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A new sculpture in the ‘heart’ of New York City symbolizes hope, nods to this past year

In the middle of New York City's Times Square, a new interactive sculpture was unveiled earlier this week as part of an annual Valentine's Day-themed design competition. But this year, in the middle of a pandemic, with so many communal, live gatherings not possible, this public art project took on new symbolism, incorporating plywood, a material that has become ubiquitous in cities in the past year. Ivette Feliciano reports.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    The arts have been hit hard by the pandemic, large live events and gallery openings still aren't possible. With so much on hold, there is a silver lining: outdoor public art has gained new traction as a visible form of expression that can still be experienced and enjoyed safely.

    On this Valentine's Day weekend, NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano reports on a new outdoor public sculpture in times square, the heart of New York City.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In the center of one of the most iconic urban spaces in the world, an interactive sculpture of two interlocked hearts was unveiled earlier this week. It's called "Love Letters," and it's the work of Lexi Tsien and Tal Liu, directors of the design practice Soft-Firm.

    While Times Square has fewer visitors than it did before the pandemic, that doesn't mean it's any quieter. And I spoke with them as the public — and omnipresent construction — continued around us.

  • Tal Liu:

    We liked the idea of having it kind of be a single line that was a little bit open-ended. And as you're walking on the ground, you don't see the two hearts as much. But as you go up the red steps, or even for those inhabitants who live in the buildings and work in the buildings above, they can look down and really engage and see the hearts kind of come together.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    The project is part of the annual "Love in Times Square" design competition run by Times Square Arts, a nonprofit public art organization. Jean Cooney is the group's director.

  • Jean Cooney:

    We believe that art and design are critical to our public spaces and the cultural fabric of Times Square, and in turn that the artists, architects, designers and the creative community at large are really critical to the spirit, well-being and recovery of New York City.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    The organization invited designers to submit plans for a heart-themed structure. And in a nod to the past year, It also added a constraint: plywood had to be incorporated in the design.

  • Jean Cooney:

    Across all of our cities, but especially in New York right now and all of our neighborhoods, we're just seeing so much plywood on our buildings and storefronts. And it's this almost contagious symbol of uncertainty and hardship, whether due to the pandemic or due to fear and uncertainty around political unrest. And we wanted to take this symbol and kind of repurpose it, you know, both literally and figuratively, and reposition it as possibly a symbol of hope and solidarity and positivity.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In addition to plywood, which was donated by local businesses, Love Letters also uses mesh SafetyNet and panels of colorful film; weaving together four so-called 'chambers' that are open to visitors.

    The public can participate in the installation by writing a love letter on a ribbon and then posting it right here to the structure. And if you're not in New York, you can email your message to the Times Square Arts and an ambassador will come and tie the note to the structure for you.

    Designers Tsien and Liu hope that the sculpture is transformed by all the notes over the next month that it's installed here.

  • Lexi Tsien:

    So much emotion has happened this year and we really want to capture that and provide a place for people to to express themselves, you know, and create a receptacle for all the citizens and activists. But all the people who have just, you know, want to write a note to a loved one or a first responder or to Black Lives Matter or to any cause that they really care about.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    In its first couple of days, hundreds of messages have been left and it's already become a memorable backdrop for some. Earlier today, Denise and Robert Marte renewed their wedding vows in a ceremony surrounded by the Love Letters sculpture.

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