Ekene Ijeoma is an artist, professor at MIT, and the founder and director of the Poetic Justice group at MIT Media Lab. Through both his studio and lab at MIT, Ijeoma researches social inequality across multiple fields including social science to develop artworks in sound, video, multimedia, sculpture and installation. Working from data studies and life experiences, and using both computational design and conceptual art strategies, he reframes social issues through artworks that embody and empower overlooked truths within systems of oppression. Ijeoma’s work has been presented by museums and galleries including Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, Museum of the City of New York, Neuberger Museum of Art, Design Museum London, and Storefront for Art and Architecture. Ijeoma’s practice has also been supported by grants, fellowships and residencies including Creative Capital, Map Fund, Wave Farm, The Kennedy Center, and New York Foundation for the Arts.
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Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Van Alen Institute Unveil Ekene Ijeoma Public Sculpture in Downtown Brooklyn
Breathing Pavilion creates an outdoor space for communal meditation and reprieve
(March 16, 2021—Brooklyn, NY)—Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP) and Van Alen Institute today unveiled Breathing Pavilion, artist Ekene Ijeoma’s first outdoor installation in New York City. Presented with support from Two Trees Management Co, the immersive installation will be on view from March 16 to May 11, 2021 at The Plaza at 300 Ashland, in the heart of Downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Cultural District.
Using both computational design and conceptual art strategies, Ijeoma reframes social issues to poetically uncover the truths and injustices and are obscured through various systems of oppression. Created in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racial injustice in the United States, Breathing Pavilion offers sanctuary at a time of intense hardship and loss, suggests a paradigm shift towards communion and meditative stillness, and creates an accessible space of reprieve when the act of breathing itself is under siege.
“Between the ongoing struggles in the racial and political movements in the United States and the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult to find the time and space to breathe deeply and rest well,” said Ekene Ijeoma. “I held my breath for most of last year, waiting to exhale into a new administration and new vaccines. It will still take some time before we see large-scale change. Until then, in these next few weeks, this pavilion is here to invite the public to breathe into the change within each of us, in sync with one another.”
Breathing Pavilion comprises a 30-foot circle of 20 nine-foot two-tone illuminated inflatable columns that slowly modulate in brightness to illustrate a deep breathing technique designed to bring calm. Viewers are invited to breathe in time with the changing light and attune themselves to a shared rhythm of respite. Over its six-week installation period, Breathing Pavilion will host a series of site-specific events, including musical performances. Musicians in the series include Melanie Charles on flute, Joel Ross on vibraphone, and Baba Don Babatunde of the Last Poets – the full lineup is below.
“As we head into spring, outdoor public spaces remain at the core of our shared experience and Breathing Pavilion will serve as artwork with intention that can bring us together at a time when we must remain physically distanced,” said Regina Myer, President of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. “This innovative installation stands out as an entirely unique public art project that offers a much-needed moment for reflection after a challenging year. We look forward to sharing this thoughtful new public art project with our community.”
Breathing Pavilion is part of Van Alen Institute’s Public Realm R&D program, intended to surface the work of emerging designers and test new strategies to bring people together in public space. After 125 years in Manhattan, Van Alen relocated to Brooklyn in 2020, and this is the organization’s first public realm installation in the borough.
“Last year permanently changed our relationship to public space,” said Deborah Marton, Executive Director, Van Alen Institute. “To create equitable cities, Van Alen Institute works to center communities in designing shared spaces. Ekene Ijeoma’s installation Breathing Pavilion is a profound and beautiful example of how public space can help heal us, safely and together. Breathing Pavilion is an inspiration for the kind of city we want for our future.”
“We are thrilled to have worked with DBP and Van Alen to bring Ekene Ijeoma’s Breathing Pavilion to the Plaza at 300 Ashland. A graceful and forceful response to our current moment, Ijeoma’s work provides respite and resolve, and spotlights the revolutionary potential of radical rest,” said Kate Gavriel, Cultural Affairs Director of Two Trees Management Co. “Two Trees has a proven commitment to the arts in Brooklyn, and we are excited to continue giving artists a platform to create.”
