Lighting the naughty pole 


Comedy and commentary combine

You’d never know it was there unless you purposefully arched your neck to see it. Situated on a wedge of grass on Massachusetts Avenue and Michigan Street near the Barton Towers in the northeast quadrant of downtown Indianapolis, a common 20-foot lamppost looms over the sidewalk. But this is a lamppost with a difference. It’s as if some giant from the land of “Jack and the Beanstalk” twisted it into a subtle knot.

The “Knotted Pole” will reside in its temporary home for two years thanks to funding provided by the Riley Area Development Corporation with support from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Cultural Development Commission and the Mass Ave Streetscape Arts and Programming Committee, of which Tom Battista, board president of the Indy Fringe Fest, is a member.

“[Tom] was an invaluable asset in getting this project realized,” says “Knotted Pole” artist Andy Hunter, a 28-year-old Indianapolis native who graduated from the Herron School of Art and IUPUI. 

Battista and the supporting corporations raised $5,000 each for Hunter and three other artists to install specially commissioned works along Massachusetts Avenue. The other pieces include “Truth/Lies” by Jamie Pawlus (outside Starbucks Coffee next to newspaper boxes in Davlan Park), “Circle Canoe” by James Darr (on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and East Street near Barton Towers) and “Cardinal” by Brian McCutcheon (along the guard rail at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Bellefontaine Street). Hunter’s piece, however, is the most practical of the lot.

“[It] started out as a functional item and was changed into an art object,” Hunter says. “I like that it is hidden in the ordinary. ‘Knotted Lamp’ is not the kind of public art that screams for attention; instead, it sits back waiting to be discovered.” Using the infrastructure of the landscape around him, Hunter transformed an otherwise common public utility piece into art. “I was hoping to take advantage of the predictable placement of these objects and break the rhythm of the ordinary object,” he says.

To build the knot, Hunter purchased a pole from the same manufacturers as the surrounding poles and cast a foam knot into aluminum, splicing the knot section into the finished pole. However, he did encounter some setbacks when first installing the piece. IPL placed restrictions on the otherwise functional creation, refusing to circulate electricity through it. “I assume that it is either a liability issue or a cost concern,” says Hunter, who later considered using solar panels for power but decided against it.

“[IPL] made him talk to some engineers and make a steel foundation to anchor the art down,” Battista says. “They told him he couldn’t use their power, but when we first installed the pole, we had a barbeque and powered it with a gasoline generator. So it has been lit before.”

Since 2003, Massachusetts Avenue’s rotating sculpture gallery has featured five selections of sculptures by Indiana-based and other regional artists.

“The Mass Ave Cultural District always has been known for its eclectic character and artistic flair,” says Mindy Taylor Ross, director of public art for the Arts Council of Indianapolis. “This year’s selections will contribute to the growing sophistication of Mass Ave’s cultural offerings.”

Rest assured, lighting Hunter’s naughty lamppost would add even more flair to the flavorful street at night.

“As the works are temporary and funding was limited, artists were asked to seek solar options for power requirements,” says Susan Vogt, deputy director of the Riley Area Development Corporation. “It is my understanding there are federal regulations that IPL operates under that prevents powering public art. We may still light the piece, if we can come up with a viable option.”

Hunter, who works in computer animation, creates other artworks based on manipulating common objects. “Knotted Pole” is his first substantial public art piece.


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