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Temporary art transforms Lamar Blvd. underpass

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TWC News: Temporary art transforms Lamar Blvd. underpass
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Video reporting by Jenna Hiller

Just south of Fifth Street in Downtown Austin, 16 blue panels line either side of the Lamar Boulevard underpass.

The panels are reflective and some mistake them as traffic signals, but the collective work of art is called "Moments." Art in Public Places commissioned artist Carl Trominski to create the mixed-media work of art in 2003.

"When I first saw them, I was sort of perplexed by them," Austin artist Magda Sayeg said. "When I found out that it was an art project, I really liked it. It made me want to think about it more."

Sayeg takes a warmer approach to urban art.

"Some people react to the urban environment with a spray can. I don't use a spray can; I use knitting. I use afghans. I use knitted material, and that's what I place in the urban environment," she said.

For this year's Art Week Austin, Sayeg has been commissioned to cover the 6-feet-tall blue panels in brightly-colored yarn. Sayeg received Trominski's blessing before planning the project.

"This is a familiar site. I think there's something that we all have nostalgia for when it comes to knitting and when it comes to anything handmade," Sayeg said. "So to see it placed in the urban environment, I think catches people off-guard."

Sayeg's vision began to take shape in a hollowed-out house in South Austin Monday afternoon. She and her husband Dan Fergus planned on demolishing the house, but for planning purposes, it served as their artist studio.

Piles of colorful afghans were scattered on the floor - the reject pile, as she called it. From the pile of potential candidates, Fergus laid out the potential order.

"I don't want zig-zags next to zig-zags," Sayeg explained.

At 8 p.m. Monday, crews shut Lamar Boulevard down to one lane on both the south and northbound sides.

"This is going to change everything," Executive Director of Art Alliance Austin Meredith Powell said. "When you think about the number of people who will see this…"

"More people will see this than if it were in some gallery," Fergus agreed.

The husband and wife team worked quickly to stick the blankets to the panels using Velcro, but they were met with a few friendly interruptions.

An Austin police officer stopped by, saying someone had reported the group to the police.

"Someone just called and said there were six people throwing blankets on the art," Allison Specter, artist and member relations coordinator with Art Alliance Austin, said.

Once the officer knew the operation was legitimate, he shared stories of the afghan his grandmother made for him.

New York artist David Ellis stopped by, as well as Nathan Green, co-founder and partner of Okay Mountain.

"This is like the wedding day," Sayeg said.

Travel blogger Zach Turner was driving by when he saw the crew at work. "I had to stop and rejoice," he said to Sayeg.

Others voiced their critiques and approvals out of their car windows as they drove by.

"I think that most of the time it's a positive reaction," Sayeg said. "Sometimes it perplexes people. Sometimes people can't look beyond knitting as something that can be non-functional, can be art. Sometimes people just want you to knit for the homeless. There are all sorts of interesting reactions to it."

Sayeg's art will be on display over the next month.

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