Strange Plaque Piques Interest On North Farwell In Milwaukee
This past winter on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side, Eileen Hosmanek was walking her dogs with her daughter and came across something quite strange.
"We stumbled upon it at The Green Gallery on Curtis and Farwell," Eileen tells WUWM's Bubbler Talk.
The Green Gallery is a contemporary art gallery that showcases artists from within the Midwest and brings nationally and internationally recognized artists to Milwaukee.
But what Eileen found strange was not what inside the gallery but what was behind it. Inconspicuously placed on the exterior wall is a stately looking plaque with bronze lettering. But the the way the plaque read actually makes no sense. The punctuation is off and words are missing.
The plaque reads:
"It makes absolutely no sense. I was wondering if you could help me make sense of it? Or somebody might hear this and might know what it means?" she says.
Eileen had a couple of theories of what this could mean. One, that the plaque an honest attempt to commemorate a small community that had been forgotten. "It sounds like perhaps ... the community perished in a fire. According to some of the little clues on the plaque, our whatever industry was there expired or, you know, it just it ran out and people no longer had jobs and the area became a ghost town," she says.
The other was that this plaque was actually an art piece. "... It might be somebodies idea of a funky art project, commemorating historical sites that maybe you'd see in your travels through Wisconsin, really, through the whole United States," she says.
It turns out Eileen was on to something. Paul Druecke is a Milwaukee artist, inspired by the urban landscape. Paul along with Berlin-based poet Donna Stonecipher created the plaque titled Near Here.
The idea behind the piece was to make people question the writing of history and commemoration.
"I love plaques, you know, public inscription, the way we write ourselves into the landscape. But I think it's good to have a little criticality when thinking about what it means and the politics and power dynamics underwriting it," Paul says.
The reason it is housed inconspicuously on the outside wall of The Green Gallery is intentional. Paul wants passerbys to unintentionally come upon the plaque.
"In terms of my art practice, I'm always looking for ways to reach audiences ... in the midst of their daily routines, as opposed to if you walk into a gallery or museum, you know, you're expecting to have a certain experience," he says.
It seems like the plaque is doing what Paul had hoped: Meeting people where they are as they go about their day, provoking so much curiosity that they wrote into their local public radio station to find answers.
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