The image came to designer Michael Jager about five years ago: a sky full of enormous kites emblazoned with the faces of John Lennon, William S. Burroughs and other “thought leaders,” peering from the clouds and calling down for positive change. “My God, is that Gandhi up there looking at me?” Jager imagines the people below would say.
So, when the BCA Center asked Jager if his firm, Jager Di Paolo Kemp Design, would collaborate on a show this summer, he knew just what he wanted to do. The obvious choice would have been an exhibit of snowboards — JDK is well known for its design work for Burton. But Jager wanted something unconventional, something that would engage the community, so he proposed a show of kites, or, as they’re called in a current exhibition at the BCA Center on Burlington’s Church Street, “Thought Bombers.”
The notion, Jager says, was that “instead of dropping bombs, we could drop thoughtful ideas from the sky.” Current and former JDK designers collaborated on the exhibit, which is on view through mid-August. In conjunction with the show, BCA worked with kids at Burlington’s Integrated Arts and Sustainability academies throughout the spring to create their own personalized kites, some of which can be seen in BCA’s fourth-floor gallery in the “Community Kites” exhibit, June 17 through August 13.
The show is an exploration of possibility, boundlessness and big ideas. Near the entrance to the front gallery, Joe Strummer, late front man for the Clash, and writer Burroughs stare out from two giant box kites called “Ask the Angels.” Beside them a huge white “kite” in the shape of a complicated 3-D star constructed from what look like interlocking pyramids, is suspended from the ceiling. In the text accompanying the piece, which is called “Truth and Illusion,” Jager explains that he wanted to construct an object that “for all intents and purposes should not be in flight and weightless above us.”
Part of the exhibit’s thrill is the way it implores viewers to imagine implausible objects soaring through the sky. Brad Cameron’s “Pop Top,” for example, which is shaped like a more traditional 2-D kite, is constructed of 797 bottle caps tiled in concentric diamonds on the wall. Cameron estimates that about $863 worth of beverages — mostly beer — was consumed to create the kite. At its base, the caps are tiled more loosely, as if the kite were coming undone. Below it, more caps are piled on the floor.
In the back gallery, Craig Winslow’s “Leech” hovers over the room. The two-tentacled creature is made from plastic shopping bags that have been quilted together and stuffed with more bags. This one, it seems, could really fly if you emptied the balled-up plastic bags from the monster’s gaping mouth.
So could Chris DaBica’s “Raising the Debt Ceiling,” which is a simple box kite with dollar bills neatly stretched across its struts. “You can’t escape money’s ubiquitous, lording, foreboding gaze,” DaBica writes in the accompanying text. But it’s difficult to look at the dollar-bill kite without imagining a world without that gaze, one in which it is perfectly acceptable to glue money to a kite and float it up to the sky.
The exhibit exudes a sense of childhood freedom, but it is also tinged with a sense of loss. To watch Jager’s “Tethers of Meaning & Memory,” a video installation shot in collaboration with former JDK employee and Cabin46 owner/designer Bruce Gibbs, viewers have to lie on their backs on a circular, Astroturf-covered platform so they can look up at video screens affixed to the ceiling. From that childlike position, they watch gray-haired, weathered Vermonters standing in snowy fields, looking dreamily into the distance as they tell stories about growing up.
Still, it’s not all weightlessness and idealism on display. In the back gallery sits David Covell’s “Cinder,” which is — you guessed it — a cinder block on the floor attached to a delicate kite tail covered in cheery, construction-paper bows. “It’s impossible,” the accompanying text reads. “Why bother? Don’t even think about it. You can’t make it happen. Forget it. Won’t work. No way. Stop wasting your time. Move on. Dreamer.”