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For Open Spaces, An Artist Turns A Forgotten Pool Into A 'Vision Of Color And Thought'

Julie Denesha
Visitors take a moment for quiet contemplation at a new installation by artist Ebony Patterson. It’s one of many works sprinkled throughout the city as a part of Open Spaces.";

Down a winding road in Swope Park, on the other end of a short walk through the grass, there's an old, abandoned pool where, in the days before penicillin, sick children came for hydrotherapy. In recent weeks it's been re-filled — not with water but with silk flowers, teddy bears and candles for Ebony Patterson’s art installation.

Patterson's piece is one of many in Open Spaces, the citywide arts festival that continues through the end of October. On opening weekend, as Patterson held court with a group of visitors, she remembered finding the site a year ago.

“I just kept walking, going, like, 'What's back there?' Because the whole area was fenced off," she said. "And that's when we discovered the pool.”

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Ebony Patterson speaks to visitors in Swope Park.

Patterson, who is based in Kingston, Jamaica and Lexington, Kentucky, painted the cement light blue and filled it with the kinds of mementos people leave at roadside memorials. She installed four metal benches for quiet contemplation, and titled her installation "…called up."

"I am very interested in how regular people claim space and that's what street side memorials do,” said Patterson. “So when a tragedy happens, they mark the space by adding things that we would associate with a memorial in the same way that we're seeing here so there are flowers, there are toys, there are candles."

Credit Todd Feeback / Shadowlight Images
Shadowlight Images
From the air, Patterson's '…called up' looks like a richly-colored rug.

“It is extraordinary,” said Brent Jackson, another one of the Open Spaces artists (part of the Blue River Road Investigators at Lakeside Nature Center).

He said he'd been eager to see what Patterson had done.

“I was here in the winter time when it was just a derelict pool. And it has now just become a vision of color and thought," he said.

"It’s just such a beautiful thing. And if you’re coming up here you don’t expect it and suddenly it just appears out of nowhere."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Nick Cave’s two ‘Soundsuit’ sculptures from 2005 (foreground) share gallery space with Ebony Patterson’s ‘Untitled Lightz’ at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art (Cave’s work is also featured in Open Spaces).

Patterson’s work is also on view at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, where she had a one-woman show in 2014. Executive Director Bruce Hartman said this new installation shares a common theme with other things she’s created.

"She’s done a succession of works that deal with memorializing murdered individuals, people who are lost, that disappeared,” Hartman said. “And so there’s a real poignancy to those works. And I think what she’s memorializing in Open Spaces will obviously have that effect as well."

Patterson said Open Spaces was also a chance for people to engage with Swope Park. She'd heard about its undeserved reputation.

"I know that there was a lot of questions about, 'Why (have Open Spaces centered in) Swope Park?'” Patterson said, “with all of the supposed, quote-unquote dangers around Swope Park because of its proximity to particular communities. That really interested me, the idea that somehow there's a public space that people are afraid to use."

Credit Julie Denesha / KCUR 89.3FM
Teddy bears and silk flowers fill the pool where sick children came for hydrotherapy.

On the first day of Open Spaces, her installation had already attracted the art collector Bill Gautreaux.

“Usually I’m visiting a biannual in another city and so I’m having to pound it out in a day and a half or two,” said Gautreaux. “This is the first time that I’ve ever lived in a city where I’ve now got 60 days to make my way around exhibitions, return to them. And so yeah, I’ll definitely come back. And I’ll take other people to it.”

As the season changes, Patterson knows her installation will change, too.

"My hope is that people from the city will come and that they will claim the site as theirs,” said Patterson. “My job as the artist is done. The work is no longer mine. It belongs to the public."

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly reported that the Blue River Road Investigators lead Open Spaces' Sight and Sound Walks. The artist who leads those walks is Karen McCoy.

Julie Denesha is a freelance photographer and reporter for KCUR. Follow her on Twitter, @juliedenesha.

Julie Denesha is the arts reporter for KCUR. Contact her at julie@kcur.org.
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