Seeking the city's soul

Team will present its 13 examples tonight

Published: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 1, 2004 at 1:00 a.m.
Nita Greenwell admits she was slow to warm to Gainesville. As a 21-year-old student of visual and studio art, the first three years at the University of Florida were spent largely in the protective bubble that is the college experience.
But in recent months, Greenwell has had something of an awakening, she says. Gainesville, she's come to realize, "is a really great place to get lost."
"There's a lot to offer if you take the time to open your eyes."
As part of a semester-long art collaborative, Greenwell, along with 11 other UF students and their professor, have set out to catalogue 13 city sites and people that, in their estimation, summarize the best that Gainesville has to offer.
They will present their findings tonight in the form of an interactive art installation from 7 to 10 p.m. in room 118 of the Gainesville Econo Lodge, at 2649 SW 13th St. On display will be a host of city-specific items, photos of sites and a short video.
The UF team calls itself Stance, a name chosen, members say, to invoke a sense of ownership and understanding of one's surroundings.
But if a trip to the travel agent is what you're looking for, you may want to reconsider: Their methods for site selection are admittedly unscientific, and even a bit eccentric. (A UF teaching cow, for example, which resides in a pasture off Archer Road, made the list.)
"Highly secret and complex site analysis methods have led Stance to choose and endorse the following 13 sites in (and around) Gainesville, Florida," the group says on its Web site, a tongue-in-cheek tribute to its three-month project.
A complete list of Stance's top Gainesville locations, comical biographies of cast members and a (farcical) history of the group - they met after a tragic plane crash in the Caribbean - can be found on the group's Web site, Just don't believe everything you read.
Despite the endless attempts at humor, this much it appears is true: Armed with orange construction vests and a keen artistic eye, Stance collaborators - professor Sean Miller prohibits the word "class" in his students' vernacular - took to the streets and neighborhoods beginning in January, hunting for Gainesville's essence.
Some of their findings may come as little surprise to longtime area residents. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, the UF bat house, Devils Millhopper Geological State Park and Boulware Springs are all among Stance's better-known cultural and historical icons.
But what about "The Hallway," a dank, urine-infested urban walkway connecting a strip mall to a parking lot south of W. University Avenue near the Shamrock Irish Restaurant? Or Monroe Lee's truck, a "highly mobile" work of art often seen rattling along the brick-lined streets near downtown's Union Street Station? And the National Vacuum Building, an architectural tribute to American patriotism at 2225 NW 6th St.?
While not likely to join the National Register of Historic Places anytime soon, it is these sites, Stance members say, that give Gainesville its unique flavor.
"It's taking a position on something, what we think are important places in Gainesville," 29-year-old Stance member Steve Panella said during an interview at the group's workshop Wednesday.
Kelly Cobb, 32, a master's student in sculpture, added that Stance's goal was to cast an artistic eye on the area's obvious - and not so obvious - attractions.
"We've created an art group whose function is to figure out new ways of looking at our surroundings," Cobb said.
Greg Bruno can be reached at (352) 374-5026 or

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