Members of an art collective are working on the installation of Silver Spring’s newest piece of public art at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Colesville Road.
FoldHaus is an all-volunteer, San Francisco-based art collective led by Joerg Student and Jesse Silver, who are managing the work.
The new piece, titled Blumen Lumen, was commissioned by Downtown Silver Spring’s co-owners The Peterson Cos. and Foulger-Pratt as part of a $10 million renovation of the complex. It replaces the former DTSS sign and water feature at the corner.
“We build large-scale kinetic art that’s usually inspired by nature and origami,” Student said about the group, which has been creating installations for Burning Man since 2010.
One piece that debuted at Burning Man in 2016, Shrumen Lumen, was later exhibited at the Renwick Gallery with Washington. It is now on display as part of the “No Spectators” exhibit at the Cincinnati Art Museum.
The DTSS co-owners had hired Jean Efron Art Consultants “to search for something that would not only make a bold statement and reflect the artistic character of the community but would also uplift and engage,” according to a press release.
Efron found the collective’s work, leading to the commission for this project in 2019. FoldHaus was chosen from more than 100 artists that were considered for the project.
Blumen Lumen is a construct of multiple 18- to 25-foot folded stainless-steel flowers that respond to weather patterns and open and close as the sun rises and sets. At night, the art is illuminated as well.
“The three flowers open and close, and they actually read a feed from [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] via the internet about every half hour,” said Silver.
Depending on the weather, the flowers open in the morning and do what Silver called “a little show opening and closing at lunchtime.”
“[They] do the same thing at sunset and finally, as all the shops close in this area, they’ll close for the evening,” he added. “It depends on favorable weather.”
“We like the element of scale,” Student said about the size of their works—taking something small and creating a very large version. “It’s something that works really well in the [Burning Man] desert, because you don’t have any reference for scale. It’s all desert and the only reference are people.”
“We kind of just like inspiring delight in people and giving them a moment in their day when they’re going back and forth to work or whatever to have something that surprises them and makes them pay attention,” Silver said. “It’s part of why we work to this kind of scale, that kind of shocks you out of your routine.
“I think that just the fact that there’s these three flowers that move and light up in Silver Spring just feels like the right kind of thing to embrace nature and gives them a little playful and delightful piece besides,” he added.
Nature and technology is a theme that FoldHaus likes to explore, Student said.
“There’s a lot of technology in these things, yet they look very simple,” he said. “They look like nature, they’re recognizable.”
In reality, there are a lot of types of engineering, including software engineering that is involved in the pieces, Student said.
The collective has been working on the installation for about a year and half. While they generally would work in larger groups, sharing expertise and learning from each other, the pandemic forced the group to work in small groups of specialists, Silver said.
It’s also the first time FoldHaus has worked with stainless steel, chosen for its durability and sustainability. Other installations primarily used corrugated plastics for the way the material absorbs and diffuses light, Student said.
Once the installation is complete, it will be unveiled to the public in a special event, then available for people to visit.
Top photo of Jesse Silver (left) and a collective member examining the box containing the electronics that govern the installation by Mike Diegel. Photos of the piece being fabricated courtesy FoldHaus