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Digging On Pigs

ArtWorks’ second Big Pig Gig public art project takes flight

By Maria Seda-Reeder · May 1st, 2012 · Visual Art
ac_pigs_ck_2Photo by Cameron Knight

When I was growing up, the fact that Cincinnati was known as “Porkopolis” was not exactly a selling point for me. I vividly remember Bicentennial Commons at Sawyer Point opening in 1988 to much hullabaloo thanks to the flying pig sculptures near the entrance and being absolutely mortified with embarrassment that my hometown would choose to embrace its reputation as a haven for swine. Pigs (flying or otherwise) were akin to waving a white flag of physical surrender: We’re the overweight Midwest — and proud of it! Cincinnati’s willing association with all things pig throughout my teens basically solidified my decision to move away as a young adult. 

I did in fact move away for college and it wasn’t until I returned to Cincinnati several years later (and maybe it was just an acquired nostalgic affection for my hometown), but sometime during the intervening years pigs grew on me. ArtWorks’ first big public art project, “The Big Pig Gig,” had a lot to do with that change. Inspired by “Cows on Parade,” the public art exhibition she saw in Chicago in 1999, ArtWorks’ founding Director Tamara Harkavy began her own version of the public art project/non-profit fundraiser the following year in Cincinnati, which raised more than $400,000 for ArtWorks and 140 local charities.  

Having been around for nearly 16 years, ArtWorks at this point is likely more known for its ubiquitous murals around town than the earlier sculptural projects like “The Big Pig Gig” or “Bats Incredible!” However, connecting artists with the opportunity to make public art is the common thread in each. (Full disclosure: I’ve worked and volunteered for ArtWorks in various capacities during much of the past six years, so I’m already a convert.)

Groups (corporation, non-profit, school, etc.) purchase pigs and enlist artists to create a unique design — approved by ArtWorks’ staff and often influenced by vernacular culture. They’re named for and designed as visual puns such as “Pigaletto” and “Frankenswine” or pop cultural references like “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” or “Being John Bigpiggigovich,” and one can still find pigs around town in both public and private residences.

This year, “Big Pig Gig: Do-Re-Wee” is happening again (although on a much smaller scale) because ArtWorks was approached by C-Change Class Six (a “leadership-development program” run by the Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce) to build awareness of the upcoming World Choir Games in July.

The twist on the pigs this time around is that many of them “incorporate musical elements” in honor of the largest choir competition in the world, which this year will take place in the U.S. for the first time.  

A preview of a dozen pigs is slated for this coming weekend’s 14th Flying Pig Marathon, leading up to a full swine rollout by Memorial Day with locations throughout downtown from the Banks to the Gateway Quarter. Although they were only supposed to have 60 pigs this year compared to a whopping 400-plus the first time around, they’re currently “closer to 90 adopted pigs,” according to ArtWorks’ spokeswoman Jackie Reau. It seems the hogs are flying off the shelves like hotcakes. (There’s a culinary pun in there somewhere but I’m not going to stoop to it.)

“This is an entire school project,” Cincinnati-based artist/educator Pam Kravetz writes via email. “Students in beginning art classes, sculpture classes, all the way through our most advanced art classes have had a hand in creating our pig.” She’s leading a group of students from Harrison High School and organizing the work of many into one single artistic vision — and Kravetz knows a lot about that kind of creative collaboration.  

This is her second Pig Gig (she had two in the first, one with fellow art teacher Tara Keller and the other with “partners in crime” Carla Lamb and Karen Saunders), and she is also the founding member of the Cincinnati Bombshells, whose public art projects have been on the grounds of nearly every museum in town and the entire length of greenspace along Central Parkway downtown. In order to pull off their feats of knitted “yarnbombing,” Kravetz, aka “Pinky Shears,” has — with the help of her fellow ladies of the skein — organized more than a hundred artists for some of their bigger public art projects.

There are pigs in “Do-Re-Wee” created by individual artists, however. Tattoo artist Jason Morgan created an acrylics airbrushed pig, “Hamward Bound,” which features a full rig sailing ship on the swine’s back, in the style of classic nautical themed tattoos. Morgan also humorously depicts “see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil” pigs, an “R.I.P. P.I.G.” cross and the sailor’s quintessential barn swallow and anchor tattoos on his pigskin. 

Artist Kate Demske also worked solo on her two pieces, “Suspension Pigs” and “Pig Tail Twister.” The former is a sculptural representation of the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge and the latter an homage to Demske’s “favorite family activity”: watching the Cyclones hockey team.  

“They make a challenging canvas and it’s impossible to take them seriously,” she said in response to my inquiry about whether it was weird to be working on a pig as an art project. “Anytime we can make an object more creative, entertaining or pleasing to the eye,” Demske continued, “we are all better off.” I concur.  

Sure, these are not precious objects. Let’s be frank-furter (sorry, it had to be done at some point): They’re pigs! But look at the sculptural details on the Harrison High School “Year of the Chinese Water Dragon” and hear Kravetz boast about the enthusiastic collaboration of her students and fellow fabricators, and tell me these pigs aren’t cool.

While ArtWorks is known as an organization that pays kids to make art, what it is so successful at is engaging a creative group of people around a subject that is close to all of our hearts: ourselves. Cincinnati needs more people tooting our own snouts.  ©

See a preview of The Big Pig Gig during this weekend’s Flying Pig Marathon. www.artworkscincinnati.org.



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