When Los Angeles-based Poetic Kinetics founder Patrick Shearn mentioned the sight of thousands of starlings swooping and swirling in unison in giant waves across the sky as one of his early inspirations I immediately understood this artists desire to use his profound technical skills to serve as a reminder of nature’s awesome power. Murmuration, a deliciously alliterative word, is the perfect metaphor for Shearn’s site-specific work like Liquid Shard (2016) the west coast precursor to Silver Current (2019), a billowing network of shimmering silvery filaments floating on the wind over historic Custom House Square in New Bedford, Massachusetts from now through September 2019.
This immersive installation is the keystone element in the kickoff of Summer Winds, a season long series of exhibitions and programming under the auspices of the newly formed Massachusetts Design Art and Technology Institute (DATMA), a non-collecting museum bringing international artists and performers creating wind related work throughout the public parks and along the waterfront of downtown New Bedford. During the 19th century, this city, perched on the south coast of Massachusetts, was one of the most important whaling ports in the world. Still known for its fishing fleet and seafood production based economy, the city has suffered along with the embattled local fishing industry as it responds to the pressures of an eroding environment, government regulation, and international competition. As a coastal city it must confront the effects of climate change and come-up with solutions or consign itself to eventual extinction.
Big problems require innovative approaches to overcome the pervasive cynicism of our time. Rhode Island School of Design’s former president, the energetic, forward thinking Roger Mandle has a long history of employing art and artists in finding solutions to some of the most perplexing problems of the day. Mandle brings his 40 years of museum development experience to the founding of DATMA, an organization intended to promote technology while creatively using art as a catalyst for positive change. As long-time residents of the South Coast, Mandle and his wife Gayle have a vested interest and deep commitment to the success of the project. In a conversation while sitting on his deck just prior to the launch of Summer Winds Mandle reminds me, “Trade routes are now electronic” harkening back to New Bedford’s historical importance as a coastal port, while alluding to DATMA’s plans for positioning the city’s future. Mandle elaborates, “Today’s winds no longer push sails of whaling ships, but they will now drive wind turbines set sail for a new course by working with investors to create a wind energy industry that will invigorate the New Bedford area and produce masses of inexpensive, and environmentally pure, renewable energy for the region and beyond.” As of this writing, the New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal is the first hub in the country designed for the deployment of offshore wind farms. Massachusetts leads the way in its commitment to the development of renewable offshore wind energy.