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Voicing Ideas: The O Project

An artist literally wraps her idea around a building.


Nearly 5000 square feet of digitally adorned Tyvek recently came to represent "the voice of the voiceless" in an art installation that wrapped the historic Arlington Arts Center in Virginia. The October opening of artist Rosemary Covey’s The O Project in Arlington, featuring an image of a repetitive white figure with its mouth agape, was Covey’s first foray into wide format. And it would prove to be her print provider’s initial delving into fine art as well.

The O Project idea first dawned on Covey at an arts residency, and began with a simple sketch on transfer paper. Although Covey typically uses wood or handmade Japanese paper as her substrate and her own hands as her tool, she wasn’t sure how to turn her sketch into something tangible-it was too big for wood carving and too incomplete an idea to pursue. Hence, she spent her residency pursuing other ventures, and simply cast aside the drawing. Only later, after her artist husband discovered the transfer-paper image and was intrigued, did Covey decide to again pursue the "voiceless scream" sketch and turn it into something real.

In striving to do so, Covey pursued numerous venues for displaying it. The O Project was projected onto walls, transferred to T-shirts, and even paired with music. Eventually, she submitted her O Project proposal to the Arlington Arts Center.

"I said in my proposal that The O Project can be indoor and outdoor and can wrap the building," says Covey, a statement that aided in her winning a bid for the Arlington Arts Center art installation over nearly 280 other professional artists. As the saying goes, however, "easier said than done." Discovering just how to wrap a building was a totally alien concept for Covey, who had no connections to print providers working in wide format or building wraps.

Exploring the scope

But there was something Covey was familiar with that would become a critical component to the project: DuPont’s Tyvek material. A few years prior, she had found a FedEx envelope made of Tyvek on her desk and eventually began printmaking onto the media.

"I love its durability and paper-like surface," she says, "and I thought it might be perfect for creating a piece to hang outdoors." This, she realized, would be a prime material for the Arlington Arts Center installation. And, after some initial conversations with DuPont, she discovered that the company had been looking for more reach into the fine-art market. Once she had explained her idea, DuPont donated enough Tyvek media to use for the O Project wrap.

Meanwhile, Covey was exploring ways to digitize her sketch. At a nearby FedEx Kinko’s, she scanned the sketch on a small scale but found the results to be lacking. Finally, she turned to Dodge Color in Silver Spring, Maryland. "It took a while to find a place that would do the right level of scanning and offer the necessary tech support," Covey says.

Dodge Color was able to scan the image and replicate the face over and over until it was large enough to plaster the red-brick walls of the Arlington Arts Center. The shop seamlessly integrated the images and prepared large TIFF files so that 50 panels, each measuring 5 x 15 feet, could be printed.

Covey’s next chore was to track down a print provider. More marketplace networking led her to Scott Snoyer, the owner of the FastSigns franchise in Antioch, Tennessee, just outside of Knoxville. Operating since 1994, Antioch FastSigns is an old hand at producing traditional graphics projects such as vehicle wraps, large banners, and signage, and is one of the highest-producing centers in the franchise, says Snoyer.

Much of his success he attributes to a commitment to "investing in the latest printing technologies soon after their introduction, which allows my team to meet the needs of clients," he says. He and his staff of 14 are also more than willing to take on ambitious jobs, including those that have a civic component-he regularly works with the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, for instance, and he serves on the National Chamber of Commerce Board.

But Snoyer had never dipped his toes into the fine-art pool. Nonetheless, he ended up volunteering his time, the use of his equipment, and his ink. "I had never done an art project and I thought it would be neat," he says. Lucky for Covey, he adds, "I didn’t know the scope when I said ‘yes.’"

A gray area

With the players aligned, Covey and Snoyer began their teeter-totter testing for the perfect printing combinations. "He sent me samples and we tried different things," says Covey of the production process. "It wasn’t a simple thing to find out how to do the printing." The image’s enormity challenged the depth of the black inks.

One of the main concerns, recalls Snoyer, was that the uncoated Tyvek was absorbing the solvent inks. "The original challenge was trying to find the right printer to get the dark black on the material," he says. It was DuPont that suggested Snoyer utilize his shop’s UV printer rather than the solvent machine which had been his first choice.

So Snoyer tapped his shop’s EFI Vutek QS2000 the machine for the job, which he had added to his arsenal last November "for speed purposes." It took Snoyer’s QS2000 only about a day to print the 5000 square feet of material-though it was so lightweight that even Covey herself could carry the panels. Snoyer then turned to his Zund XL-2500 to cut the wind slits in the panels, again taking nearly a day for that process.

Of course, Covey still had to deal with one final issue: installation. The Arlington Arts Center is housed within the Maury School, originally built in 1910 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Therefore none of the Tyvek paneling could touch the actual bricks.

After brainstorming, researching, and "going through a lot of hoops," Covey and the Arts Center staff received approval to use temporary scaffolding to affix the panels near the outside walls of the building. The weak aspects of the panels-where wind slits had been cut-were reinforced to prevent damage to the graphics, and the installation was completed.

Joining forces, joining faces

At The O Project opening, 100 FastSigns-printed Tyvek masks were props to complement the project debut, and Snoyer, Covey, and others joined together to appreciate both art and collaboration. The O Project will remain on display at the Arlington Arts Center through January 2008.

ROSEMARY COVEY
www.rosemarycovey.com

FASTSIGNS
www.fastsigns.com

DODGE COLOR
www.dodgecolor.com

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