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  • Writer's pictureLouise Casini Hollis

Art Installation brings the Perfect Wave to the Oceanfront

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

Words by Louise Casini Hollis. Photos courtesy of the City of Virginia Beach.

Barrel: a tube, the curl of the wave, the hollow part of a wave when it is breaking, and one of the most sought after things in surfing.

“Art is just so easy because there is no language, no nothing,” says Alexandra Gonzales President and Co-Founder of HIVE, and the artist behind Barreled a new interactive sculpture near the Oceanfront, “there’s just being involved with the piece itself.” Barreled, along with its companion piece Broken Current, by local muralist Navid Rahman, is the newest enhancement to the Oceanfront. Located at 17th St. and Pacific, the project was originally to be installed just before the Something in the Water festival back in April. Needless to say, the installation was pushed back to August for the safety of all involved.

Counterclockwise from Bottom Left: Alexandra Gonzalez, President and Co-Founder of Hive Public Space; Kyle Harrell, Artist (who goes by his artist name Humble- @hmbl_ on Instagram); Navid Rahman, Artist (@navidruins on Instagram); Charlie Osorio, Designer for Hive Public Space

Counterclockwise from Bottom Left: Alexandra Gonzalez, President and Co-Founder of Hive Public Space; Kyle Harrell, Artist (who goes by his artist name Humble- @hmbl_ on Instagram); Navid Rahman, Artist (@navidruins on Instagram); Charlie Osorio, Designer for Hive Public Space

The project was set in motion 2 years ago when Virginia Beach’s Public Arts and Placemaking Coordinator Nina Goodale and her team sent out a national call for artists to submit proposals. “We received some really amazing proposals from all around the country, and in the selection process we included the community, and what really struck everyone was the fact that it really spoke to the surf history of Virginia Beach that we’re known for, and she really captured it beautifully,” said Nina. Alexandra shared that the inspiration for Barreled came as she sat down with Charlie Osorio, a design collaborator with HIVE, and they brainstormed what they thought of when they think of Virginia Beach. “I always think of Virginia Beach as a surfing town,” said Alexandra, and this thinking led them to ask, “What is that one moment you seek within surfing, and how can we make that moment last?”

What came out of asking that question became a collaboration with the community. “When we saw the site there was a white wall behind it,” explained Alexandra, “so I said, ‘We have to include this into the scope.’ Of course, from the city side, they didn’t have any additional funds to be able to add another piece, so I started reaching out to local businesses. They came together and helped us put together the funding to get the materials for the piece. Some business owners encouraged others to donate. It was great to see everyone coming together despite a very difficult financial year. So HIVE public space ended up covering the fee for the artist and the business community covered all of the materials.” Kate Pittman, Secretary of the ViBe District, connected Alexandra and company with Navid Raham, a local artist who is known for Jewel the Mermaid and Seasons in Norfolk’s Neon district, Crown Shyness in downtown Norfolk, the mural in the Bayside Recreation Center, and numerous other projects in restaurants and private businesses throughout Norfolk, Richmond, D.C., and even New York City.

In the foreground an artist paints a mural low on a building while in the background another artist paints high on the same wall in a scissorlift

Originally from Dhaka, Bangladesh, Navid immigrated with his family in the early 90’s to Virginia Beach. His mother’s first business, a gift shop, was on the corner of 18th and Atlantic, so he was familiar with the area. “After the lot became open and the wall got repaired and prepped I would just say in passing, ‘Someone’s got to do that one. It’s perfect!’ I feel like a lot of people who paint outside look at good spots to paint. I’ve got a camera roll of walls that would be great, just in case,” Navid shared. When creating Broken Current, he drew inspiration from Hokusai’s woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

“The fact that it was someone who had been thinking specifically about this site was fantastic,” said Alexandra. Still, on HIVE’s end, important structural questions needed to be considered. “We knew that we had to go with something that had transparency, but also because we were excited about the colors that would be cast from the shadows,” said Alexandra. “So actually when you are on site, when you see all of the blues and then the panels – where all the different panels intersect – like the deeper blues – it’s a really beautiful way of capturing everything and using the natural resources: the sun, being out in the field. [It’s meant] to give you the same feeling and a little bit of the movement and fluidity that you get from water.”

