Exploring Open Spaces: Kevin Bate’s “Subramanya”

Authored By seanphippster

A few months ago, a series of interactive window displays were commissioned and installed by artists in the downtown corridor.

Created by River City Co., the Open Spaces project aims to be a creative interim solution to address the issues of vacancy, darkness and lack of activity after 5 p.m.

Now that the windows have been installed, Nooga.com plans to highlight the stories behind some of the displays.

First up is muralist Kevin Bate’s mysterious “Subramanya” display adjacent to Cadence Coffee on Seventh Street downtown.

The focus of the window is the likeness of Subramanya Bharathi, a Tamil poet, journalist, writer and activist. He lived from 1882 to 1921.

Bate was fascinated with the intense features of the poet and previously worked on a much smaller painting.

“I was thinking of making him into a multiarmed god,” Bate said. “Initially, I’d talked about doing something like that. I just really liked the picture and thought it was cool.”

Bate’s piece was going to occupy a different window, but his location was changed last minute. And the new space he was forced to work in was much smaller with entirely different dimensions than originally planned.

Instead of the horizontal, long-armed piece, Bate was now working vertically in an 8-by-40-foot stairwell.

But he made it work.

The interactivity of the piece is activated by a “cannibalized” motion detector (similar to a home floodlight system) that engages whenever someone walks by the window.

“My first thought for interactivity was not so much you looking at him, but him looking at you,” Bate said. “I wanted to make it look like a high-tech kind of thing, kind of a 1990s era screen saver look but with technology from the 1890s.”

The entire window display is wind-powered. The sensors trigger a fan that moves a larger wheel, adding movement to the exhibit. A digital photo frame offers fortunes, if you dare.

Bate is currently working with artists on the ongoing McCallie Walls Mural Project. He said he’d love to see the Open Spaces project expand to other neighborhoods.

“It would be fun to do something like this on McCallie in the empty storefronts,” he said.

Open Spaces covers 30-40 ground-level windows in the City Center, reaching from Sixth Street to Eighth Street and Market Street to Broad Street.

Many of the displays are best after dark. Click here for a complete map.