Camden’s art installation Ourself captures the voices of a resilient city

You can find one installation of Ourself at Camden's Roosevelt Plaza Park. (Image courtesy of NAPA.)

You’re driving down the streets of Camden, New Jersey, when you see two almost triangular-looking structures in the middle of the Roosevelt Park Plaza. There are a few people walking around and in between them, making curious but happy faces.

Get out of the car, because what you’re driving past is Ourself, a responsive artwork exhibition produced by Cooper Ferry’s Partnership and New American Public Art (NAPA), with sound design by Colin Lourie. The piece, made of wood and steel, features infinite mirrored space and a recording of interviews with Camden residents that automatically starts playing when you step between the mirrors.

Ourself looks to explore life in Camden and motivate the city’s residents to go beyond their limitations and achieve great things in their work and homes. “It is a reflective space, literally and figuratively, where positive, constructive inner voices of the local population respond to your presence,” explains Dan Sternof Beyer, the founder and creative director of NAPA. “The hope is that such a space can be used very briefly, on the way home from work, and give anyone a little more motivation and hope, for themselves, their community, and their city.”

“The struggles that we live make us who we are,” one Camden resident says in the recording. Another advises, “You have to believe in you when no one else does.” A man says, “Keep your head up. Don’t let nobody tell you you can’t, especially for the youth. If you have a dream, stick to it.”

It’s an inspiring message set in a beautiful, engaging structure. Camden has been through a lot in the past 10 years, but the city and its people have remained resilient. It’s that optimistic spirit that’s so wonderfully captured in Ourself, perhaps best encapsulated by a quote from the recording: “I love this city because it has so much potential. Even with the things that go wrong here, you have people that actually care, so I think that’s the driving force.”

You can step into 'Ourself' at Roosevelt Plaza Park at Market Street and N 5th Street, and the Salvation Army Kroc Center at 1865 Harrison Ave, Camden, NJ, until October 7, 2016.