Three men help assemble the art piece, they are installing blue metal and plastic structures

Another question Alexandra and her team had to answer was how to create durability. “Usually art installations that are outdoors get a little bit more abuse than something would at a museum,” explained Alexandra. “You’re designing with the worst case scenario: someone is going to be jumping on it and things like that, so you have to overdesign for durability. Then because we are so close to the ocean and all of the salt, we knew we had to go with a powder coating for the structure, essentially you bake the paint, for lack of a better word, so it’s a lot more durable. And then when it came to the acrylic panels, we knew that we wanted that because it is about capturing the moment within the wave, the barrel. We actually did just a little bit more to make sure it was super secure because it is by the water and sometimes you get those high winds.” Although the project was commissioned for a two year installation, Alexandra says the sculpture is, “designed to last. It’s just a matter of whether or not the lot is still available, or other things that are a little bit beyond something we can do.”

Collaboration with a local artist was important to Alexandra. An immigrant herself, from Medellin, Colombia, Alexandra earned a B.F.A. and a Bachelor’s in Architecture from Rhode Island School of Design and her Master’s of Science degree in Architecture and Urban Design from Columbia University and has worked at several architectural and planning firms in Manhattan over the last 10 years including Bryant Park Corporation and the 34th Street Partnership, where she serves as the Senior Urban Designer for both companies. Even though she had done extensive research on surfing and Virginia Beach, Alexandra felt having a local artist’s perspective was valuable, “to make sure that the project feels like it’s appropriate, feels like it belongs in there, and that we’re not just coming in and dropping something that is not relevant to the community,” she explained. Alexandra went on to describe how HIVE started with a sketch that gave Navid a direction for Broken Current. “The color was one that was very heavily influenced – one from the other – so we knew that we had some blues, so then we sort of picked a blue that would be vibrant and that would kind of complement the colors in his. We knew that we wanted the colors to be super vibrant, so it was about choosing the right complementary colors which sort of give you that movement sense which is exactly which we were going for. Then he introduced some angular pieces which are more reflective to our sculpture. There was a lot of back and forth between the two of us and I’d say we were both collaborating on both pieces.”

Two men in green shirts help assemble the art piece, they are installing blue metal and plastic structures

Barreled has ADA ramps on either side and the sculptural pieces are spaced 6 foot apart. This not only allows for proper social distancing, but also for wheelchair accessibility. “It’s not just about something looking good, it’s about how we can make sure that everyone’s safe,” notes Alexandra. Additionally, “each one of the arches has a seating component to it. Some of them being larger, some of them being a little bit smaller, so that everyone can safely take their selfies, but while still maintaining a social distance,” Alexandra adds. The ability to create “Instagram Moments” is also something Alexandra takes into consideration when designing. “We essentially design thinking of how we can make this more photogenic because we know that’s essentially what it will end up to be,” she explained. “As an urban designer, my focus is solely on public spaces, this is what I do every day. So I’m very hyper sensitive to those things,” she added.

“It really ended up being even better than we could have imagined,” said Nina Goodale. “We’re grateful for all the community enthusiasm and support on it.”  

An artist painting a mural on a building

The beautiful thing about a public art installation is that you can visit it any time of day and always catch new inspiration from different seasons, weather, and viewing angles. And right now, when outdoors is one of the safest places to social distance, public spaces create opportunities to interact with the world. “I’m hoping what will come out of all of this is that we begin to really invest and appreciate our public spaces more. I think [public spaces] could be a catalyst for change, a catalyst for transformation, and they really get us to make our cities better and make spaces for people to come to and become more active,” Alexandra stated.

“This is my gift to the city,” concludes Alexandra. “We want to leave this here with them. We want them to celebrate. In art it’s so important because it’s not just about beautifying something – a place – it’s really about how does [art] allow [the space] to transform and to make the place better.”

Want to experience Barreled and Broken Current in person? Just venture down to the Oceanfront at 17th St. and Pacific and share your moment with the hashtags #Barreled #BrokenCurrent #vbarts #vbpublicart #vabeacharts. Not in the area? Check out VB Arts Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube

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