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Dec 2003 / the ordinary eye :: email this story to a friend

Urban Art-ventures on the Edge
Text by Amanda E. Doyle
Photos by Maddie Earnest

Though this year's happening took place on a balmy weekend in late September, even its name — the mysterious "Artica" — has something of the wintry about it. A forbidding continent? An unexplored land? Terrain, at once hostile and open to the intrepid? The arts celebration that is Artica contains all of those possibilities.

Artica was conceived by artists Nita Turnage and Hap Phillips as a way to honor, revere and participate in a long-neglected stretch of the St. Louis riverfront, starting at the old power plant building near the base of Biddle Street. It's a most curious landscape, where industry has left a ghostly footprint of itself and nature has begun to reclaim her own. In that spirit, much of the installation work during the primary weekend of Artica was designed to stay behind, eventually decomposing back into its constituent parts, leaving only bits and pieces as reminders of its presence.

The beauty of Artica is its unprogrammed nature; although artists applied to participate, the forms their work took ranged wildly from ceramic heads to rock sculpture to ethereal human forms, flying in the breeze. Even better, though generalized site plans were available near the starting point, there was no clear boundary as to what was and wasn't Artica. The symmetric pile of stones near the river, away from any other installation, could be capital-a Art or perhaps just ... art, serendipitous. Found materials played a huge part, making it seem as if some of the art really did just rise up from the earth overnight, to display itself before returning to the dust. (Of course, that doesn't really explain the faux-fur teepee.) Participants and curious observers alike wandered the vast area, carefully looking around and asking of each element of the environment: is it art? The answer, including what remains of the celebration even now, is always "yes."

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