Before creating spectacular stone-and-glass mosaics that wind up the interior of Fiterman Hall, multi-media artist Andrea Dezsö reflected on the building’s history—re-opening ten years after being destroyed on 9/11.
“I was downtown during the attacks,” Dezsö says. “I had that experience of shock and destruction, and after that I was very nervous about what’s coming toward us in the air, so I asked myself, ‘What could be coming at us, that brings some element of healing; flying things we can delight in?”
The answer, she decided, is butterflies, dragonflies, bumblebees and doves.
These creatures now soar amid a 78-foot-tall vine and profusion of plants and flowers in multi-story mosaics titled Up Above and All Around, that brighten the walls of Fiterman Hall.
“I invented many of the plants,” Dezsö says, “but the animals are indigenous to the area.”
She also notes that “the mosaics spiral up to mirror the architecture of the staircase in Fiterman Hall, and suggest the positive energy of upward movement."
A commitment to public art
Andrea Dezsö was one of many artists submitting proposals to create mosaics for Fiterman Hall, a process that began before the new building opened in August 2011.
Eventually, she was invited to meet with a panel including representatives from CUNY and from Fiterman’s designer, the architectural firm of Pei Cobb Freed & Partners.
Also on the panel was Senior Project Manager Stefan Thiersch from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY), and BMCC representatives including VP Scott Anderson, art professor Sarah Haviland and student Ecclesia Eddy.
Once she was selected to create the murals, Dezsö visited Fiterman Hall during the last stages of its construction, envisioning the murals as she walked the dusty concrete floors and walls were installed over sheets of metal, intended to support the hanging of public art.
A team effort
Dezsö first rendered the mosaics in 8-by-10-inch, color-pencil illustrations, then worked closely with mosaic artisan Stephen Miotto of the Miotto Mosaic Art Studios in Carmel, New York.
Together, they poured through hundreds of boxes of tiles hand-crafted at a studio in Venice, Italy. “The molten glass is poured into flat slabs which are then broken into individual small tiles, or smalti tesserae,” Dezsö explains.
Closely following her instructions, the fabrication team at Miotto Studios placed the tiny, hand-cut pieces one-by-one onto cutout shapes to create, as pixels do, subtle gradations of color.
“The way the pencil strokes go, is how they laid the tiles, so we retained the movement of the hand in the drawing,” she says. “Your work is only as good as your fabricating team. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”
Also critical to the process was Adam Gurvitch, who “managed the project on my end,” says Dezsö.
Eventually, the mosaic pieces arrived at Fiterman Hall in three-foot-square panels and the artwork was installed in Fall 2013.
“We suspended scaffolding from the ceiling and used mortar, staples and screws to affix the art securely to the wall,” says BMCC Administrative Superintendent James Boyle. “I made sure the safety and security of the students was a priority during the installation.”
“It really sparkles”
Andrea Dezsö was born in Transylvania, Romania, and “because I am ethnically Hungarian, I wasn’t allowed to go to art school,” she says, eventually earning both a BFA in Graphic Design & Typography and an MFA in Visual Communication at the Hungarian University of Design, in Budapest.
Today, she is known for her remarkable drawings, one-of-a-kind artist's books, intricately layered paper cutouts, embroidery, sculpture, puppets, animation and murals.
Her work has received accolades in ArtForum, ArtNews, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and on NPR, and she is an Assistant Professor of Media Design at Parsons, The New School for Design in New York City.
In a recent event presented by the BMCC Office of the President, the Music & Art Department, Media Arts & Technology Department, Life Drawing Student Club and Sculpture Club, Dezsö gave a slide talk on her work and led a group through Fiterman Hall to view the mosaics.
She stopped at one point to look up at a cluster of bumblebees—“They’re like fuzzy little bears”—and comment on enormous doves comprised of mirrors and stone. “The stone tiles are more feathery than glass,” she explains.
Another mosaic, giant dandelions wheeling across Fiterman’s south atrium wall, rises alongside towering, multi-story windows and a view of the busy World Trade Center site.
“I love the real silver in the dandelion fluffs, and the wings of the fly,” says Dezsö. “If you come on a sunny day, it really sparkles.”