C O N C R E T E / C O M P L E X: a portrait of McKeldin Fountain
Shannon Collis & Liz Donadio
Opening Reception: August 12, 7 — 10pm
Exhibition on view: August 12 — September 3
Gallery Hours: Sat & Sun, 12 — 4pm
“Architecture is the establishing of moving relationships with raw materials” — Le Corbusier
Using photography, video, and sound, Baltimore-based artists Shannon Collis and Liz Donadio documented McKeldin Fountain’s last days. Their portrait of the once-functional space culminates in an immersive installation that conjures a meditation on the essence of this urban landmark. The installation’s sculptural forms reference the fountain’s Brutalist design, and celebrate its minimalism and strong angles; video shot on site traverses each of these surfaces. Collis and Donadio’s abstract visual and auditory impressions offer a sensory memorial experience of McKeldin Fountain, opening a layered engagement with viewers.
Erected in downtown Baltimore in 1982, McKeldin Fountain was an unembellished structure, poetically designed to evoke natural rock formations of the Susquehanna River—the longest river on the east coast and one of the oldest in the world. Its cliff-like forms were made in the architectural style of Brutalism, an uncompromising aesthetic known for minimalism and modular components. McKeldin was part of Baltimore’s urban landscape for over three decades, fusing natural ecology and modern design into the heart of the city.
A designated free-speech zone, the fountain was home to Occupy Baltimore in 2011 and to Black Lives Matter protests in 2015. Bridges and walkways crossing concrete forms allowed pedestrians to gather, sit, and experience a singular space. The fountain’s rushing water muffled the sound of constant traffic, offering an unlikely oasis in the middle of a hectic downtown.
In late 2016, city planners and developers dismantled McKeldin Fountain. Outcry against removal went unheeded and arguments lauding its significance as public art were ignored. Passersby witnessed the fountain’s ultimate demolition that November. Huge machines pummeled away at concrete as hoses sprayed water to prevent dust from flooding the air. For weeks McKeldin was surrounded by chain-link fence and black plastic, allowing only brief glimpses in. What remains of the monumental structure are mental images and memories, full of history but no longer existing in the physical realm. Even in absence, McKeldin retains its significance.
Architecture can be an extension of the physical self: buildings tell us about our bodies, personal and social, and structure our experiences and memories. We assert the right and need to witness and commemorate those public spaces that have been our venues for communal gathering, spaces where we’ve exchanged simple pleasantries or radical ideas. Concrete / Complex is an artists’ tribute to McKeldin Fountain, to its design, history, and life in Baltimore.
Shannon Collis is an interdisciplinary artist whose studio practice focuses on creating installations and interactive environments that explore various ways in which digital technologies can transform one's perception of audio and visual stimuli. Her work has been exhibited widely across North America as well as in Europe, Asia, Australia, and Brazil. Collis is a 2005 graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, and has completed postgraduate research at Concordia University in Montreal in the area of digital media and computation arts. She is also a 2015 recipient of a Visual Artist Grant from the Canada Council for the Arts. Collis is currently an assistant professor at the University of Maryland, where she teaches digital media and sound.
Liz Donadio is a photographer & video artist who documents quiet moments in her surrounding landscapes, using analog and digital media. Donadio's work has been exhibited and screened nationally, most recently at Open Lens Gallery in Philadelphia. She received her MFA in 2012 and is currently a Lecturer at Towson University in the Department of Art + Design and Art History. Donadio runs Color Wheel Digital Printing, a fine-art print service in Baltimore.