UTSA Nov. 6 lecture features artists Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock

public art installation
Joe O'Connell
Blessing Hancock

Top photo: San Antonio public art installation "Ballroom Luminoso" under Interstate 35
Middle photo: Artist and technologist Joe O'Connell
Bottom photo: Sculptor Blessing Hancock

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(Nov. 4, 2013) -- The UTSA College of Architecture Fall Lecture Series will feature artistic duo Joe O'Connell and Blessing Hancock of Creative Machines Inc. speaking on "Public Art and Placemaking."

Presented through support from Public Art San Antonio (PASA), the free public lecture will be 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 6 in the Buena Vista Street Building Aula Canaria (1.328) on the UTSA Downtown Campus.

O'Connell and Hancock are the artists behind "Ballroom Luminoso," a permanent installation that transformed an ordinary San Antonio underpass at Theo-Malone and Interstate 35 on the city's South Side into an elegant community shadow theater.

Jimmy LeFlore, public art manager for PASA, will present the lecturers and serve as moderator for a Q&A session following the presentation.

O'Connell is a technologist with an interest in living systems; Hancock is a sculptor with an interest in machines. Creative Machines Inc. is the team's 14,000-square-foot fabrication facility in Tucson, Ariz., where they employ 14 artists, designers, engineers and craftspeople.

O'Connell and Hancock aim to give people new experiences and inspiration in their daily encounters with the world through their art. Their works often involve technology -- LEDs, sound, touch-sensitive circuitry, optical projection and microcontrollers -- but also are very physically rooted in their place.

"Ballroom Luminoso" was commissioned by PASA as part of the City of San Antonio 2012-2017 bond program. The installation was permanently lighted in May 2013 as the first project in a series to be completed in the area. A series of six lighted, color-changing sculptures hang like chandeliers from the underpass, each casting bright shapes and colored shadows throughout the underpass area.

The sculptures were made from recycled bicycle parts and custom-cut metals, while the LED lights used allowed for creative expression with minimal maintenance.

O'Connell and Hancock began the project with extensive research into the cultural and social aspects of the neighborhoods surrounding the site. The artists' hyper-local approach resulted in an installation that promotes neighborhood connectivity, while creating an inviting space beyond the city center. "Ballroom Luminoso" plays off contrasts -- the "chandeliers" were crafted from bicycle parts picked from trash bins, while the mixed-language name reflects the area's cross-cultural heritage.

The public response has been overwhelmingly positive with features published locally and in publications such as The Atlantic Cities, a digital publication of The Atlantic.

In October 2013, the San Antonio Department of Culture and Creative Development announced "Ballroom Luminoso" as the winner of the South By Southwest Eco Award for Transformative Design in the Public Space design competition. The award recognizes excellence in how design shapes or reinterprets the physical environment, reinforcing the fact that San Antonio is committed to transforming public spaces through public art.

"Inclusion of presentations on public art in our lecture series helps to reinforce the inherent connection between art and architecture, especially the architecture of public spaces," said John Murphy, dean of the UTSA College of Architecture.

For more information about the UTSA College of Architecture Fall Lecture Series, contact Nicole Chavez at nicole.chavez@utsa.edu or 210-458-3121.