Downtown lawns host artists' creations in Yard Work 

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click to enlarge Dontre Major installs his work at 10 Marlow Road

Ruta Smith

Dontre Major installs his work at 10 Marlow Road

It seems fitting that the same week that the John C. Calhoun monument was finally removed from Marion Square, a group of local artists took to front yards downtown to offer the world free, meaningful outdoor art. In this moment artists must create, citizens must ask questions and all of us must keep a distance of 6 feet from one another. Wearing masks, of course.

"We're bringing the community and art community together," said Hirona Matsuda, a local artist and one of the organizers of the new outdoor art exhibition, Yard Work. "It's important to give people things to think about and do."

Yard Work opened on June 26 in the front yards of homes in the Hampton Park and Wagener Terrace neighborhoods and will be on display through the end of July. The project is a collaboration between local artists Susan Klein and Hirona Matsuda and Tiger Strikes Asteroid, a nonprofit network of independently operated, artist-run exhibition spaces with locations in Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Greenville, S.C.

Tiger Strikes members in Greenville, Charleston and Asheville have coordinated work from local artists within their respective communities, meant to be displayed as public art installations visible from a distance. Charleston's participating artists include Dontre Major, Morgan Kinne, Natalie Rae-Gibbons, John Jamison, Matsuda, Vassiliki Falkehag, Taylor Faulkner, Jarod Charzewski and Adam Eddy.

The artists intentionally represent a range of experience, from the work of recent college grad Major to the work of veteran installation artist Falkehag. Some of the installations are located in the participating artist's yard, while some work is in the yards of local volunteers. "Artists are looking for an outlet and people want to be a part of something," said Matsuda.

click to enlarge You'll find the colorful work of Jarod Charzewski at 35 Race St. - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • You'll find the colorful work of Jarod Charzewski at 35 Race St.

She and Klein mention one of the volunteers, a woman who is particularly excited to host an installation in her front yard. As someone who is immunocompromised, this volunteer is happy to have some art in her yard — and to have the opportunity to drive around her neighborhood and see all the other installations from the safety of her car.

Another set of volunteers have figured out a way to include area kids and teens in the project, too. A couple on Peachtree Street plans to commission palmetto roses from the youth artists in the Palmetto Rose Project and to construct a flower-made fence in their yard. The fence will grow over the month and people in the community can add their own roses.

And while one might assume that artists are thrilled by the opportunity to create something during the current pandemic, Klein and Matsuda point out that a lot of creatives are struggling with the power of their voice right now. Not only is the country fighting the public health crisis of coronavirus, but cities in every state are reckoning with social injustice and police brutality against the black community.

"It's made artists think about their practice," said Klein. "More artists are hesitant. They wonder, 'Is this relevant? What can I do that's more important?' It's made people slow down and be very thoughtful."

click to enlarge PROVIDED
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You'll find Major's thoughtful, powerful work at 10 Marlow Road, where large cyanotype prints feature human figures: two holding their hands in their air, one firing a gun and one falling into himself. You'll find thoughtful work from Kinne at 171 Gordon St., where a tall structure of corrugated metal stands. At 7 Maverick St. Taylor Faulkner's colorful creature hangs ten off of a home's front steps.

"This [project] has started a lot of conversations about public art and who it should represent," said Matsuda. Klein added, "Arts organizations are really sitting with our ideas of what 'good art' is and who we include and how that is a product of structural racism. We're all questioning the idea of the authoritative voice."

Both Klein and Matsuda agree that Yard Work has shed some light on how little public art there is in the Charleston area — and how easy it was for them to find artists willing to participate in this project, even if they'd never created work outdoors before. "It was hopeful," said Matsuda.

Yard Work will be on display through July 31.

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