observing the reactions to the installation thus far, Berg wrote, “Students, professors and all people that saw it were intrigued and inspired. They stop, they look, they read [the tag underneath each tile identifying artist and country], and I think it does something to their soul. I wish I could install a camera to take photos of the reactions.”

Pan Ping-Yu, an artist involved in the installation that will open in Taipei, Taiwan, in May 2005, also expressed her excitement concerning the power of public art. “The Tile Project shows many layers of interaction of the art world within culture, education and the international community,” she wrote via e-mail.

“It shows that public art can do something different — more than functional, applied art. It brings the possibility of global understanding. I believe this understanding is priceless. The same goodwill of artists and art lovers from all over the world make it come true. I’m very happy to be part of this project and to work with other artists from all over the world.”

For her, this project is not simply about tile installations: “I think this project is also a miracle realized by ordinary people.”

The Tile Project organizers hope to participate in the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) exhibition in Paris 2006 to document the variety of ways the tiles have been installed throughout the world.

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