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Reflections on life: Multilayered meanings behind new public art mounted outside CSPS Hall

The unveiling of the new piece of public art, #x201c;Regenerations,#x201d; in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday,
The unveiling of the new piece of public art, “Regenerations,” in southeast Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2020. The art piece by Jordan Weber, a Des Moines-based multidisciplinary artist and activist, is a collaboration of the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, CSPS and the African American Museum of Iowa. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — “Breathe in ... Breathe out ...” That’s the initial message lighting up a new art installation on the outside wall behind CSPS Hall, 1103 Third St. SE.

Titled “Regenerations,” it also speaks to the intersection of art with environmental and social justice, its creator, Jordan Weber, 36, of Des Moines, said Thursday afternoon after a panel discussion for Metro and Iowa BIG high school students. The artwork was unveiled to the public that evening.

Stainless polished steel is the predominant material in the 10-foot-by-12-foot piece, but it also features white neon, a green digital sign board, wood, silicone, Plexiglas — and plants.

“I wanted that mirror aspect because I think it’s important for people to see themselves literally in the work, but also it just has this really high-end contemporary feel to it,” Weber said.

“But when you talk about breathing and social justice, I want that person to be reflected in it. So if an officer walked up to it, I want them to see themselves in the work and what that work means and how they can relate to it — and they literally see themselves in it. Maybe they see themselves in a position to think about the entirety of the protest movement. I just think it humanizes the work a little bit.”

Near the center of the piece is a Plexiglas insert holding three small trees and some winter lettuce. When the weather turns, the trees will be potted and brought inside, and eventually will be planted outdoors to contribute to the regeneration of the city’s derecho-decimated tree canopy.

A multidisciplinary artist and activist, Weber said plants play a big role in his art.

“That is always in my repertoire of media,” he said. “ ... Most of the time the plants are hyperaccumulator plants, and those are plants that clean soil or they clean and mitigate air pollution. So having the utilitarian aspect to the plants in the artwork gives it an approach that can actually change the environment in some way, and it’s not just this 2D flat piece.”

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The title also reflects Cedar Rapids and its efforts to rebuild the community and its environment after the 2008 flood and the Aug. 10 derecho; the calming effects of breathing and meditation; as well the choking deaths of Eric Garner, George Floyd and others, at the hands of police.

About a year in the planning, the work grew from a partnership between the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library, the African American Museum of Iowa and CSPS, with whom Weber has worked on previous projects. Collins Aerospace, Kum & Go and the Iowa Arts Council provided funding for the $9,000 project, said Sarah Henderson, associate director of lifelong learning at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library.

The actual completion of the piece took about a month, Weber said. It will remain on the CSPS wall for at least two months, according to Taylor Bergen, interim executive director at CSPS. The long-term plan is to have the piece move to different sites before finding a permanent home.

For now, Bergen is thrilled to host it at the arts venue in the heart of the NewBo District.

“It’s a good fit (for CSPS), because it’s very much in line with contemporary artists and presenting contemporary works,” Bergen said. Displaying it outdoors also lets the public view it any time, not just when events are happening indoors.

Photographer David Van Allen, who lives in the nearby Cherry Building, likes the fact that more people will get to see it outdoors.

“It interrupts their daily life a little bit more,” he said. “It’s a lot different than walking into a gallery or into a museum, with all the expectations you have when you do it. This one sort of surprises. ... and I like surprises.”

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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