Tape Delay: Where 195 Used to Be II

Many years ago, right before I moved to Providence, I heard a podcast about an artist named Michael Townsend, who with a group of friends set up an apartment in a forgotten interstitial space inside the Providence Place Mall (it's a great story, and ProJo and 99% Invisible both recently revisited it).

Commercial architecture appropriated as stealth residential is pretty cool, but so is Townsend's main gig, Tape Art, which is as brilliantly simple as it sounds. Tape Art has been picked up as a medium by artists all over the world, but I had only seen one (albeit pretty massive) installation here.

Meanwhile, my Jane's Walk in May on the former I-195 land in Providence seemed to need a follow-up. We got the opportunity thanks to Rosita Hopper, the Dean of Libraries at Johnson & Wales. Our project intern, James Cradit of RISD, laid out boards from our earlier research narrating the half-century saga of the highway and sketched installation concepts. Our "site" is a prominent spot on the Second Floor of the JWU Library on Dorrance Street with challenging lighting and a lot of blank wall, so much that it seemed to swallow our boards even at maximum size. Dean Hopper, to our surprise and her great credit, was game for a tape drawing.

We had a map, a nice line drawing from 1993, with just the right level of detail and aspect ratio for our wall. James' drawings showed how at large scale this map (updated to show the current I-195 route) could inhabit the whole wall. We ran a test in the back room of our office and found that projecting the map on a blank wall made a perfect guide for tape lines.

Over several days in November, we installed the piece. Tape is a great medium: highly portable, easy to handle, versatile, visually powerful and fast. It requires no tools beyond an olfa knife. And sticking up the tape induces a kind of zen state. Our product was modest compared to pro tape art installations, but it came out well for our rookie try.

Like the secret apartment, this project was a collaborative repurposing, leveraging a made-in-Providence technique to display the work of an anonymous draftsman 25 years ago and enliven an otherwise staid interior. And it might have even spurred a JWU student or two studying nearby to think about the strange voided plots around the corner and the highway that used to run through them.


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