A group of naked figures hold on to each other in what appears to be a bid to support a bridge spanning a chasm. This is the impression conveyed by a dramatic sculpture titled ContraFuerte that has been created by the artist Miguel Hornon on a car park ramp in the US city of Philadelphia. Horn is best known for creating works of art that reflect on the natural and built environment through the lens of the human experience. His installations are often integrated into public spaces, interacting with viewers at different scales, addressing the societal challenges faced by communities and individuals.
When devising ContraFuerte, Horn was influenced by the emergence of the movement against sexual harassment towards women, his own concerns about the growth in negative rhetoric around immigrants, and the news that he was going to have a daughter. “From a broad perspective, the message of ContraFuerte reinforces the notion of strength through unity and the capacity of individuals to serve as a force for good through collective action,” says Horn. “This piece was inspired by the happenings of a contemporary world, from events that unfolded between 2016 through the time of its installation in 2021, while also reflecting the countless instances of people coming together to organise and take action throughout history. As we continue to see challenges and barriers across the world, ContraFuerte reflects how we all continue to form a greater strength within an unending pursuit to overcome obstacles that galvanize society, whether they are times of racial division, a pandemic, economic depression, or other societal disturbances that arise before us.”
These factors came together to shape his idea for a sculpture on a ramp that takes cars from Arch Street to the second floor of a new parking garage at 12th and Filbert: the word “contrafuerte” is Spanish for buttress, which is an architectural structure used to support walls. “Being a Philadelphia resident for so long, I thought I knew this city well, but not necessarily,” the artist explains. “Still, I felt the need to address these battles: the violence, the struggle, the experience that women, people of color and immigrants experience when seeking their space in our society. The alley was the perfect spot for that; a message of resistance.
“This project was a thrilling experience. It required the use of new technological platforms that we had to design to ensure the piece was created correctly. We integrated Lidar data (spatial 3D scanning) to create an accurate digital environment to work from. I worked with Landau Design & Technology to automate the computer design process with custom digital tools. I sculpted the models in foam, clay and digitally throughout the process, refining the forms each time. I built a production facility around the project and trained a crew of art students to join me in the two-year process of assembly. The engineering and installation itself were a work of art that required millimetric precision to ensure its successful integration into the site. The course of its implementation reflected the message of the artworks content; it was the result of collective efforts from so many dedicated individuals, without which it would have not been possible.”
The sculpture is the finishing touch on a major development that includes a 900-space parking garage, retail and hotel built by Parkway Corporation, Wurzak Hotel Group, Glenmont Capital and the Philadelphia Housing Development Corporation (PHDC). Joe Zuritsky, chairman for Parkway Corporation, is a collector of Horn’s work and it was he who reached out to the artist. “We are proud to have worked with Miguel Horn to commission this piece. Its beauty provokes thought and consideration of how individuals support each other for a greater good,” says Zuritsky.
The sculpture was commissioned as part of the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Percent for Art Programme. Gregory Heller, senior vice president of community investment at PHDC, adds “Since its inception 62 years ago, Percent for Art has led to hundreds of original artworks across Philadelphia’s civic landscape. Today the programme places a focus on diverse artists and meaningful community engagement, viewing public art as an inspiring force that can lift up unheard voices, tell a spectrum of stories, and engage all of our people.”
The gravity-defying ContraFuerte seems set to become an important cultural landmark in this American city.
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