When you’re an artist, you never know when — or where — inspiration will strike. For Baltimore-based multimedia artist Greg St. Pierre, it was a chance meeting with a stranger during a time of personal reflection that set him on his current path, resulting in Communication Gaps, the widely praised multimedia installation and centerpiece of Light City Baltimore, going on now through April 8. Light City is an annual festival featuring light installations and sculptures, video projections and interactive media displays.
“The idea for the piece came out of a period in my life last year when I wasn’t really sure where to go or what was next,” says St. Pierre, who moved from Rhode Island to Baltimore for college in 2003 and never left. “I got to travel a lot last year, and I was seeing a global effect of disconnection and feeling it personally. So then, one day, I ran into somebody I had met at Light City Baltimore last year. I wasn’t sure what he was about, and it turned out he just wanted to praise me for my work. It was really inspiring, and it got me thinking about the idea of making connections.”
Soon, he had parlayed that idea into Communication Gaps’ “visual conversation between strangers.” Produced through his art and design studio GSP.studio, Communication Gaps is a large-scale installation that requires the interactivity and cooperation of strangers to make it function. One individual on the Baltimore Inner Harbor’s Pier 4 and one on Pier 5 each have a role; “One person controls the shapes going into the water, and the other controls the shapes coming out,” he says. “The whole thing is a play on space, physically and metaphorically. I wanted to do it over water because of the physical disconnection from one side of the canal to the other.”
Meanwhile, the movement created by those interacting with the installation contrasts with that disconnection. “When people dance and move their bodies, they control the way the light travels over the shapes,” he says. “The movement of the right hand is like a wave ‘hello’ to the person on the other side.”
Participants also get a personalized name tag when they enter and are recorded saying, “Hi, my name is…,” which plays during the installation. “It’s largely about connecting with each other around a unified vibe,” he says. “I’m not sure everyone is going to get the deeper concepts, and that’s OK. The end goal of it is people dancing with each other.”
St. Pierre took some time away from Light City Baltimore to reflect on what makes his adopted city so special and let us in on a few of his favorite places.
“What this city has over other places, and why I’ve stayed here for so long even though it might be better to be in New York or L.A. for my career, is that it feels like family,” he tells us. “I love being able to go to different spots around town and see friends. You walk in, and it’s, ‘Hey, Greg. You’ve got to try this.’ That’s why I like Baltimore.”
Second Chance — 1700 Ridgely Street, Baltimore MD 21230
“Second Chance has second-hand furniture, building materials and other items. The name refers to repurposing materials but also to the second chance it provides, through its training and job placement programs, to people who might not be able to find work.”
Hunting Ground — 3649 Falls Road, Baltimore, MD 21211
“I buy a lot of clothes at a place called Hunting Ground in Hampden, near my studio. I have a lot of friends in the area. It’s fun to see people opening their own stores, growing into adulthood. I have friends who are coming from the music and art scene, so, if they want to open a clothing store, that’s where I’ll go.”
Clavel — 225 West 23rd Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
“Clavel is run by a friend of mine, Lane Harlan, and it’s just really good Mexican food. She takes her bartenders on trips to Oaxaca to learn about mezcal; Clavel is known for its artisanal mezcal. Everyone loves working there, and that’s important to me.”
House — 301 West 29th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
I also eat often at R. House. I like the way it’s set up, almost like a neighborhood student union kind of vibe. I’ve spent days in there, working on this project. I’ll be on my laptop, eating meals there, playing shuffleboard, and then, around 8 p.m. or so, I’ll move to the bar to get a drink. It’s just a really great social environment.
The Crown — 1910 North Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218
“I hang out at The Crown a lot, which is a lounge and bar and also has good Korean food. It’s located in the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, and it’s great because there are different bars and three separate rooms for shows. That’s a go-to spot for a lot of people.”
Prettyboy Reservoir — Hampstead, MD 21074
“The Prettyboy Reservoir is a little bit outside of the city and is a good place to go on hikes. If you get there at the right time when the water is unloading, it’s the next-best thing to a waterfall.”
Falls Road — Falls Road and Station North, Baltimore, MD 21209
“I like to take walks on Falls Road from from Station North to Hampden, along the river. There’s a bike path that goes along Jones Falls River, under the highway. Also, Creative Labs, where my studio is. I’m constantly inspired by being in that environment and watching other artists work.”
Baltimore Inner Harbor — Downtown Baltimore, MD 21202
“I go on a lot of walks, and one of the places I like to go is downtown. It sounds weird to say my guilty pleasure is the most popular place in the city, but a lot of what goes into my art is inspired by my observations of people. I go down to the harbor and people-watch, because there is so much to see and so much to learn. I fell in love with painting, then video, then interactive. Through these projects, I feel like I’ve accidentally stumbled upon the realization that the medium for these pieces is really people. The hardest part is designing something that everyone will ‘like’ and ‘get’ n some level. That’s why I spend time down there. I’m trying to get to the core of what moves people — what can unify people.”