Art & Acupuncture

If you stuck a pin in the City's metaphorical kidney, could it improve the water quality of the Willamette River? Adam Kuby's Acupuncture Project, a proposed "treatment" for the City of Portland, suggests as much -- and he's gaining interest from even the most pragmatic of Portland's city planners.

Simply described on Kuby's own website, the Acupuncture Project explores the interface between art, regional planning, traditional Chinese medicine and the health of a city. Using acupuncture as a metaphor, Kuby presents the city as a physical body that also has a parallel system of energy that flows in distinct pathways called meridians. Each meridian has particular acupuncture points where that energy can be accessed and adjusted. For optimal well-being, this energy, or Qi, wants to be in balance.

In acupuncture, if a person's Qi is out of balance, disease can set in. So Kuby asks, could the same be true for a city?

Kuby began developing this notion as an artist in residence at South Waterfront in March 2008 (a residency program which, by the way, is worthy of an entire discussion itself; I'm interested in assessing whether infusing artists into that neighborhood has helped make it more interesting and livable). There, in the shadow of the tram, Kuby brainstormed the concept with acupuncturists & acupuncture students, city planners, ecologists, artists, writers, public art professionals and the general public.

The result is a map of Portland's metaphorical body. For example: the heart (which acupuncture specialists typically associate with spirituality, higher reality and ancestry) represents the mayor, religious institutions, cultural institutions, art, places for ritual, music and celebration, and native American & colonial history.

If the City were struggling with how to vitalize a cultural center that should be rich with art, heritage, history (example: Chinatown's migration to NE 82nd Avenue), Kuby proposes that sticking a giant 35' needle on the sight (literally) could raise enough awareness to ultimately lead to improvements for this vital "organ."

Kuby has since received a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission to develop his
prototype needle, and you should have a look at it along with his series of proposed acupuncture points throughout the City. Check it out and then let me know what you think -- not only of the concept but also the physical manifestation of such a public art project.

Quick, before I stick a needle in you.


MightyToyCannon said...

Thanks for the post about an fascinating public art installation. I'd like to suggest that we go a few steps further with Mr. Kuby's concept with some other treatment modalities outside of standard Western medicine:

1) Treating the Burnside-Couch Couplet idea as a giant chiropractic spinal adjustment.

2) Calling the “Big Pipe” sewage system project a colon irrigation treatment.

3) Adapting the acupuncture needles into giant voodoo pins.

4) Lighting a giant smudge stick at the top of Mt. Tabor with drum circle accompaniment.

In all seriousness, I’m intrigued by the process behind this project, particularly the thinking and the dialogue that goes into identifying Portland’s meridians and maladies. We’ve recently been watching a series of DVDs of Maysles Brothers films on Christo projects – fascinating stuff that I’ll be posting about sometime soon. What is clear is that Christo and Jean-Claude are as interested in the public engagement and political process behind each project as they are in the final results. This project strikes me as being of the same ilk.

One final note: One of the photos on Kuby's website shows a map of Portland marked by orange dot stickers and handwritten notes and arrows, identifying various events and problem areas. It sports the the following caption:

"By pinpointing Portland’s health problems the project could increase public awareness of these issues, which may in turn lead to actual improvements in the city’s health."

Not all the handwritten notes are legible in the photo, but here’s a list of most of them (be sure to note the last item):

Police shooting unarmed citizen.


Racial profiling.

Day labor.

Drug addiction.

Gay bashing.

Poverty and gangs.

Trailer parks.


culturejock said...

Ha! Finally someone has diagnosed trailer parks for what they are. ;)

I like all of your modality ideas but I could have EXTRA of fun with the voodoo doll thing. If this project comes to fruition, let's be ready to roll with it!

MightyToyCannon said...

But what are we going to stick the voodoo pins into? A map of Seattle?