The Plaza at 300 Ashland has served as a hub for the arts since its unveiling in 2017, even amid the pandemic. Most recently, it hosted DBP’s Rehearsal Residency Initiative, where arts and culture organizations and individuals used the space for outdoor rehearsals, and in October 2020 hosted the third instalment of the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Festival. Managed, programmed, and maintained by DBP, the plaza also features a year-round calendar of programming including film screenings, concerts, theater performances, dance and fitness classes, readings, community gatherings, and more – all free and open to the public.
Musical Performance Lineup
3/23: Kalia Vandever, Trombone
3/30: Melanie Charles, Flute
4/6: Joel Ross, Vibraphones
4/13: Baba Don Babatunde, Percussion
4/20: Neil Clarke, Percussion
4/27: Lakecia Benjamin, Saxophone
5/4: Participatory Drum Circle led by Mr. Fitz of the Brooklyn Music School
5/8: Keyon Harrold, Trumpet
Visiting the Sculpture
Breathing Pavilion is designed to be experienced in accordance with COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. Signage encourages viewers to wear masks and maintain six feet of distance to ensure everyone can safely enjoy the work.
The Plaza at 300 Ashland is conveniently situated in the heart of the Brooklyn Cultural District, at the intersection of Lafayette Ave and Flatbush Ave. The plaza is easily accessible – located only a short walk from the B, Q, 2/3 and 4/5 subway lines at Atlantic Barclays, the G train at Fulton St, and the C train at Lafayette Av, as well as a number of bus stops. There is also paid parking along the surrounding streets.
The 35,300-square-foot public plaza, which is free and open to the public year-round, is designed to overlook Downtown Brooklyn with a capacity of more than 2,000 people and acts as the perfect venue for large-scale festivals, markets, and community events. There is both stepped seating built into the plaza as well as bistro tables and chairs, so visitors can sit outside.
About Ekene Ijeoma
Ekene Ijeoma is an artist, professor of Media Arts and Science at MIT, and founder/director of the Poetic Justice group at MIT Media Lab. Through both his studio and lab at MIT, Ijeoma researches social inequality across multiple fields including social science to develop artworks in sound, video, multimedia, sculpture and installation. Ijeoma’s work has been commissioned and presented by art institutions including Contemporary Art Museum of Houston, The Kennedy Center, Museum of the City of New York, Neuberger Museum of Art, and Annenberg Space for Photography. Ijeoma’s practice has also been supported by grants, fellowships and residencies including Creative Capital, Map Fund, Wave Farm, The Kennedy Center, and New York Foundation for the Arts.
About Downtown Brooklyn Partnership
The Downtown Brooklyn Partnership is a not-for-profit local development corporation that serves as the primary champion for Downtown Brooklyn as a world-class business, cultural, educational, residential, and retail destination. Managing three Business Improvement Districts
(BIDs) that cover Downtown Brooklyn – the MetroTech BID, Fulton Mall Improvement Association, and Court-Livingston-Schermerhorn BID – the Partnership’s diverse activities include attracting new businesses and improving the environment for existing companies, facilitating the construction of public spaces and streetscapes that promote an active and cohesive community, supporting and promoting Downtown Brooklyn’s cultural assets, and encouraging a sense of place and an engaged civic community.
About Van Alen Institute
Van Alen Institute helps create equitable cities through inclusive design. In an equitable city, every person is civically engaged, regardless of income or personal circumstances. To achieve that goal, inclusive design supports a community-driven public realm.
For more than 125 years, our purposeful community engagement, convening capacity, and global interdisciplinary network have produced profound transformations in the public realm of New York City and beyond. With a core belief in an interdisciplinary approach to design, the Van Alen team has backgrounds in architecture, urban planning, public health, civic advocacy, community engagement, and arts and culture.
See all work at vanalen.org.
About The Plaza at 300 Ashland
The Plaza at 300 Ashland sits at the heart of the Brooklyn Cultural District, adjacent to the brownstone Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Boerum Hill, and Park Slope. DBP has partnered with premier Brooklyn arts organizations such as BAM, BRIC, Brooklyn Public Library, Mark Morris Dance Group, MoCADA, 651 Arts, and Theatre for a New Audience (TFANA) to offer free, high-quality programming for everyone. Programming at The Plaza at 300 Ashland is made possible by support from Two Trees Management Co.