Playful Yet Powerful
Colorful Artworks on Display at the GovLab Echo the Organization’s Message
The GovLab at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering uses technology and science to transform governance, and now the organization’s offices are undergoing a transformation of their own, with the installation of two large and striking pieces of art.
Each piece was donated by an artist who had been inspired in large part by the GovLab’s mission to strengthen the ability of institutions and people to act collaboratively and effectively and to work towards more open, transparent forms of government.
Johannes Pichler is a longtime member of the Law Faculty at the University of Graz and director of the Austrian Institute for European Law and Policy, which promotes current, courageous and responsible knowledge in the service of the rights of citizens in Austria and in Europe.
As a youth, he aspired to be an architect, choosing law only after his practical-minded father refused to pay tuition for architecture school. Pichler never lost his enthusiasm for art and design, however, and he now uses those creative impulses to make computer art, arranging with a printer to produce a one-of-a-kind large-scale work once a design is complete. (Pichler’s wife shares his creative bent; he has been married for more than four decades to Christa von Satzger, an arts professor known for her expertise in the field of textiles. In a tale that would not be out of place on the big screen, the two had met at an academic conference, talked throughout the night and well into the next day, and walked down the aisle just weeks later.)
Pichler’s artwork is based on his many interests, chief among them the turbulent personal life of German philosopher and economist Karl Marx. (He once considered writing a book about Marx’s complex and fascinating relationships, but opted to create visual art on that theme instead.) Transparent government is another of Pichler’s professional and personal passions, and he was moved to make the work on display at the GovLab after participating in an on-line conference led by its director, Beth Simone Noveck. The piece includes more than 1,000 renderings of the word “open” and is meant to invoke the power and importance of an informed and involved citizenry.
“When I showed the piece to Beth after the conference, she greatly admired it, and since it’s my habit to gift friends and colleagues with my prints, I was delighted to send it to her,” Pichler says. “The GovLab is doing important work to promote open, collaborative government, so it seems appropriate for a piece on that important theme to hang there.”
Zach Hyman was born and raised in Northern California, and he later lived in Houston and Philadelphia. Surrounded by a loving and supportive family, which included his parents, Lynn and Alan, and his brother, Adam, he dreamt of one day becoming a “spaceman”—a pursuit indicative of his active imagination rather than any serious interest in aeronautics. He ultimately abandoned that goal in order to study theater at the North Carolina School of the Arts, which he attended for two years before deciding to focus on visual art and photography instead. His creative ethos is to “explore without boundaries and experiment without shame.”
Hyman, a resident of Brooklyn, had already been thinking about the themes of cultural data, how it is created, and how we absorb it when he learned about the GovLab through a friend. He realized that the group’s new space at 2 MetroTech would be a fitting venue for a new large-scale sculpture he was calling “Media Flow.” Comprised of thousands of colorful plastic balls forming a shape reminiscent of a cartoon speech bubble, the sculpture suggests a critical mass of citizen voices that coalesce into a unified but diverse whole.
Hyman—who in addition to his other work currently serves as an official on-set photographer for the iconic children’s television show Sesame Street—explains, “With ‘Media Flow,’ I want to evoke the GovLab’s premise that leveraging the capacity, intelligence, and expertise of people in the problem-solving process can be incredibly transformative.”