Visual artist Shimon Attie to focus new exhibition on Bethlehem’s past and present


Drawn to the city of Bethlehem by the history of Bethlehem Steel, renowned visual artist Shimon Attie will create an exhibition on Bethlehem’s past and present as Theodore U. Horger ’61 Artist in Residence for the Performing and Visual Arts. As Artist in Residence in the Department of Art, Architecture and Design, Attie will be at Lehigh until fall 2022.

Since obtaining her Masters of Fine Arts, Attie has created around 30 major art projects in 10 countries around the world. They include projects in Berlin, Tel Aviv, Rome, New York, Boston and San Francisco. His work has also been featured in numerous exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Center Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. and the Guggenheim Fellowship, and holds the Lee Krasner Lifetime Achievement Award in Art.

With his experience of working on post-industrial land that is reinventing or revitalizing itself – Aberfan, Wales, a former coal mining village and a steel production area in Luxembourg – he said he was delighted to have the opportunity to work in Bethlehem, which has also seen a lot of change in the two decades that have passed since the end of local steel activities. After learning about the town’s Moravian roots and the casino which is part of Bethlehem Steel’s land revitalization, he said his enthusiasm has grown.

“These collisions between these different layers are deeply interesting and artistically inspiring,” says Attie. “Bethlehem… that felt right to me. I felt very excited about this and very impatient and that’s before I even knew these other layers of history.

The exhibition is scheduled to open in August 2022 in the art galleries of Lehigh University. It will present a mix of media with a central sculpture surrounded by video. Attie won’t share many details about the sculpture, wanting it to be a surprise to the community. He just says, “It’s kind of a distillation of some of these curious intersections of different strata in the past and present of Bethlehem. For the video, Attie films members of the community in four or five different locations around the city who “convey a specific aspect of Bethlehem and its history.”

In its use of multiple media, the project will echo the Attie multimedia installation made for the St. Louis Art Museum in 2017, Lost in Space (after Huck). Taking inspiration from the Mississippi River, “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and the nearby town of Ferguson, Mississippi, Attie placed a floating sculpture of a raft in the center of the room and included items such as cast sculptures of a corncob pipe, a knife and shoulder bag. A contemporary red siren, which Attie said could be interpreted as that of a police car or an ambulance, or a public service light, was positioned on the raft as a video projection of stars gave the impression that the raft was floating in space.

Attie’s works often use films and videos to integrate the history of marginalized and forgotten communities in urban spaces. These works include on-site photographic projections in Berlin’s old Jewish quarter, underwater light boxes in the Borsgraven Canal in Copenhagen, laser projections illuminating the immigrant experience in apartment buildings on the Lower East Side of New York, and more recently a project on asylum seekers titled Night watch, which Attie originally produced in New York’s East and Hudson rivers, and is now featured in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“Shimon’s job is to uncover the hidden or obscured histories of local communities and sites,” said Nicholas Sawicki, chair of the department of art, architecture and design and associate professor of art history. “His practice is deeply invested in local stories and histories, and that’s why we were interested in bringing him to Lehigh. His work creates a space for dialogue around important, often complicated issues which do not always have a high level of visibility, or which have been relegated to the margins of public life.

Attie will be working on her residency project with the support of students from the Department of Art, Architecture and Design, and will also teach a seminar class. Attie says the class encompasses public art, community-engaged practices, site-specific installation, performance, and a range of topics that “sometimes fall under the rubric of social practice.” The provisional names for the class, he says, are “Space and Place” or “The Art of Sites and Communities.”

“I am delighted to welcome Shimon to campus and look forward to seeing the impact his presence will have on our students,” said Robert Flowers, Herbert J. and Ann L. Siegel Dean. “The arts are a fundamental component of Lehigh’s undergraduate education and the time spent teaching and mentoring Shimon will leave an impression on our students long after graduation. Staffed positions like Artist in Residence Horger allow us to expand the work we do in the studio or on stage and strengthen the experiential learning opportunities for which we are well known.

Established in 2016, Theodore U. Horger ’61 Endowed Artist-in-Residence for the Performing and Visual Arts was created through an estate gift from the late Horger to bring guest artists to college. A guest artist is in residence in rotation each year among the music, theater and art, architecture and design departments.

Attie is the sixth artist in residence in the program and the second in the Department of Art, Architecture and Design. In 2018, Karyne Olivier, professor of sculpture at the Tyler School of Art and Architecture at Temple University, was the first artist in residence in the Department of Art, Architecture and Design. Olivier, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, uses everyday objects, places and spaces to shift visitors’ experiences with the familiar.

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