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Beautiful stairwells

In 2003-2004, some time after the idea of "introvert huts" popped out of artist Laurie Phillips' imagination, she had the opportunity to create one. Working with another artist, Gwen Hauser, and a team of 25 employee volunteers, Laurie transformed a dull, dark 4-story stairwell at the headquarters of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota with bright colors and poetry stenciled on the walls. It was part of an employer health initiative to encourage employees to take the stairs instead of elevators.

The beautiful stairwell got so popular that "stairwell jealousy" developed in people on the other side of the building and in 2004-2005, Laurie and Gwen and another team of volunteers created another beautiful stairwell.

I asked Laurie about introvert huts and the beautiful stairwells. She said, "I always seek out secret little places in buildings, the quiet corners. Places where I can get away from people are very important to me. I like stairwells. Really setting out to create such a thing as an "introvert hut" was very intriguing to me because it seems so silly. But actually it's not I need those spaces."

Cubicle hell

"If you work in a cubicle, with people all around you, you might need introvert huts too. My office cubicle walls are taller than my head when I'm seated, but some people work in cubes that are chin level. That's my idea of hell. You not only hear other people but have to look at them all day long. So I think the idea of the introvert hut is about giving introverts a place to get away, be alone, to stop the stimulation and reconnect with themselves."

Internal experience

I asked Laurie what would happen to the idea of the introvert hut if the stairwells got so popular they were being used all the time. She said, "I think it would still be an introvert hut, because it invites people into a deep space with poetry. It's inviting people to go inside themselves and have an internal experience."

"I think aesthetic experience is internal. At least that's how I experience it. If I go to a museum I might comment on some of the art with whoever I go with, but it's really a pretty solitary experience, of taking in the work of art. So I think my stairwells invite people into that solitary, aesthetic space, even if it's just peripherally."

From Laurie Phillips' Artist's Statement: As a public artist, I begin by noticing what may be absent from the sites I work with: playfulness, beauty, history, the innermost thoughts and stories of the people who use the sites. So often the atmosphere of our public places discourages physical, emotional and intellectual aliveness.

My public art is about animating those sites stairwells, building exteriors and lobbies, public parks, streets by collecting and revealing stories that point to the gaps in popular perception. My job is to make those whose voices and images are usually absent from our collective public narrative heard and seen, thus expanding our society's flattened idea of "who's here and who matters".

See more of Laurie's work at www.mnartists.org/laurie_phillips. Laurie can be reached at laurie_phillips@comcast.net.

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