Catch Up on Season One of ‘Remote,’ Our Six-Part Series on Contemporary Public Art cover

Catch Up on Season One of ‘Remote,’ Our Six-Part Series on Contemporary Public Art

How does public art in the U.S. reflect and shape our communities and cultural identities? It’s a question that has long fascinated L.A. filmmaker Badir McCleary, who began scouting locations for a video series on public art in early 2023. A year later, after countless shoots and careful edits, the first season of that series would conclude in Brooklyn, where Badir visits two exhibitions that capture the borough’s vibrant community.

It’s a long way from Califiornia’s Coachella Valley, where the first episode of Remote unfolds under the hot desert sun. “Even though [L.A.] is bustling with a bunch of creatives and creative things, […] there's just so much more out there,” says Badir, explaining the idea behind the series’ first episode, where he visits a surreal exhibition from Desert X, a nonprofit organization that produces site-specific desert installations annually. “I go to a lot of places in search of art, especially out and around California,” he continues. “There's a lot of stuff that's out in the deserts and just an hour or two drive right outside the city.”

Though many of his projects support or resurrect visual culture in L.A. neighborhoods, Badir is a self-described “heavy traveler” who helps artists transform public spaces worldwide. In 2011, he founded Art Above Reality, an art consulting and curatorial firm that works with beginners and seasoned pros alike. Since then, the longtime filmmaker has built a reputation for breathing life into forgotten pockets of creative culture. His video series Fallen Through the Cracks highlights overlooked Black artists in short, digestible snippets, while his work with Gallery 38 helped reinvigorate the eclectic arts community in the historic L.A. neighborhood of West Adams. Similarly, the Remote series explores the impact of public art on surrounding cities, landscapes, and communities.

In the first season, Badir returns to his hometown of Philadelphia to explore the city’s historical legacy, reevaluates the booming art scene in Housten and San Antonio, and visits the wide boulevards and grassy swaths of “America’s front lawn,” the National Mall in D.C.

Available to view here only, Remote is an exclusive video series created by Badir McCleary in partnership with NOT REAL ART. Catch up on all six episodes of season one below.

Ep. 1: ‘Desert X’

Remote, ep. 1: Desert X

For the first episode of Remote, Badir grabbed his camera and headed east across the San Gorgonio Pass into the arid lowland of the Coachella Valley. Sometimes called the Desert Empire, Coachella Valley is home to several widely loved events, including the Stagecoach Festival, the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

But Badir wasn’t headed toward throngs of festival goers dressed in flower crowns and grungy plaids. Instead, the filmmaker took a planned detour, tracing a solitary route through the lonely expanses of the Coachella Valley. He stumbled across a sleeping figure made of colorful shipping containers, a totem of loudspeakers spewing imaginary conspiracy theories, and a massive yellow chain-link fence with labyrinthine corridors. Dotted unevenly throughout Coachella Valley, these surreal landmarks are sculptures in an exhibition from Desert X, a nonprofit organization that produces site-specific desert installations annually. Even though Coachella Valley sees millions of visitors each year, Desert X remains a relatively well-kept secret hiding in plain sight of L.A.

Watch “Desert X” on the player above or learn more about the episode here.

Ep. 2: ‘Aesthetic Information as Public Art’

Remote, ep. 2: Aesthetic Information as Public Art

The second mini-documentary in Badir’s Remote series, “Aesthetic Information as Public Art,” transports viewers to the filmmaker’s hometown of Philadelphia, where murals and markers shape the city’s cultural and historical identity. “Philly, for the most part, is a mural- and graffiti-heavy city, filled to the brim with art schools and universities but no true art scene,” says Badir. “It has completely done a 180 turn since my youth by providing more opportunities for arts-based activities and mentorship for emerging artists.”

“Philly is very special in a way of being a history lesson with just steps around a neighborhood,” he continues. “Places, people, and public art truly make Philadelphia what it is. The murals reflect the people.”

Watch “Aesthetic Information as Public Art” on the player above or learn more about the episode here.

Ep. 3: ‘Perception of Public Art’

Remote, ep. 3: Perception of Public Art

The aptly titled third episode, “Perception of Public Art,” explores what happens when public art comes inside (and vice versa).

