Photographer and multi-media artist Robin Salant is performing CPR on a lifeless downtown building. She explains the process she and art partner Terance Brown have hatched for their "Urban Meridians" project while kneeling in the abandoned filth of 82 S. Main, feeding electrical cables through a hole to the floors below. Salant and Brown think the building has a heart, and at 8:30 p.m., Friday, June 24th, they're going to start it. What kind of life the building has over the next 18 months depends on how observers respond to this fully interactive, three-story art installation.
While Salant runs wire, Brown addresses problems with his electronic sensors. The first ones he tested don't work through double-paned glass, but by the time he's finished, the empty building will be able to see, feel, and tap against its own first floor windows for attention. And it thrives on attention.
"Its heart rate increases," says Salant, who's pegged the upper-story EKG-inspired light show to the pulse of an athlete at rest. If crowds gather, the pulse quickens. If they touch the building's exterior, it responds.
"Five points of contact and it climaxes," Salant says. "Can you print 'climaxes'?"
Salant's no stranger to building-scaled projects, having previously completed a lighting installation in the enormous Sears Crosstown building before all the scaffolding went up and renovation got under way. She'd worked with Brown before on similar, if smaller projects, and knew he'd be able to make "Urban Meridians" into something more than a light installation.
"We can make it responsive," Brown says, like a kinder, gentler Dr. Frankenstein, cursing the double-paned glass that's giving him a headache, but singing the praises of cheap, available technology.
"Urban Meridians" is the latest art-based, anti-blight initiative sponsored by the Downtown Memphis Commission.