Public Ritual of the Plaza The overarching theme of our installation is the relationship between public and private ritual. Public rituals our prevalent at the site of our installation, instigated by the Frick Fine Arts building, the plaza in front of it, the Mary Schenley Memorial Fountain, and the Cathedral of Learning. Rituals are often times associated with religious experiences. Christians attending church services on a Sunday is a prime example of this. However, what we intended to do with our installation was blur of the line between private ritual and public ritual spaces. If we examine the plaza in its entirety, the idea of it functioning as a ritual space becomes readily apparent. The idea of public spaces taking on ritual purposes is not new. Author Carol Duncan examines this in an article entitled “Civilizing Rituals: Inside Public Art Museums.” In the article she states, “…in traditional societies, rituals may be quite unspectacular and informal-looking moments of contemplation or recognition.” The site contained in the plaza outside of the Frick Fine Arts building is a fine example of a ritual space, which breaks away from the formalities of your average temple or church. In the “general description” section of this catalog it is recorded that “the memorial is a fountain, which consists of a large bronze statue perched on a pedestal in the center of a large circular basin of water. A wide path surrounds the perimeter of the basin. Two paths originating from the sidewalk along Schenley Drive merge with this circular path in a tangential manner, and two paths exit the circular path to flow up to the Frick Fine Arts building.” It is these paths that define the viewers’ ritual path through the space. Much like a pastor walking down an isle to his or her pulpit, the pathways throughout this space guide and direct the visitor’s attention to the ritual item, in this case the fountain. A ritual space would not be nearly as significant if there was nothing to worship. In our space’s case this item is not a golden cross, but instead it is the bronze statue entitled A Song to Nature, as well as the Cathedral of Learning. Duncan writes, “like other cultures, we, too, build sites that publicly represent beliefs about the order of the world, its past and present, and the individual’s place within it.“ (Duncan, 8) As stated previously, the theme behind A Song to Nature is man’s dominance over and taming of nature. This idea is clearly representative of man’s belief that the order of the world sets our species above all other components of life, including nature. In addition, Duncan also inscribes the idea that those elements found in public ritual spaces reflect upon the thoughts of the greater community. Using museums as her prime focus of public ritual spaces she writes, “To control a museum means precisely to control the representation of a community and its highest values and truths” (Duncan, 8).
Those that followed the “Gospel of Wealth” were certainly keen to portray the power and authority of man, and many of the structures and monuments throughout the Oakland community, including A Song to Nature, are certainly representative of their status, wealth, and cultural ideals. It is not a particular God or religion that we come to worship at the edges of the fountain. Instead, it is culture and man’s prevalence over all other forces. The fountain and surrounding plaza serve as a site at which numerous public rituals occur. Duncan states in her article that spaces at which public rituals occur (in her case museums, in our case the fountain) allow people to “step back from the practical concerns and social relations of everyday life and look at themselves and their world, or some aspect of it, with different thoughts and feelings” (Duncan, 11). In the area of our project, this can be clearly seen. Whether it be the tai chi class that takes place weekly around the space, a college student playing fetch with their dog in the fountain, or a family out for an evening stroll, these people are breaking away from the mundane activities of daily life. Not only is our space an area of public ritual, it also serves as an area of escape. It is a space for individuals to do anything from seeking freedom from the constraints of a hectic urban lifestyle, to pondering where their existence and role is in the universe in which we live.
A series of studies in movement and place.