An example of work by Mary Carothers. Photo by Stacy Reason.
An example of work by Mary Carothers. Photo by Stacy Reason.

An installation by Mary Carothers, professor of fine arts, is one of five works chosen to be a part of Connect/Disconnect, the inaugural project from Louisville’s Commission on Public Art.

Mayor Greg Fischer will unveil the new exhibit in a press conference Friday at 11 a.m., and the public is invited to a celebration that day at 6 p.m., on the Louisville Loop, between 8th and 12th streets.

Artists were invited to help transform the stretch along the Ohio River, which has been slated for improvement, with temporary art installations that will remain on display for three months. The art is meant to inspire the public to conceive of the space in new and innovative ways.

Carothers’ piece, “Beneath the Surface,” features more than 2,300 porcelain casts of doorknobs affixed to rods of various heights, arranged into a flowing topography, each representing an individual’s story in the community.

Carothers, whose work focuses on photography, collaborative projects and urban a public art, said she chose porcelain as a way to acknowledge the white clay of the Ohio River. The topography of doorknobs is meant to recognize various people and industries connected to her chosen site.

“The installation’s form is inspired by the movement of a river,” she said. “Examining them individually, the knobs each stand like a map pin, marking the land’s forgotten stories of life along this part of the Ohio River.”

Twenty-five doorknob designs can be found in the installation. Some have been collected and some have been designed by Carothers as a way to “surface official and unofficial history,” she said.

Among those she created include a small hand holding a banana.

“Local historian Tom Owen informed me that this area was once known as Little Panama. Bananas were shipped from Panama, up the Mississippi, on to the Ohio River and then distributed from this area to various states in the Midwest,” she said.

Carothers designed a hair bun doorknob in honor of Elmer Lucille Allen, the first African American to work as a chemist for Brown-Forman. Allen is now in her 80’s and a current student in UofL’s Fine Arts Department.

Another doorknob features a lion from Belfast, Northern Ireland. It is from the door of St. Marks Church and was writer C.S. Lewis’ inspiration for the character Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia.

“Including this knob provided me the opportunity to recall Bloody Monday- an act of mob violence toward Irish Catholic immigrants that occurred here in 1855,” Carothers said.

Carothers worked with three assistants to complete the project: Marie Elena Ottman, an M.F.A. candidate; Luke Seward, recent B.F.A. graduate and Oty Stewart, a ceramics specialist.

Food trucks and vendors will be on-site starting at 6 p.m. Friday to celebrate the opening.

Niki King
Niki King Jones is positive she has the best job at the University of Louisville, serving the communication needs of the departments of fine arts and theatre, the School of Music, University Libraries and Alumni – all the fun, creative stuff. Before coming to UofL in 2015, Niki held communication positions in both private and nonprofit sectors in Louisville, Ky., including at Heaven Hill Distilleries and the Jewish Community of Louisville. For 10 years prior, she was a reporter at various newspapers across the country, most recently The Courier-Journal. Niki graduated from the University of Memphis with a BA in journalism and has a masters degree in community and leadership development from the University of Kentucky.