Say what you will about the art of Jeff Madeen, but it gets a reaction.
This time around, however, not many people got to see the latest project by the Durango artist and his partner, Elizabeth Somers. That’s because “Bridging Consciousness” lasted only about four hours on the pedestrian bridge that spans the Animas River at Rivergate before it was taken down.
“Why did they take so long to deal with the sewage spill, but they hopped right on that art installation? It’s because we were questioning government,” Madeen said.
It was Somers who came up with the name. The artists said the installation was intended to raise local awareness about homelessness. They pitched the idea to the Parks and Recreation Department and the Public Art Commission, and both entities granted permission for the installation to remain on the bridge for one week. The idea was to hang the message “If you lived under here you’d be home now” from the bridge with a couple of auxiliary figures flanking the message. Madeen and Somers, with a small crew of volunteer helpers, spent Friday morning and afternoon hanging the project on the bridge.
But Cathy Metz, parks and recreation director for the city, said she received a call Friday afternoon from Durango Police Officer Greg Dodd, who came upon the project while on bicycle patrol.
“He thought it was graffiti and hazardous to river users,” Metz said. This was supposed to span the river, not be in it. What was on the bridge wasn’t what was represented, and what we saw was very different so I made decision to take it down.”
The elements removed were a curtain of CDs that Madeen said represented people and all their colors, a large question mark dotted with a soccer ball that bobbed in the river, and a silhouette of a man holding a briefcase labeled with some of the nation’s largest banks, several of which received government “bailout” money after the 2008 financial meltdown. At least 10 rafts intentionally passed through the CD curtain Friday afternoon before taking out a few yards downstream of the bridge.
Metz said the elements were removed because unlike the proposal submitted by Madeen and Somers, the elements were not near the river banks but rather directly in the path of downstream traffic.
“What they presented was something that wouldn’t impede, but what they put up wasn’t appropriate. I was very clear that nothing could hang over the river because it’s high use,” she said.
Artistic controversy isn’t new to Madeen, and in fact he welcomes it. He made headlines last year when he hung an American flag upside-down from a large metal sculpture of a missile at Studio & on Main Avenue. He’s a designer by trade, but he has been especially vocal (and visual) about government misdeeds since 2008.
“I’m just trying to get people to question what’s going on because we can solve these problems if we actually talk to each other about them,” Madeen said.
His partner Somers shares that conviction.
“Art is not always about beauty and something nice hanging on the wall, and I find it frustrating that so many perceive it that way,” she said.
“I believe there’s a place for all kinds of art, and that’s why we put it together. I thought here in this beautiful setting on the river that there should be a little pinprick saying that everything isn’t going so smoothly for all the strata of our population.”
Because of a communication gap, it’s not likely that “Bridging Consciousness” will make a return. Metz said she tried to call Madeen and Somers on Friday before the police removed the elements, but she was unable to get in touch. Madeen said had they been given the chance, the artists would’ve altered the installation to conform with the city’s wishes, but he was fishing when Metz attempted to call him. Somers received a call directly from the police.
“They didn’t give us the option to remove a piece, they just said it needed to come down. I think the big thing was that people could get hurt running into it, and I just don’t believe that that’s true,” Somers said.
Metz said police were unable to remove the lettering, which required Madeen’s volunteers to use climbing harnesses to install Friday. She said because the letters don’t hang down and do conform to the original proposal, the lettering will be allowed to remain on the bridge until Saturday when Madeen and Somers will be required to remove it to comply with the permit.