Interstellar Influencer makes impact at Waterfront Park

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Interstellar Influencer makes impact at Waterfront Park
Jason Klimoski of StudioKCA with the new public art piece he co-designed. (Photo/Laura Hatcher)
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By Caitlyn Meisner | cmeisner@alextimes.com

A new public art piece was unveiled last month at Waterfront Park that highlights the region’s history from millions of years ago, straying away from the norm of recent art pieces.

Created by Jason Klimoski and Lesley Chang of StudioKCA in New York City, Interstellar Influencer – which will be at Waterfront Park until November – explores the impact of an asteroid that hit 35 million years ago not far from Alexandria, creating the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Klimoski and Chang are a husband and wife duo focused on architecture and design; according to their website, the studio likes to focus on site-specific projects. The firm has won dozens of design awards and placed many public installations across the country and world.

The couple was picked in January 2023 for the March 2024 installation by an Office of the Arts taskforce that has overseen the previous five installations going back to 2017. Based on a portfolio of previous works and a visit to Alexandria, the artist or studio is chosen and starts the design process.

“It’s the same site, Alexandria is the same city, but it’s really been fascinating to see what each [artist] is inspired by and what they’re drawn to and what is the story that they want to help us tell about Alexandria through their public art,” Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of the Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities Department, said.

After visiting the waterfront, the couple were particularly interested in the natural environment and how it was shaped, bringing them to research from the United States Geological Survey completed many years ago.

“When we read about this event, we both thought this was a story worth telling visually,” Klimoski wrote in an email to the Times.

In the center of the park is the asteroid replica, standing well above six-feet-tall, with 88 intentionally crafted panels – made to look like the geological features of a real asteroid – with concentric circles leading to its center and small openings for the 8,000 watt LED lights. The top panels of the piece look burnt and rusted, yet the bottom panels of the replica look like untouched pieces of steel.

The sculpture is a 1:2,000 scaled representation of the asteroid – which was 85 kilometers wide and 1.5 kilometers deep. To create the replica, Klimoski said the pair wanted to fashion the piece out of metal.

“When an asteroid enters our atmosphere, everything besides the metal burns up,” Klimoski said. In addition to stainless steel, water and light were used to constitute the asteroid with the help of torches and hammers.

He said they faced challenges in crafting the replica, particularly with the most unusual aspect of this sculpture: the mist. Every 30 minutes for 10 minutes, a system of misting sprinklers activate and make it look like the asteroid just hit Earth.

“Using water to give us the ‘heat’ effect made sense because it can be touched without being hot and still look like it just hit,” Klimoski said. “Light lights the mist and the indentations of the steel in the right way to further reinforce the ‘heat’ and provide a level of visual interest at night. … [It] also provides a way to diffuse the LED lights inside at night.”

Every 30 minutes for 10 minutes, a system of misting sprinklers
activates in “Interstellar Influencer.” (Photo/Denise Dunbar)

Ruggiero said this was a new logistical challenge for the city, as none of the previous five installations have utilized running water.

“We were glad that we were able to make it work because it was a really key part of [Jason’s] vision,” Ruggiero said. “… We know that it’s going to be a huge hit in July and August.”

Klimoski said he hopes people interact with it playfully.

“We love it when a kid or adult will put their hand into the mist and then shout back to their friends and family, ‘It’s not hot, it’s cold!” he said.

Ruggiero said the city has so much recent history, going back 35 million years and searching for local happenings isn’t all that common.

“It’s going to be a way to inform people about the space that they’re in and for those of us that live here, inform us about where we live,” Ruggiero said. “This is a great opportunity to tell a story about Alexandria and the region that we don’t … hear a lot about.”

And, she said, especially with Alexandria’s 275th anniversary celebrations kicking off this month, this will be a great way to look beyond the city’s somewhat “recent” history.

“There’s a lot of attention around that, a lot of research being done [and] a lot of information and material that’s available about that. Now we get to still talk about history, but a very different time period,” Ruggiero said. “Hopefully this will inspire some people to learn a bit more about it.”

Ruggiero also noted that similar to past installations, the Office of the Arts will be looking for companion or response art pieces to Interstellar Influencer. Typically, an original piece of art is commissioned from a local artist to pair with the installation for a period of time.

The artist for the November installation has already been chosen, but is yet to be announced.

“We feel lucky to have been able to create a piece to add to the legacy of public art in Alexandria, and we hope our work stands as another example of what can be created if a city trusts and supports artists,” Klimoski said.

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