FAIRFIELD — Mark Brest van Kempen looks at home on the First Street Green Culture Park in Benicia.
That’s good, because the Oakland artist will be spending a lot of time there. He is starting a residency with Arts Benicia. The focus is the city’s waterfront that backs up to the First Street Green.
The project, “Benicia Waterfront Social Sculpture,” is a series of three temporary art installations at various sites. Each will look at different environmental aspects of the location and will involve Brest van Kempen and other area artists. It is funded by a $30,000 Creative Work Fund grant.
Brest van Kempen is the artist behind many prominent public art projects, including the Free Speech Monument at the University of California, Berkeley.
In 2000, Brest van Kempen, with the help of Grange Middle School students, created a moveable marsh in a Dumpster that rotated between some of Fairfield’s busiest parking lots. It was part of the “CityArts Fairfield” year-long exploration of environmental art.
Brest van Kempen grew up in Utah. Outside his back door was the wilderness. He would often hike near where he lived in the Wasatch Front area. The land was developed when Brest van Kempen was a young adult.
“I saw these places get transformed into houses,” he said. “That instilled me with the idea that as we build, we should do it in a thoughtful, generous way.”
Much of his artwork uses the landscape as sculptural material. His ideas for the Benicia waterfront follow that theme. One includes a “floating marsh” that would use plants to clean and filter water from storm drains.
Another could be a sculpture, designed to attract birds, on the piers. The birds would roost and feed there, Brest von Kempen said. He’s even given thought to having motion sensor cameras near the sculptures to see which attracts the most bird visitors. The creating artist would win a prize.
Brest van Kempen has worked on projects from Seattle to China. He was recently invited by the German government to submit designs for a national reunification monument.
He’s working on a public art project for San Jose’s wastewater treatment plant.
On a smaller scale, some of his work can be seen in the current Art of a Community exhibit at Arts Benicia.
“The work is just beginning,” he said of the Benicia project. “I’m trying to take things we are familiar with and put them in a new context. A more useful use of art. ”
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.