Public Comment: 'Swinging II,' Chicago Sculpture Exhibit

Public Comment: ‘Swinging II,’ Chicago Sculpture Exhibit

Public Comment is a Site Specific series dedicated to documenting raw reactions to public art from passersby. The goal is to get a glimpse at how public art pieces are engaging with their installation sites.

Up for Comment: “Swinging II,” Jack Howard-Potter. Installed as part of the 2016 Chicago Sculpture Exhibit. Sponsor: Greater Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

On View: 4827 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, Illinois. May 2016 to May 2017.

About the Piece: “Swinging II” is a kinetic, interactive sculpture of a slightly larger-than-life figure on a swing. The artist encourages passersby to push the sculpture into motion, as he explained to DNA Info. That whole article is worth a read for insights into Howard-Potter’s process; I particularly enjoyed this detail:

That Howard-Potter uses steel as the medium to capture this movement and fluidity is part of what makes his work so beguiling.

Worth noting: Howard-Potter bends the cold metal rods by hand (who’s the Man of Steel, now?).

“Steel actually has this elastic life,” he said.

I first saw “Swinging II” in 2014, when it was installed in Queens as part of the LIC Arts Open. At that time, it was installed indoors. So I was psyched for the opportunity to see the piece again last week in a new context, on the middle of a sidewalk in Chicago.

When I visited, persons unknown had tied a scarf around the sculpture’s neck and put two fake flowers in its right hand.

Elias
Looking at an apartment on the block. First time seeing the sculpture.

I like the sort of muscular structure of it. It reminds me of something I’ve seen in museums – there’s a muscle exhibit in, I think it was the Museum of Science and Industry several years ago that it really reminds me of.
The addition of the scarf and the flowers I think is an interesting touch to what would otherwise be sort of a scientific feeling, very analytical piece. It’s a communal art piece at that point. I like that it’s no longer just the work of one artist.
I was noticing the swinging. I think I would like it more if it was – it says “do not step” – I would like it more if it was more interactive, and was more allowing for people to really get on it and push it around.
Did you know you’re encouraged to give it a push?
I can? Alright, I’ll do it.

Did that enhance the piece for you?
No. It was implied earlier, I don’t see the benefit of actually doing it. Because it was swinging a little before, making it swing more – I don’t know.

NB Elias and his friends continued to push the sculpture and talk about it after our interview was done.

Felicia
In the neighborhood painting an apartment. First time on this street.

When I was walking from afar, I couldn’t tell if someone was sitting on top of it or if it was just a piece of art. I thought someone was sitting on the red thing; I didn’t realize it was so three dimensional. And then, as I get closer, it’s huge.
I like seeing it from both angles, too. It reminds me of when you’re at an art museum and you see the sculptures, and then you walk around the whole sculpture to check out all of it, and I like how the muscles are from the back… I like how you can see the butt is very much just formed and the arms. It looks like it’s based off of someone in real life.
[The scarf and flowers] almost made me think it was a piece related to one of the stores on the street, because it’s in front and there’s clothes outside and I’ve never been down this street before. I thought maybe it belonged to some store over here.
Did you think about giving it a push?
No, I figured I should not touch any piece of art that’s that large.

James
Lives nearby.

I thought it was a piece of furniture because I saw it across the street and I thought it was being moved. And then it wasn’t moved and I thought somebody had forgotten their – something in the street. I was across the street and all I saw was this blip of red, and because it’s so close to this furniture store here and then just beyond that is antique things, I just in my mind equated it being part of that.
Later that day or later in that week when I came down this side of the street [I] saw that it was an individual on a swing. And then it became an issue because I actually have a two-year-old who really wanted to just push it. And then once it became artwork I was – I don’t think we’re supposed to touch this. Later on I saw you could stand on one side but not the other so I’m assuming you’re encouraged to actually push it.
[My kid] lost interest. That being said, I’ve found more interest because I’ve noticed people started to decorate it. I’ve been temped to just – I’ll just put this baseball hat on this.
It starts to feel more than just a piece of artwork. It starts to feel more like a community art piece.
Have you thought about pushing it?
I have, but then I start to get into that – what’s that thing where it’s like, oh, I wonder if I could push it hard enough that it would flip all the way over? And it starts to make me scared of me, so I don’t touch it.

Cindy
Lives next door.

Horrified.
Just wasn’t appealing. Looked very veiny, blood-like. Just not appealing. It seemed like a big thing, smack in the middle of everything.
[The swinging is] a big deal for people. Everybody seems to think it’s great that it swings and that they come by and make it swing. I don’t care.
[With the scarf and flowers], people got to do stuff. They want to interact, decorate… They feel like they belong, that they can participate, though if I was the artist I wouldn’t want anybody putting stuff on my thing. I made it the way I want, right? Made it exactly the way I want, I thought about it, and they’re messing with it. Put a daisy in its hand, for christ’s sake.

