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On The Boston Common, A Colorful Exploration Of Freedom And Immigration04:00
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Julia Vogl, in blue, works with a team from Boston Building Wraps to install the "Pathways to Freedom" project around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Julia Vogl, in blue, works with a team from Boston Building Wraps to install the "Pathways to Freedom" project around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on Boston Common. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

If freedom were a food, it'd be ice cream — sweet, but tricky to hold onto — says artist Julia Vogl.

In her most recent public art installation on the Boston Common, Vogl explores the countless things that make people feel free — financial stability, migration, a ridding of insecurities — and the countless hindrances to feeling free -- lack of money, institutional racism, feeling tethered to work.

As part of a commission by the Jewish Arts Collaborative, Vogl asked 1,800 people in the Boston area what freedom means to them.

Julia Vogl's setup at Boston City Hall. (Courtesy Nir Landau)
Julia Vogl's setup at Boston City Hall. (Courtesy Nir Landau)

For about a hundred of them, Vogl's team recorded an unusual interview, inspired by the Jewish holiday of Passover.

"In the Jewish tradition at Passover we have a section called the four questions but it's actually one question we ask four times and it's why tonight is different than all other nights, 'Ma Nishtana.' So by asking 'why' multiple times, we get a diverse amount of answers and we get a much more rich picture," Vogl says.

Passover is about celebrating freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt, leaving a place of oppression for a new land — and about migration and forging a new identity. Inspired by these themes, Vogl's team poses three questions to participants: How does immigration relate to you personally? What is one everyday thing that makes you feel free? What is one everyday thing that holds you back from feeling free?

Just like Passover, Vogl's team asks each of these questions four times.

The recordings are anonymous. Here's an excerpt of one interview, edited a bit:

How does immigration relate to you personally?
I came to the United States as a political refugee.

How does immigration relate to you personally?
For me, it was the only word that my family would live.

How does immigration relate to you personally?
It was a journey that I think all members of my family still have PTSD from. But getting to the United States and finally getting our citizenship really meant salvation for us.

What is one everyday thing that reminds you you are free?
Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

What is one everyday thing that holds you back from feeling free?
I think my family also holds me back a little bit because I feel a lot of responsibility for them.

What is one everyday thing that holds you back from feeling free?
Paying rent because that's the majority of my income and so I really can't do anything else.

A key to the visual representations of the art project based on the questions and answers given. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
A key to the visual representations of the art project based on the questions and answers given. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For each encounter, Vogl gave each participant a specially designed pin. Then she combined all of the pin designs to make a floor mural, which is currently on display, around the Soldiers and Sailors Monument on the Boston Common.

"This project is very much rooted in my family history. I'm a first generation American born in Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July — so, patriotic child. But no generation of mine has ever lived in the country they were born in," says Vogl, whose mother was born in a displaced person's camp in Germany, after her family emigrated from Poland during the Holocaust. Vogl's father grew up in England after his parents escaped Czechoslovakia and Germany during World War II as well.

Artist Julia Vogl standing on her art installation on the Common. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Artist Julia Vogl standing on her art installation on the Common. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Vogl's colorful, multi-textured floor mural is meant to be a place for dialogue and reflection. Each conversation Vogl recorded can be heard online if you type key words she's placed throughout the mural.

"If this project can kind of make someone smile and also make someone think, then hopefully I've done my job," she says.

The project asks us to think about our family history, how our place in the world shifts with need and opportunity, and how we're still all searching for freedom, in ways big and small.

Matthew Grubb, 8, his father Dan and brother Andrew, 5, try to only step on the yellow sections on the not-yet-completed installation. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Matthew Grubb, 8, his father Dan and brother Andrew, 5, try to only step on the yellow sections on the not-yet-completed installation. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Julia Vogl's installation "Pathways to Freedom" is on view at the Boston Common until May 2.

This segment aired on April 27, 2018.

Related:

Maria Garcia Twitter Senior Editor, The ARTery
Maria Garcia is the senior editor of The ARTery, WBUR's Arts and Culture Team.

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