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‘Loop’ interactive art brings new life to Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall
‘Loop’ will serve as backdrop for downtown Iowa City as summer events thaw pandemic’s social ice
IOWA CITY — A year ago, the idea of bringing people back together on Iowa City’s Pedestrian Mall with a tactile art exhibit may have seemed to some like a fairy tale.
But with Iowa City’s newest interactive art installation opening Friday, visitors soon will be able to see images projected over them that play like a dream. “Loop,” a new exhibit imported from Quebec, is a 12-piece installation of cylinders that are part zoetrope — an optical toy invented in the 19th century — part music box and part railway car.
Iowa City, which managed to garner the installation for four weeks, will be the first site in the country to see the piece’s latest iteration with all new imagery. The art, previously installed in larger cities around the world, will serve as a backdrop in the Pedestrian Mall for summer events planned by the Iowa City Downtown District, like the Downtown Block Party returning July 24.
The installation, commissioned with support from the city and Think Iowa City, was first displayed in 2016 at the Place des Festivals in the Quartier des Spectacles in Montreal.
“About a year ago, we started making plans for a big welcoming back to the community,” said Betsy Potter, creative services director for the Iowa City Downtown District. “We knew at some point, things would open back up and we needed a big draw toward downtown.”
Public art, she said, is a great way to jump start that interaction, particularly since it’s outdoors and was planned at a time when the district wasn’t sure how things would pan out with the pandemic by this summer. After 2020’s impact on visits and events, “we knew that this summer would be a perfect opportunity to bring in a fully immersive experience that could normally only be enjoyed in large cities,” the district said in a news release.
Using a bar attached to the center of each cylinder, about 6 feet in diameter, pairs of people move back and forth in the interactive art to propel the hand-drawn animations and music at their own speed.
“The animated images, tinted by a strobe effect, are reminiscent of the earliest movies,” according to Creos, the Canadian agency that installs touring interactive art like Loop. “The speed of the whirring pictures, the frequency at which the light flickers and the tempo of the music are all determined by how fast you move the bar.”
The installation is designed for pairs of two to make their way through each of the dozen loops to experience the full depth of the art that can be interpreted differently depending on the viewer. Each cylinder is a little different.
“With these installations, it’s all what you make of it,” said Potter. “Getting people out, involved, interacting — it’s a new experience every single time.”
And with a new opportunity, Potter said downtown Iowa City is hoping to make the best of the new excitement, too.
“The real motivation for all of us is that we hope we’re drawing people, welcoming people to downtown,” she said. “Just to get out and enjoy the Ped Mall, have fun with it and spend time in Iowa City visiting our businesses, seeing places you may not know have opened in the last year.”
The installations can be experienced any time, day or night. The light effects of the art are expected to bring a new vibrancy to downtown at night, in particular.
The piece, which opens Friday, will be available to the public until Aug. 10. Based on how the new art performs, Potter said the district is looking at doing more similarly interactive pieces this winter.
The district is no stranger to interactive public art like place-making, which has become a trend across the country as cities and neighborhoods create new ways to attract attention, encourage visitors to slow down for quality time and post eye-catching photos to social media that generate even more notice.
For several years, the district has sponsored Benchmarks, a nationally recognized public art program that allows artists to use over 100 public benches as blank canvasses. The Prairie Box installation in 2017 by artist Hannah Givler gave visitors the chance to interact with a model prairie home. And previously, the Tree Huggers Project gave participants a chance to cozy up with trees by stitching sweaters onto the trees.
Loop will be the largest interactive public art Iowa City has seen in some time as part of a traveling exhibit, Potter said.
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