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Internationally renowned artist Willie Cole, a Newark native, will unveil two chandelier-like sculptures made from more than 6,000 plastic water bottles at Express Newark in the city’s landmark Hahne Building on Thursday, February 2.
"We have a water bottle crisis and a water crisis in general,” said Cole. “Plastic is killing the environment, and lead pipes have impacted big cities around the country, including in Newark. Making a public structure draws attention and makes people ask questions, which can lead to conversation and potential solutions."
The sculptures, called "Spirit Catcher" and "Lumen-Less Lantern," are held together with metal wire and will hang year-long as installations in the Hahne building’s atrium and the lobby of Express Newark, the center for socially engaged art and design at Rutgers University-Newark.
Cole, who is this year’s artist-in-residence at Express Newark, is a sculptor known for assembling found objects and transforming discarded materials into social commentary. He has transformed Express Newark’s Paul Robeson Art Gallery into a working studio and site of co-creation, in which Rutgers-Newark students and residents of Newark were invited to contribute to the making of large-scale sculptures that are both visually striking and ecologically conscious.
Cole’s exhibition is part of Express Newark’s year-long showcasing of work based on the theme “Aliveness,” which informs the center’s programming of art installations, immersive films, public lessons, studio sessions and community classes. Express Newark leaders were inspired by scholar Kevin Quashie’s recent book, “Black Aliveness, or a Poetics of Being.”
“Aliveness” invokes artistic experimentation and an ethos of collectivity to resist the fracture, apathy, and distrust that dominates much of our modern society and disempowers people from demanding long-term change. By bringing together ideas of kinship, communal gathering, and creative process, Aliveness invites audiences and artists to activate this space and explore the relationship between contemporary art, racial freedom, and environmental justice.
“As we contend with existential threats to our democracy and the environment, Aliveness moves us beyond narratives of catastrophe or nihilism,” said Salamishah Tillet, Executive Director of Express Newark. “It enables us to imagine new worlds made of ecologically conscious methods, upcycled materials, and our collective vision and will.”
Also part of the Aliveness launch on February 2 will be a screening of videos curated by Farrah Rahaman called Things We Do in the Dark: Cinematic Experiments in Kinship. The exhibition features more than twenty video-based collaborations from Black and Indigenous artists, exploring such critical themes as racial solidarity, Black radical protest, and communal healing.
Rahaman is Express Newark’s curator-in-residence this year. She is based in Philadelphia and is also a research and curatorial fellow at Black Star Project.
About Willie Cole
Cole is a New Jersey sculptor whose work has been showcased in numerous one-person exhibitions. In 2015, his work was featured in “Represent: 200 Years of African American Art” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and “Wild Noise: Artwork from the Bronx Museum of the Arts” at El Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, Havana. In 2016, the Brooklyn Museum exhibited his work in “Disguise: Masks and Global African Art.” Also in 2016, “Willie Cole: On-Site” opened at the David C. Driskell Center, University of Maryland, and traveled to the Museum of Art at the University of New Hampshire and Arthur Ross Gallery, Philadelphia. In 2017, Cole had solo exhibitions at the Snite Museum of Art at the University of Notre Dame and the College of Architecture and Design Gallery at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In 2019, “Willie Cole: Beauties” was exhibited at the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard University, and “Willie Cole: Bella Figura” was showcased at Alexander and Bonin, New York.
About Express Newark
Led by Executive Director Salamishah Tillet and Creative Director Nick Kline, Express Newark is a center for socially engaged art and design. Supported by Rutgers University–Newark, it is conceived as a “third space” for students, artists, and activists to make art that matters, addressing our city’s most prevailing social justice issues and advocating for systemic change.
About Rutgers University-Newark
Rutgers University–Newark is a diverse, urban, public research university that is based in Newark and also of Newark—an anchor institution of our home city. RU-N conceives of anchor institutions as place-based organizations that persevere in their communities over generations, even in the face of substantial capital flight, serving as a social glue and economic engines.
Express Newark is located at 54 Halsey Street in downtown Newark, NJ. Please visit www.expressnewark.org for public hours. Admission is free.
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