“You wonder why someone would put something of this magnitude out there,” Badir says of Michael Heizer’s awkward and unpolished sculpture, Levitated Mass, a jagged 340-ton boulder levitating 15 feet in the air smack dab in the middle of L.A. But his statement could apply to any artist he visits in episode three, including Richard Serra, whose undulating sculpture “Band” forces gallery goers to walk, rather awkwardly, around its snaking, 12-foot tall frame. In the episode, Badir also stops by legendary sculptor Charles Dickson’s studio to chat about weather-resistant materials and visits the Hauser & Wirth gallery to see Thomas J. Price’s bronze sculptures inside, rather than outdoors, where they usually reside. “It's really interesting to see these large-scale sculptures in these white cube spaces,” Badir tells NOT REAL ART. “It almost seems like the pieces are trapped.”

Watch “Perception of Public Art” on the player above or learn more about the episode here.

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Ep. 4: ‘Becoming a Public Art City’

Remote, ep. 4: Becoming a Public Art City

The fourth mini-documentary in the series, “Becoming a Public Art City,” trails Badir through the creative hotspots of San Antonio and Houston. “San Antonio is definitely having a cultural renaissance,” says Badir, who lived in the city circa 2010 while working for the Department of Defense. “[Back then] it was mostly a military town; everything was based on the military. There was the San Antonio Museum of Art and a few other art spaces, but not the real boom that it has right now.”

In San Antonio, Badir stops to catch his breath in front of “Árbol de la Vida: Memorias y Voces de la Tierra,” a massive steel and ceramic tree that celebrates San Antonio’s history through community storytelling. Houston, home of the Rothko Chapel and Project Row Houses, also makes the filmmaker’s bucket list for must-see art spots in Texas. Halfway into the episode, Badir hops in his car and heads to Houston for a conversation with Noah and Elia Quiles of UP! Art Studio, an organization that facilitates art projects for urban and contemporary artists, communities, organizations, and municipalities.

“The public art in Texas, for the most part, is very culture-centric, very Texas-centric,” Badir says after returning to L.A. “A lot of energy is coming into [San Antonio], and I think people are taking art seriously as a career a lot more these days […] it seems like the focus is on building an art city, which is very cool.”

Watch “Becoming a Public Art City” on the player above or learn more about the episode here.

Ep. 5: ‘We’re Going to the Mall!’

Remote, ep. 5: We’re Going to the Mall!

The fifth mini-documentary in the series, “We’re Going to the Mall!,” trails Badir across the wide boulevards and grassy swaths of “America’s front lawn,” home of the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. “D.C., for the most part, is small, so the public art really sticks out compared to other places,” says Badir, who admits he’s biased toward the thriving public art scene in his hometown of Philadelphia, where he filmed the second episode of Remote.

If the National Mall and its impressive collection of monuments don’t pique your interest, D.C. has one final surprise in store for art lovers and curious tourists alike: All the museums are free. “That was so dope to me,” says Badir, who visited D.C. for the first time about a decade ago. “I literally tried to go to every museum. You know, there's only so many you can go to in a day without just literally running through them. [D.C. has] a museum for everything.”

Watch “We’re Going to the Mall!” on the player above or learn more about the episode here.

Ep. 6: ‘Embracing and Preserving Community Contribution Through Public Art’

Remote, ep. 6: Embracing and Preserving Community Contribution Through Public Art

The sixth mini-documentary in the series, “Embracing and Preserving Community Contribution Through Public Art,” opens with a segment on Graffiti Pier, a former coal-loading dock turned street-art hotspot in the early ’90s. “I've seen that area for years remain desolate, dangerous, and discarded by the city,” says Badir, a Philly native, who returns home to shoot Graffiti Pier before the “abandoned” infrastructure becomes a hip waterfront. Financed by the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation, the revitalization project is scheduled to unfold over the next three or four years.

Episode six concludes in Brooklyn, where Badir visits two exhibitions that capture the borough’s vibrant community. After touring Faces and Places, photographer Jamel Shabazz’s 40-year retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum, Badir heads to the Brooklyn Public Library for The Book Of HOV, a tribute to Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter and his extraordinary career. “Being that Jay-Z is also from that area adds so much more to the excitement of seeing [his lyrics] so publicly,” says Badir, who’s a fan. “Knowing that he walked those streets, thought of those lyrics in the neighborhood, and even engaged or had friendships with many of the folks who will visit the library is very cool.”

Watch “Embracing and Preserving Community Contribution Through Public Art” on the player above or learn more about the episode here.

Badir McCleary / Art Above Reality: Website | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. All photos published with permission of the artist(s).

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Morgan  Laurens 

Morgan Laurens (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s editor in chief. Morgan is an arts writer from the Midwest who enjoys saying “excuse me” when no actual pardon is needed. She specializes in grant writing and narrative-based storytelling for mission-driven artists and arts organizations. With a background in printmaking, pop culture, and classic literature, Morgan believes a girl’s best friend is the pile of books on her bedside table.