Davina Semo: Reverberation will unveil five new painted bronze bells by Davina Semo In Brooklyn Bridge Park this August. The installation will explore our relationship to industrial materials and the built environment that we encounter every day.
San Francisco-based sculptor Davina Semo’s large-scale installation of interactive bells will be situated along the New York City waterfront in Brooklyn Bridge Park. The exhibition builds on a series of bells that she began developing in 2016. Multiple towering structures that each house a bronze bell can be rung by park-goers, evoking public modes of communication and harkening back to New York City’s maritime history. Located adjacent to the Brooklyn Bridge, Semo’s work explores our relationship to industrial materials and the built environment that we encounter every day. Alluding to the bell’s function of calling a community to attention—whether that be bells hung within a tower at the town square to tell the time or ferries traveling along the New York Harbor—Semo’s work will activate the pier, highlighting the civic nature of art in public space. In considering how we occupy and navigate these spaces, she creates powerful work that invites connection and communication in an effort to inspire a greater awareness of our surroundings and ourselves.
Consisting of five, four-foot tall bright orange bronze bells, and housed in structures towering over 14 feet in height, Reverberation will enliven Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 1 along the New York City waterfront. From ancient times, bells have served special roles in civic life—to signal time, celebrate momentous occasions, invite people into public spaces, and summon community action. So, too, have ships traveling along the harbor sounded bells to communicate with those around them. By adapting this traditional form, Semo’s five works aim to create shared communication through their collective ringing. Titled individually—Dreamer, Listener, Mother, Reflector, and Singer—each bell has its own voice and presence, as well as a unique configuration of holes that have been drilled through the surface to produce a differentiated character and pitch. Over the last several months, sound has taken on a new resonance, including the evening cheers to thank essential workers and the collective voices of protesters shouting out for racial justice and equality. At the same time, the bells’ luminous hue evokes the international color of urgent alarm, serving as a call to action.
Semo’s interest in personal relationships, between people and their communities or audiences and artworks, served as a starting point for Reverberation. Its public location prompted her to adapt the conventional civic role of the bell, a theme she has explored since 2016. The new commission invites the public to ring each bell safely by stepping on a foot pedal (a modification to the original proposal due to COVID-19), calling out to park visitors to contemplate how we come together to occupy and navigate space. The peal of these large-scale bells along New York City’s historic East River waterfront is symbolic of the diverse ideas and voices that inhabit the city.
“Semo’s bells become a distinctive and democratized mode of public address that allows art to communicate in profound ways,” says Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer. “They give us an opportunity to raise our voices and unite with each other, at a moment when human connection and empathy have become so precious.”
Davina Semo: Reverberation will be on view from August 13, 2020 through April 18, 2021 at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 1. This exhibition is curated by Public Art Fund Curator Daniel S. Palmer.
Public Art Fund is supported by the generosity of individuals, corporations, and private foundations including lead support from Bloomberg Philanthropies, along with major support from the Charina Endowment Fund, The Marc Haas Foundation, Hartfield Foundation, the Donald A. Pels Charitable Trust, The Silverweed Foundation, and the Joseph and Joan Cullman Foundation for the Arts.
Public Art Fund exhibitions and programs are also supported in part with public funds from government agencies, including the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.