Will a new sculpture with movable pieces engage visitors to a popular Old Port corner park? It’s up to the public to decide how to view it and how to use it, says creator Christian Prasch.

Portland officials have approved a temporary art sculpture that will block an entrance to a popular Old Port park – at least until someone takes the wall down and turns the pieces into something else.

The installation, called “Occupied Wall,” is the vision of Christian Prasch, a 39-year-old architect who lives in East Bayside. It will be built of interlocking wooden boxes at one of six entryways to Post Office Park, near Exchange and Middle streets. Most of the hollow building blocks will be movable, allowing people to create their own sculptures or even use the boxes as furniture.

The idea won the support of a city panel last week, but not without some doubts about whether it will engage park visitors or just frustrate them.

Portland architect Christian Prasch, right, discusses his temporary art installation with Portland’s urban designer, Caitlin Cameron, at Post Office Park last week. Staff photo by Randy Billings

The proposal is one of three temporary art pieces being championed this year by TempoArt, a relatively new nonprofit group in Portland that says it wants to enliven urban spaces and encourage “residents and visitors alike to engage with what will become a changing array of exciting and innovative installations.”

The interactive wall sculpture is scheduled to be in place for the month of August, unless someone gets hurt or the city receives an influx of complaints, either of which could prompt its removal sooner.

“We did not set a specific threshold for removal but the city reserves the right at any time to request temporary art be removed if we believe there is a safety or health risk,” said Caitlin Cameron, the city’s urban designer, who staffs the panel that reviews public art applications.

The wall will be roughly 11 feet wide and a little more than 9 feet tall. Its frame will be made of metal rods that will be anchored to the sidewalk by wooden blocks filled with 50-pound bags of sand. The inside of the frame will be filled with wooden blocks and flat pieces of plywood painted bright orange and haphazardly arranged.

Some of the 16-inch wooden cubes will be mounted to the frame, but most of the interior blocks in the wall will be removable, allowing people to make an opening through the wall and create new sculptures or use the blocks as seats, benches or easels.

The threshold is expected to be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.

“I’m going to allow the public to use it as it sees fit,” Prasch said. “It’s up to the public to determine if (the wall) is going to be an impediment to the plaza or broken down and used for public engagement.”

With so much discussion about President Trump’s desire to build a wall between the United States and Mexico, Prasch said, the goal of the project is to provoke a larger discussion about society and public amenities as a whole. While some walls can be obstructions, others, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., can provide a quiet place for meaningful reflection, he said.

A 9-foot-tall sculpture called “Occupied Wall” will appear in Post Office Park near Exchange and Middle streets in Portland next month.

“Should we put walls in nature just for the sake of scaring people away?” Prasch asked.

The “Occupied Wall” proposal was reviewed twice by Portland’s Temporary Art Review Panel, a small group that consists mostly of city staffers and a few members of the public.

Before receiving conditional approval last week, Prasch’s proposal prompted some skepticism during a site visit from the city staff and the Portland Downtown District, a group of downtown business and property owners.

The group’s Executive Director Casey Gilbert worried about liability issues should people accidentally hurt themselves, or intentionally hurt someone else.

“Who is going to throw a block at someone in a fit of rage?” asked Gilbert, who also worried about getting complaints from downtown business people. “I will get emails about this. That should be fun,” she joked.

Prasch said he hopes to set up a camera in the window of a nearby business to take time-lapse photos, so he can document how people interact with the wall.

Prasch also said he will lock up the pieces at night, preferably in the same arrangement that the public left them. At the city’s request, he said he’d address any graffiti or vandalism. The treatment of the art could be instructive for city officials when they consider what amenities to offer the public, he said.

Some of the wooden cubes in Christian Prasch’s “Occupied Wall” will be mounted to the frame, but most of the interior blocks will be removable, allowing people to make an opening in the wall and create new sculptures or use the blocks as seats.

Ethan Hipple, the city’s parks director, voiced the most skepticism, however.

“I know a lot of people are going to find it really annoying,” Hipple said.

Hipple tried unsuccessfully to persuade the artist and the committee to put the interactive sculpture in the middle of the park, where it would be less of an obstruction, but others thought that would undermine the purpose of the project.

“I still don’t like it here,” Hipple said. “I just feel like we’re placing an obstacle in people’s lives, which I know is the point. But I find that not to be congruent with a public park.”

Other temporary art projects supported by TempoArt include the current installation by John Sundling on Franklin Street that illustrates the original size of Lincoln Park before a large section was taken to create the existing traffic arterial. Sundling’s piece re-creates the original park boundary using wooden replicas of the same ornate fencing that now surrounds the park.

In July, Christina Bechstein will unveil another project, which will be the product of a collaboration of mostly Muslim, immigrant women who are planting native vegetables in the community garden on Boyd Street, according to Anne Marie Purkey Levine, who serves on TempoArt’s board of directors. Levine said the artist plans to place words and phrases that are meaningful to the women on signs, which will be placed in the grassy median of Franklin Street.

Last year, the TempoArt group commissioned the “American Dream” sculpture that is now in Lincoln Park. That piece is a rusty assemblage of four houses stacked on top of one another, including a top piece that is upside-down.

Levine said the group will alternate between putting out a call for local art, as it did this year, and hiring an artist-in-residence to create a specific piece of art, like it did last year.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

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