Artist's project brings sound of underground downtown stream to surface

art project brings waterway's sounds to a downtown walkway

rcopley@herald-leader.comJuly 27, 2011 

  • If you go

    'Surface Reflections'

    What: A sound sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist Bill Fontana

    Opening: 4:30 p.m. Thursday (July 28)

    Where: Passageway between Financial Center Tower, 250 W. Main St., and its parking garage

    When: The project will be on permanent exhibit after Thursday afternoon.

Most people would never know the Town Branch of Elkhorn Creek runs under downtown Lexington if they were not told. There has long been no visual or audible evidence of the rushing water that runs just below the high-rise buildings and busy streets of the city — until this week.

Late Thursday afternoon, internationally acclaimed artist Bill Fontana will unveil his newest sound sculpture, Surface Reflections. The piece will bring the sounds of Town Branch flowing just below the Lexington Financial Center, the blue high-rise also known as the Fifth Third building, to the passageway tucked between the building and its adjacent parking garage.

"The sound of the water is going to sort of flow and move through this passageway," Fontana said Tuesday afternoon, pointing out the eight speakers that line the landscaped path where downtown workers can escape the sun and traffic noise.

The sound of the water will be live, but Fontana has manipulated it in such a way that it's delayed, resulting in a cascading effect through the speakers that line the pathway.

The project was funded by LexArts' Public Art Fund and an EcoArt Grant from Lexington's department of environmental quality and public works.

Water is nothing new to Fontana, who has done projects with famous rivers from Cleveland's Cuyahoga to Europe's Danube. This project was a little different, he said, as he was shedding light on a hidden waterway as opposed to interpreting a well-known body.

He's also incorporating another familiar element into this piece: the chimes of clocks, namely the one atop the old Fayette County courthouse across the street from the financial center. Its chiming will be picked up by microphones and echoed down the passageway.

"I've done a lot of projects with clock bells, like Big Ben in London," said Fontana, who lives in San Francisco. "There's something about a clock measuring time and the idea of the river of time. It seemed to me like a connection between this historic bell and this historic river connecting this bell to this river."

The Lexington project will include live video of the courthouse reflected in the financial center's glass surface, accompanied by the sound. The video feed will be available inside the financial center as well as online.

All of the sound and images are coordinated by sound and video equipment housed on the property and microphones hung over the rushing water underground.

The installation will be turned on for good at a 4:30 p.m. opening on Thursday right before Thursday Night Live, across the street at Cheapside Park.

LexArts president and CEO Jim Clark said the passageway at the financial center served as an appropriate venue because it was designed as a meandering, wooded spot in the middle of the city, "so it gives you the natural versus the urban. This will add to that."

The project was the result of several years of discussions between Clark and Fontana, who have known each other for 20 years. Clark initially discussed simply doing a sound installation, and Fontana gravitated toward Town Branch.

As Surface Reflections opens,. LexArts has just announced three new mural projects in Lexington — at the Hurst Office Supply building on Short Street, at the Lexington Legends' Whitaker Bank Ballpark and at the Saul Good restaurant in Hamburg — giving the city a burst of public art.

Surface Reflections also comes at a time when projects like the Town Branch Trail have highlighted the waterway.

"For our first major public arts piece, it's making quite a statement in that it's not your typical public art," Clark says. "It taps into the history of Lexington and the natural history. It is something that is absolutely unique to Lexington."

Reach Rich Copley at (859) 231-3217 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3217. Follow him on Facebook at

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