Artist Interviews: Joanne Kaliontzis

Artwork: Channel Center Garage by Joanne Kaliontzis and Spalding Tougias Architects

What subject matter does your work focus on? Do you have specific interests in your art making process?

My artwork is an extension of my graphic design work.

My personal work is inspired by found graphic design – advertising, labels and signs, Americana, ethnic, things that are universally familiar. I like to recombine these items in new ways to create something visually pleasing. It is more about form and color – rather than art that has “deep meaning.” Although many times, because or the source materials, the viewer brings their own narrative to the art.

How did you start conceptualizing the idea for the Channel Center Garage installation?

For the Channel Center Garage, my initial proposal was more like an inspiration or mood board than actual design.

Knowing that the materials were light and perforated metal, the piece that inspired my most was Moholy Nagy’s “Light-Space Modulator” – a mechanical sculpture that he created for the purpose of film studies.

Did you work with a team, and if so, what was that experience like?

Yes, the team was Dick Galvin – the developer of the Channel Center complex and the vision to make the parking garage be a beautiful back drop for onsite parking. Spalding Tougias Architects, purposely created a simple structure which created the framework for the art. They sourced the metal manufacturers and engineers and the lighting team. This project would have not been possible without their vision. I was honored to be part of this team.

Which community resources or funding opportunities enabled you to pursue the project?

The project was funded completely by the developer. They stuck with it, and dedicated more time and money because of their belief of the outcome. There were a lot of stumbling blocks in the way.

Please describe your process! Which materials did you use and did you need to shift your materials? Did the concept influence your material choice?

Materials of the structure were pre-determined. Perforated metal panels on a pre-engineered cable structure, and enamel paint for durability, and a lighting system. One significant change that we were able to make early on was that I asked if the lighting on the front façade could be put behind the panels and back light the perforated metal. The hope was that the light would illuminate a perforated design in the metal. We fabricated a test, that surpassed all of our expectations and convinced us this was a way to go.

Also, we also took a chance and used metallic paint on the front façade. The hope was that the natural light would have an effect on the surface the panels.

What is your intention behind the piece and what impact do you hope to make? What do you want your audiences to take away?

The hopes and intention of the piece was to give all that interacted with the garage a unique experience. Depending on the time of day and weather conditions, the garage had a different appearance and experience. On flat lit days, the pattern of the panels would be most apparent. As the sun shined during the day the green of the lower panels and blue of the upper panels created a sort of landscape that added to the atmosphere of the park. Late afternoons in the summer the upper floor interior floors were patterned with the shadows of the perforated metal. I called this time, “5 o’clock shadow.” The façade faces due west. If conditions were right, the sun at magic hour would cause the panels to turn brilliant gold. This effect was a total surprise to us. I almost cried at first witness. No one could have imagined the metallic paint would react this way. And, cued by sunset, the colored lighting patterned would animate around the structure.

Which challenges did you overcome during the process?

Many challenges… Creating the front and back designs of the garage were different design problems. The front façade in which the color scheme was made purposely simple was designed to emphasize an elaborate perforation design. Because of a late adjustment to some engineering specs, I had to adjust the range of scale of the perforations. I ended up having to compromise a great deal to get the project done. The back façade was more of a graphic form that used the same type of design of the perforations. The challenge was to create a design that would be pleasing to the viewers south of the garage and to maximize the impact of a limited color palette. There was a lot of back and forth with City planners… In one meeting the City architect pulled out a photo of his daughter in a cute dress to compare my design to pattern one would get bored with. My reply: “I love Marimekko, do you think they would have that dress in my size?” As the project was in final stage of approval, the City tried to convince me that the design looked better upside-down. Fortunately, our architects talked them out of that!

What is the importance of public art to you?

Public art has many roles. Most people first think of memorials – Old white guys on horses… Maya Lin and her ground-breaking Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC changed contemporary thinking on how to approach memorials – the architecture takes a back seat to the experience the visitors have as they interact with it. A more contemporary example of this is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice (aka Lynching Memorial) in Montgomery Alabama.  These examples are about challenging your view and emotions about a time in our history. 

There are other types of public art that are about wonder, beauty and surprise with a message. Much of the public art in Fort Point could be categorized this way. The current floating piece in the Channel by Zy Baer, Polarity  is a chuck of a building that looks like a FP warehouse, calls attention to climate change issues that we are facing in Boston – and the world. Years back, much of the public art in Fort Point was aimed at getting the attention of artists and artist space and neighborhood issues like more green space. Example of the latter is Lisa Greenfield and Jennifer Moses’ intervention when they got a group of artists to carpet the length of the Summer St. bridge with grass. It caught the morning foot commuters by surprise and delight, while also sending a message to the City about then future plans about green space for the neighborhood. During that same time period, artist Jeff Smith theorized that for the most part looked like regular people. He proposed Beret Day. He got a grant to purchase 500 berets which he gave out to anyone to wear so that on that particular day they would be identified as an artist.

Now + There, an organization founded by Kate Gilbert, has produced work all over the city. She has engaged local artists as well as internationally known artists such as Nick Cage.

Artist Maria Molteni has made the humble neighborhood basketball court vibrant canvases

And, one must also give a nod to Jerry Beck and his Revolving Museum that had its origin in Fort Point. He was the master of community engagement and invited all to participate in the art making.

What has surprised you about Fort Point (e.g. the artwork, the neighborhood, the people)?

My first experience with Fort Point was tagging along with my dad, a paper salesman, on visits to printing companies that once occupied many of these warehouses. Little could I have imagined that many years later, I would be living in a community of artists that occupied many of those buildings. The neighborhood has changed drastically over the years. Many artists forced out by development pressures. But we have 3 vibrant all artist buildings in Fort Point, and now many other neighbors who have discovered our once abandoned part of town. There were some fun and magical things about the old days… Crazy loft parties, Friday night kickball games in the alley and rollerblading in the vast empty parking lots on the weekend. But now I will admit that I like being able to get a good cup of coffee and have a Trader Joe’s in walking distance.

By AIGA Boston
Published May 19, 2022