This week I was fortunate to spend some time with Indira Johnson, the talented artist, sculptor and peace educator behind Conversations: Here and Now, a photo of which graces the top of this blogspace.
I met with Indira at her studio to inquire about her creative process. Indira originally conceived Conversations: Here and Now as an entry for a public art commission sponsored by the City of Evanston and the Public Art Committee for an installation at Fountain Square. Conversations: Here and Now was one of five entries selected from hundreds submitted throughout the United States as well as many countries; Indira was the only artist of the five who lived in Evanston. Despite one of the five finalists living within three miles from the installation site, the Selection Committee made it clear it would choose the winner of the commission on the basis of merit; it was not to be a popularity contest.
Chairs were always the centerpiece of the design. Each chair’s unique design represents the diverse cultures of people who call Evanston home and the uniqueness of each individual. Made of wax and cast in bronze, the chairs surround an open space to inspire conversation–listening as much as speaking–contemplating, and sharing of memories.
Indira’s design was not selected for the Fountain Square site, and of course she was disappointed about not being chosen. Yet not being chosen turned out to be a good thing: the Curley family loved her design and chose it to honor their mother, Isabel Alvarez Maclean, a long-time resident of Evanston who had passed away a few years earlier. Since the design had already been vetted by the Evanston Public Art Committee, official approval for installation permits took place relatively quickly and the manufacturing process took about a year.
The verbatim quotes on the spiral design of the base and on the chairs are from a series of public meetings held among different community groups in Evanston during the planning stages of the project. Indira heard what was important to her Evanston neighbors as they described what they loved about their community, shared their memories, and voiced their hopes for the future.
The seven chairs are sturdy and functional, impervious to the weather, interspersed with images from nature and of water. The base is wheelchair accessible, and there is a spiral of bronze starting at the center of the square, expanding out, etched with more thoughtful words. The spacing between the chairs is wide enough to allow for meditative thought, yet close enough to encourage genuine conversations. The words on the chairs and on the base stimulate questions as well as stories and inspire conversations.
Visit the northwest corner of Raymond Park to experience the tranquility and beauty of Conversations: Here and Now. Even in the depths of winter, it is a lovely spot within Evanston.