My first public art collaboration.

by Todd Boss, poet

It’s been an interesting month. In our first-ever collaboration, Swedish artist Maja Spasova and I installed 35 giant rubber rings in the Mississippi in downtown Minneapolis, to mark the 5th anniversary of the 35W Bridge collapse. It was my first public art project, and a really scary thing to do. As a poet, I’m used to solitude, and when I publish my work it’s hardly an event that attracts attention. But this project would be seen by everyone on the riverfront in my home city of Minneapolis, for a whole month. I admit I had more than one sleepless night about this project. Would victims of the collapse be offended? Would the project get criticized in the media? Was it right for Maja and me to speak for the community this way?

Boy, were my eyes opened. Once the project was in the water, I saw how peaceful and inviting the project was. As Maja had promised, it had a meditative vibe that was calming, playful, and welcoming. Whenever I visited the project at its best viewing-spot (the historic Stone Arch Bridge) I saw people reading the signs we installed there, remarking to one another, dialing the number to hear the poems, and taking photos. I saw them pausing at the railing and thinking. Maja and I had caused them to pause and consider. It felt good.

And I must admit, it was a lot like writing a poem. Thirty-five oversized rings in the river. No explanation, no interpretation. What did it mean? What did Maja’s rings symbolize? How did they relate to the tragedy? Readers of the installation had to provide their own answers. The installation itself aspired to be nothing more than poetic, a gesture, an invitation.

The rings were tethered to 10-foot lengths of rope and anchored by cinder block. We installed the rings in the non-navigable “backwater” area of this busy working river, where the water was slower and shallower.

The rings stretched in a broad swath from the historic Stone Arch Bridge, downriver toward the reconstructed 35W Bridge, which you can see in the far distance in the photo above.

The Star Tribune supported the project by publishing all 35 of my related poems, “Fragments for the 35W Bridge” on the cover of the Variety section on August 1, 2012. You can read the poem and see the Star Tribune’s other contributions to this project here. The Star Tribune even hosted a “write your own 35-word poem” feature, and published many entries.

Signs informed viewers how to access the poems by phone, and by QR code.

One of Maja’s early drawings had rings below the Lower Falls and even downriver from the 35W Bridge. Navigation channels compromised this plan, but the final project was both more viewable and more gestural.

The rings came black, from the distributor (Countrywide Tire and Rubber), and had to be inflated, then painted, then transported, then installed. Here’s Maja in my front yard grass, painting. Countrywide even recycled the rings when the project was taken down on August 31, 2012.