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Ackland unveils art exhibition on the side of Craige Parking Deck

The art installation entitled 'Drawn to Explain,' by Amalia Pica is seen on Craige Parking Deck on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus on Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023.

A once monochromatic parking garage set on South Campus next to UNC Hospitals — Craige Parking Deck— has become home to one of the Ackland Art Museum’s ongoing exhibitions, entitled “Drawn to Explain.”

The project, a representation of different disciplines and departments across UNC, began in 2019 with the selection of London-based artist Amalia Pica to execute it and was completed this fall.

Cary Levine, an associate professor of art history, said that when the project began, Pica wanted to create something responsive to the local context and University setting.

With the help of graduate student Erin Dickey, Pica met with more than 50 faculty members and students across a variety of fields including medicine, natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. With them, she discussed the role of visual imagery in their work and research. 

“That was the genesis and raw material from which the project was derived,” Levine said.

Pica used powder-coated aluminum elements and paint on the exterior of the parking deck to create the diagrams and symbols suggested by faculty, staff and students.

"She has this passion for what the University does and investigating what the University does and making that the sort of central theme of the piece," Peter Nisbet, deputy director for curatorial affairs at the Ackland, said.

The piece's meaning derives from the role of the visual in research and teaching, he added. 

The visuals range from a grid representing the “rule of thirds,” a guide for composing effective photographs, to a diagram representing UNC professor Aziz Sancar’s work with DNA repair that earned him the 2015 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Levine also said the symbols in the piece are reflective of Pica’s long interest in imagery and how it operates in a larger social and cultural context.

“Those symbols are the result of interactive discussions, and the space is itself an interactive space,” he added. “Ideally, knowledge itself and the kind of scholarly activity that happens here is about interaction as well.”

The symbols can be decoded with a key on the Ackland’s website and a sign that will soon be placed in front of Craige Deck. The sign will contain information on the source diagrams and their meaning, as well as who Pica collaborated with to create the piece.

“One can do more research about the diagrams and one can enjoy them for their formal characteristics,” Nisbet said. “I think the impact is going to be enhanced by the fact that it is this major work of art on a very humble building.”

Both the art and the location of Craige Deck represent a convergence of different branches of the University, such as academics, medicine and athletics.

“It is a site that might often be overlooked, but it's also positioned in between a lot of different activities and experiences here at the University,” Levine said.

The large canvas that Craige Deck offered was also critical to the development of the installation, Alison Friedman, executive and artistic director of Carolina Performing Arts, said.

“The purpose of public art is to maximize appreciation, enjoyment, encounters, and so having it right at that intersection at the crux of different campuses is really a junction of all these different aspects of UNC coming together,” she added.

The exhibit's webpage on the Ackland’s website reads that the installation stands as a "metaphor for the exchange opportunities and dialogue” that the University allows.

“We're at a place in history and society where we need to break down barriers between disciplines to solve a lot of really complex problems,” Levine said. “Hopefully, this will do a little part in dissolving some of those boundaries.”

@dailytarheel |

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