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Jamaica art peaks curiosity

A woman sits on a public art installation, which is part of "Humps and Bumps." Photo by Rich Bockmann
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A newly installed speed bump near the corner of Archer Avenue and 153rd Street has Jamaica commuters slowing down — with some even coming to a complete stop.

The bump behind the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning is not designed to slow down motorists, though. The bench-like public art installation near the transit hub invites passersby to stop, take a load off and give their urban surroundings a second thought.

The work, entitled “Humps and Bumps,” was designed and created by a collective of five artists known as BroLab, and commissioned by the city Department of Transportation under its Urban Art initiative.

Heng-Gil Han, JCAL’s visual arts curator, said the functional sculpture takes the iconic, everyday image of a speed bump and reappropriates it in a way that forces the public to reflect on their urban surroundings.

“It talks about the transit system,” he said, noting how the curves of the yellow and black-striped piece mimic the contours on the roof of the nearby subway station. “It doesn’t look like their image of sculpture, and that’s the point. It shifts our preconceived notion of what art is and what it looks like.”

The piece — which is 8 by 10 feet and about 3 1/2 feet tall — is in the shape of a speed bump turned back against itself, creating sloping curves that invite worn-down passers-by to relax. It is a wooden frame coated with rubber pellets normally used for playground surfaces.

After the sculpture was installed last week, people making their way to trains and buses had varied reactions. Some looked on curiously and others sat and talked on their phones. Some simply walked up and poked at it to investigate.

“I like those behaviors,” Han said. “It breaks down the distance between contemporary art and daily life.”

Kevin Lin, 15, stared at the sculpture perplexedly as he was waiting to catch a bus to Fresh Meadows.

“It looks like a chair,” he concluded, a bit unsure.

Adam Brent, one of the BroLab artists, said the group met in 2009 at an artists-in-residency program at the Bronx Museum. Their first collaboration was a performance art piece for Art in Odd Places entitled “Pump 14,” in which 12 individuals carried buckets of water on yokes back and forth along 14th Street in Manhattan between the Hudson and East rivers.

“We walked roughly 26 miles each and carried 400-some-odd gallons of water,” he said. “I was delirious at one point. It was so exhausting and staggering. We worked in shifts and we were usually by ourselves. Walking like that was somewhat lonely and contemplative and meditative. I think that’s an underlying tone in all our projects.”

The performance was the first time Han had seen BroLab’s work.

“I thought it was nonsense,” he said with delight. “They were wasting so much energy! But I was quite interested in the project.”

Brent, 38, said the most gratifying thing about seeing the sculpture completed is seeing how it enhances its environment.

“It’s rewarding to see young people — I have a son — chilling and talking on their cell phones,” he said. “It makes the place much more functional, more celebratory.”

“Humps and Bumps” will be on display for the next 11 months.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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