Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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A Billboard for Expression

By Ben Sheffler

Rachael Pongetti was working on another project when a friend suggested she take photos of the 17th Avenue Graffiti Bridge everyday for a year. She thought it was a great idea, but she wasn’t too intrigued until that friend told her the bridge changes everyday.

Then she was hooked.

“For me, this really wasn’t about learning about graffiti, and it really wasn’t even so much about the bridge,” she said. “It was just about me learning to accept change on a regular basis and being able to flow easier with the way things change in our everyday lives.”

What resulted is her “Between the Layers” exhibition—a collection of images from her 2011 Graffiti Bridge Project.

“It’s just kind of taken a life of its own,” Pongetti said.

Mary Hartshorn, director of communications and events at the Pensacola Museum of Art (PMA), said the images at PMA will give a backstory to Pongetti’s project.

“I think the whole idea behind the exhibition at PMA is to go a little bit deeper in her Graffiti Bridge Project and not just present the photographs to people, but really get into the inspiration behind her project,” she said.

Pongetti said she didn’t really have a plan when she first started out. She just showed up and tried to figure it out.

Even when changes to the bridge were subtle, Pongetti usually noticed them. She said the bridge changed on all but two or three days of her project.

“I got so in tune to the bridge that I could tell if somebody had tagged the bottom right from the day before,” she said. “There’d be some days I would come and it would be really, really slow. I mean the ugliest green paint was on there for the longest time.”

Pongetti compared some of the changes to the bridge to changes in life.

“You go through life and you won’t see a lot of noticeable change…and then all of a sudden boom, you’re just hit with a multitude of it,” she said.

But through the constant change, Pongetti said there was some order to it.

“That’s why I call it ‘Between the Layers,’ because it’s investigating the idea that even though the world may seem at times chaotic, there’s actually a lot of underlying order underneath everything,” she said. “In the midst of all this splashed paint and all these multitude of participants, a tremendous amount of order ended up being in
that.”

Pongetti said the exhibition features a lot of abstract imagery, including close ups of the layers, colors and textures of the bridge. She said it’s her personal and artistic vision of the bridge.

Several of the bridge’s regular taggers have become friends with Pongetti, including the man who still hangs the “Joe loves Patricia” sign over the bridge. She said Joe and Patricia have been married for 33 years, and that he’s been hanging the sign for a long time.

“I was just really shocked that they had been married that long and here he was doing this for his wife,” she said. “That type of thing is about the human spirit.”

Pongetti is working on a book that will highlight some of the stories of the bridge from people she met. The book was made possible by a Kickstarter campaign that raised $25,000 earlier this year.

Pongetti will host an artist talk at PMA where she will discuss the exhibition.

“I’ll really just discuss what the group wants to hear. If they have specific questions…I’ll talk about that,” she said.

Pongetti is from Mississippi and moved to Pensacola for college. She moved away, but came back around 2007. She still takes photos of the bridge, but not everyday.
Hartshorn said it’s fun to highlight the talented people within the community.

“It’s really great to see what kind of different things people within Pensacola can produce,” she said.

“Between the Layers” is Pongetti’s first solo exhibition at a museum, and she wants it to travel.

“This for me is a whole other level,” she said. “I’m thrilled my little project is making it into a museum.”

Pongetti said it’s great the community allows the bridge to tagged.

“We have a billboard for expression—whatever you want to put up there you can, and that’s not allowed in a lot of places,” she said. “This is an unedited voice for the community, and that’s pretty special.”

“Between the Layers” is a dual exhibition between the Pensacola Museum of Art and the First City Art Center. At FCAC, there will be a community exhibition that features Pongetti’s images and local graffiti artists.

BETWEEN THE LAYERS
WHEN: Artist talk 6 p.m. Thursday, April 23; Exhibition on display until June 13
WHERE: Pensacola Museum of Art, 407 S. Jefferson St.
COST: General admission $7; Children 17 and under, military and seniors $5; Last Tuesday of each month free
DETAILS: pensacolamuseum.org