Gina

I had seen kids earlier coming by, and they were really, really joyful about touching it and being able to touch something, because often you’re not allowed to actually touch something like that. [So when I pushed it] it was a little bit like, it’s ok to touch, it’s cool, swinging is one of my favorite things to do, so a little bit of a push just made me giggle. And then it continues because it sort of latches onto the wind.
I assumed it was male from behind because of the way it’s wired and it just looks to me like an exercise in anatomy.

Jock
Walking with Gina.

I like the subject matter of swinging… I like the freedom of that and the joy of swinging and the aspects of it being a feeling more like childhood.
It kind of looks like a male figure at first, but now it’s starting to be dressed more like a woman.
Have you thought about pushing it?
No. It seems to be swinging all by itself all the time when I go by.

Clare
Visiting a friend who lives nearby.

It wasn’t moving the first time that I saw it, so it was a little bit jarring the first time that I saw it swinging. The sculpture itself reminds me of the muscular system, the way that the lines are, and I really like it.
If I knew that I could push it I would like it more – and now I do.

Ann
Owns a store right across from the installation site.

I thought it was just so awesome, and I pushed it and I loved it, and I love watching people walk by. It’s almost always going because everybody feels the need to push it, and sometimes when it’s not moving, I feel like I need to go out there and push it.
I actually did put a shoe on him. Being an artistic person and I was married to an artist, I don’t want to deface the art and I don’t know how the artist feels about the scarves and the flowers – and I didn’t want to leave a shoe, but for a photograph for Facebook I put a shoe on him. He has a very high arch. Took a picture and took it right off… I thought, I almost can’t resist putting a shoe on the guy, he’s swinging, he’s barefoot.
If I were the artist, I don’t know how I’d feel about [the scarf and flowers]. He might think, hey, that’s cool, people are putting stuff on the – but he might think, that’s cheesy, why are people putting stuff on my piece of art. And that’s kind of where I fell. I thought, I don’t really want to do it.
One of my customers said he will have genitalia by the end of the – and it hasn’t, no one’s really gone that far, which I’m really glad. I said, I certainly hope not, but I could totally see that happening.
I feel like he just brings joy to people when they walk by, and it’s so fun for me to go out there and see that. It’s a chunk of culture right in front of my shop and it’s neat and it’s cool. It’s going to be like a big empty void when it’s gone.

Laurel
Often in this area.

It’s sort of just not my style. There’s nothing about the piece itself and what it says that speaks to me. I love public art, and I love art in general, but that in particular doesn’t really speak to me.
I’ve just noticed that [scarf], that’s new.
I think you can fuck around with art and it can be fun, so someone’s just fucking around with it, that’s cool. That doesn’t bother me. Maybe if that continues and there’s all kinds of great stuff, maybe then it would be cool. People could leave books and records and art and cigarette butts and who knows what, it could be great.
I’m not really into pushing my art. I don’t know.

Vincent

I like the swinging.
Have you given it a push?
I have, yeah. It just seemed like something to be done. It was fourth of July and we were walking to Winnemac Park… There’s not much art that you can actually do anything with.
Aided by a July 4 drink or too?
Oh yeah.
I’ve seen it several times but it has a scarf on it which it did not have before, so that was basically what we were noticing. I’m just guessing somebody thought it’d be funny and put it on.
It’s better than nothing but the thing that just – I don’t want to say creeps me out about it, but the way that it’s built is so like muscle fiber, and so it just looks like someone’s skinned a little bit. But I think it’s clever.

Kate
Walking with Vincent.

I similarly think that it looks like a skinned human with the muscles… It was kind of freaky the first time I saw it because it was nighttime and it looks like a skinned human.
I think it’s kind of cool. I’m a teacher, so I sort of see it as it could be a cool biology type thing. I pushed it during fourth of July and don’t believe that I was aided by alcohol. He’s shaking his head, maybe I was. But I would have pushed it today if there weren’t as many people around.
It was very fun to touch. And as we walked past today we noticed the scarf and I said, “well that makes sense, it’s really cold out today.”

Allison
Moved into the neighborhood a few days ago.

I’m curious as to what it represents. I haven’t had a chance to read the little thing on the side yet. But I do think it’s pleasant to look at. I like that it swings and that it has movement.
I think I’m mainly just curious about why they chose to put this here on this particular street, but no complaints about it. I guess I’m just not sure why they think it fits in here. I’m not saying it doesn’t fit, but I guess I’m just not sure what made them put it in this location.
[It might work better] maybe closer to where people gather a little bit more, because this is a bit, I mean, shop fronts. But I guess maybe that’s a good thing because you can just walk past it, maybe give it a push and enjoy it.
I always think that I’m not allowed to touch things. I think that makes it a little bit more fun being able to participate in art.