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A Feather Falls in Harlem

Petros Chrisostomou, digital rendering of "Sky Feather" public art project at 124th & 125th streets in Harlem
Petros Chrisostomou, digital rendering of “Sky Feather” public art project at 124th & 125th streets in Harlem. It’s scheduled to fly in April 2014. (image courtesy the artist)

CHICAGO — Feathers fall from the sky all the time. The wind plucks them from birds’ bodies, and they fall fast whilst spinning in circles. Once upon the ground, human fingers may pick them up and gaze at the way light shines through. Or perhaps they just sit there on the cold gray ground, eventually turning to city grunge under the feet of fast-moving pedestrians. What if one of those feathers was blown up to epic proportions and positioned in a highly-trafficked space?

Brooklyn-based sculptor Petros Chrisostomou is in the process of creating “Sky Feather,” his first large-scale artwork in New York City — a giant feather that will occupy a public space in Harlem at the median of 124th and 125th Streets and Lenox Avenue. The New York City Department of Transport has already given Chrisostomou the okay to use this public space. Now he is raising funds for the creation of it via the crowdsourcing platform USA Projects. The project will go into production in January 2014 and will be installed by early April 2014, where it will remain on view for one year.

The blowing-up of a common object and placing it in a space that gives it a new, public meaning channels the work of artist Claes Oldenberg. In effect, Chrisostomou is interested in taking everyday objects out of their normal context — or as he calls it “object context relationships.” But when I asked the artist if Oldenberg was an inspiration, he pushed back a bit on seeing this work as pop art, instead considering it as a response to the neighborhood.

Lawrence Argent, "Reflection" sculpture in the Nashville's Shelby Park. More information here. (image by the author for Hyperallergic)
Lawrence Argent, “Reflection” sculpture in the Nashville’s Shelby Park (image by the author for Hyperallergic)

“Claes Oldenberg was not necessarily an inspiration for this work,” Chrisostomou tells Hyperallergic. “I took inspiration from the area and its inhabitants. I wanted to use a symbol that people could identify with on many different levels and magnify this object to pronounce its ideological qualities. The fact that it responds to a pop art aesthetic is coincidental, and skewed by our preconceived knowledge of art history.”

Is it all for the birds, though? Petros’ giant feather reminds one of Lawrence Argent’s “Reflection” in Nashville, Tennessee’s Shelby Park, a large-scale metallic bird dripping silver — either from the heat of the city or in a Surrealist clock-melting kind of way. Though no feathers were harmed in the making of this silver sculpture, the bird itself isn’t flying anywhere, or even scheduled for take-off. It is perched in a singular park, permanently, and its balancing act is not precarious. In this respect it differs Chrisostomou’s project, which suggests the “symbolic remains of a journey, or a flight to somewhere.” Rather, the silver bird in Nashville evokes a permanence, a silver liquid melting in the sun, a permanent landing. But like any public work of art that is positioned in a high-traffic zone —whether that be a public park or train stop — the intended outcome is the same.

“It’s a challenge to make a public artwork that ticks all the boxes,” says Chrisostomou. “I hope that people respond to the work in a positive way and that it inspires people in some way or another.”

Petros Chrisostomou’s “Sky Feather” lands in Harlem, Manhattan, at the median of 124th and 125th Streets and Lenox Avenue, in April 2014. 

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