Design Thinking, Artist Making | Introducing David Buckley Borden

One of the things that makes public art so exciting is the diversity of media, perspectives, and experiences the art can represent. And here at N+T how we can be actively bringing all of the diverse kinds of public art to Boston is always on our mind. Seeking artists with different kinds of training, artistic practice, and points-of-view is one of the key tenants of curation at N+T and, of course, for the selection of artists in our Public Art Accelerator program. Today, we’re excited to introduce you to one of our 2019 Accelerators, David Buckley Borden with this mini-interview and share an inside look at his inspirations, how design thinking informs his artistic practice, and how learning alongside the other accelerator artists has motivated him to push new boundaries.

N+T: You’ve come into your artistic practice through training in landscape architecture and design — how have those two forms fueled your evolution as an artist? What sensibilities from those disciplines did you bring in to the accelerator and share with the cohort?

DBB: I discovered landscape architecture twenty years ago by way of land art. Today, I don’t even think of my art and design work as two separate practices. The feedback loop between the two has been generating projects for the last decade to the point where I can no longer pinpoint where the design stops and the art starts. I really view my practice as a creative hybrid that pulls from both fields in a variety of ways as inspired.

One of the major perspectives I brought to the accelerator cohort is “design thinking”, which frames my creative process and response to site, community, ecological conditions, and a host of other constraints commonly found in both public art and landscape design projects. As for aesthetics, both my art and design projects can be characterized by bold, clean, collaborative craft. I maintain certain creative attitudes and standards through all my work, be it art or design. For example, my interest in work that is accessible, layered, and simultaneously functional on multiple levels in terms of culture and education. In the end, regardless of label [art or design], my work promotes shared environmental awareness and a heightened cultural value of ecology. This cross-disciplinary approach is something I really enjoyed bringing into the accelerator program and sharing with my cohorts.

N+T: Your work aims to raise people’s consciousness about the ecology of their environments by creating unexpected access points to interact with. What does accessibility in art mean to you? How does that understanding shape your practice?


DBB: Using an accessible, often humorous, combination of art and design, has been central to my practice for some time now. Still, thanks to my Now + There experience, my concept of accessibility has grown beyond audience and conceptual or cultural entry point. It’s been interesting to reframe the idea of accessibility within the context of a public art for a complex urban setting such as Boston. So, accessibility is not just community access to physical site, conceptual framework, creative direction and form. In terms of the Boston public art landscape, accessibility is also financial, political, and bureaucratic in nature. How does this understanding shape my practice? I have an even greater appreciation for local public art now that I’ve seen the scope of behind-the-scenes effort. Creating the physical artwork is just a small part of realizing a public art project. Making it happen demands the majority of the effort.

N+T: How will your N+T Accelerator project fit into your existing body of work? And how is it new and different than the public projects you’ve created before?

DBB: My N+T Accelerator project builds off my existing practice of creating large sculptures and landscape installations, but brings my environmentally-themed work out of the woods and into accessible public space in the city. Up to this point, my “public art” projects have been collaborations with academic institutions, which is typically a much narrower audience than most public art aspires to be. A new expanded view of installation art and its creative application has been a welcome challenge to me.  I’ve certainly broadened my collaborative approach and have a new-found appreciation for the municipal site permitting process.


N+T: What is one of the most critical things you’ve learned during your time in the N+T Accelerator cohort? How do you want to carry it forward?

DBB: Great question; it is probably best to wait to answer until after the project is complete!

N+T: How has your perception of your own artistic practice shifted by learning from and with other artists?


DBB: In many ways, I feel like I just finished a mini-MFA program, in part from the N+T curriculum, but interacting with the other artists while “in the trenches” has been an inspiring education as well. Over the course of the last six months I have come to realize that artists and designers have more in common than not. We may have a different creative tool kit, problem-solving process, and jargon, but we share a common ground. In that the N+T accelerator cohorts are interested in applying their creative skills to the public realm with the intention of either building awareness, or driving direct-action, around relevant cultural issues. We’re all creative agents for progressive change. Beyond my own practice, I now find myself actively encouraging design folks, especially landscape architects, to reconnect to their social practice roots. There’s complex cultural problem-solving work to be done and room at the creative workbench for all.

All photos: “Warming Warning,” public art at Harvard University, 9 x 10.5 x 28 feet, wood, acrylic paint, and assorted hardware, Fall 2018.