campus news

Working Artist Lab creates active monument in Silo City

Dara Friedman (seated on the rock in the center of the group) and her students pictured together at the site of the labyrinth at Silo City.

Students in the Working Artist Lab worked with German-born artist and filmmaker Dara Friedman last month to build “River Hill,” a labyrinth behind Rigidized Metals Corporation at Silo City. Photo: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki


Published October 19, 2022

Dara Friedman.
“The labyrinth provides an ancient and living form that works together to help us bond with nature, the divine and the nature of ourselves. ”
Dara Friedman, working artist
UB Arts Collaboratory

Buffalo’s abandoned grain silos are getting a second life, thanks to collaborations through UB with artists, architects, musicians and urban explorers. One such collaboration is “River Hill,” a labyrinth etched into a post-industrial site in Silo City that is designed to reflect the meander of the Buffalo River.

The site, located behind Rigidized Metals Corporation on Ohio Street, is part of UB Arts Collaboratory working artist Dara Friedman’s vision to shape and sculpt the property into an active monument.

The Working Artist Lab (WAL), led by Maria S. Horne, associate professor of theatre and dance, College of Arts and Sciences, provides a space for UB students to learn and experience what it’s like to be out in the world as a working artist-scholar.

“The lab brings together UB students, faculty and visiting artists to develop new projects and collaborate across disciplines while engaging with the artists and community where we live and learn,” Horne said.

WAL hosts renowned scholars and artists, as well as luminaries from the Buffalo community and UB.

“The invitation to come and work on this project was an amazing opportunity to make work that is larger than myself, which as an artist is something I aim for,” Friedman said.

Friedman is a German-born artist and filmmaker who works primarily in Miami. The “River Hill” project is her second outdoor labyrinth; her first, “The Empress,” is located at a Miami women’s shelter. Unlike River Hill’s soft dirt and plants, “The Empress” features a poured concrete path with a seashell aggregate, embedded semi-precious stones and hardy native planting between the pathways.

“Totally different design; similar process,” Friedman said.

Last month, Friedman was joined by Horne and her students, and Josh Smith, director of ecology for Rigidized Metals and collaborator on the project, to commemorate the fall equinox and plant spotted bee balm, mountain mint and giant purple hyssop throughout the labyrinth, which will also be seeded with chamomile and yarrow next spring.

“We are thrilled with the opportunity to partner with Dara and the UB Arts Collaboratory to bring this vision to life. It will have a huge ecological impact in addition to enriching the human experience of the site,” Smith said.

A person carrying a plant to the spot it will be placed in the labyrinth.

Students spent their Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings this fall semester working on River Hill in Silo City. Photo by Meredith Kulwicki

After a meditative walk through the path, Friedman and students rolled up their sleeves and started digging up the soil to place the plants in their strategic locations, which will outline the path of the labyrinth.

“We’re planting with pollinators that have been proven to be too spicy for deer,” Friedman said. “Some of the plants have been grown from seed gathered in the wild. There’s going to be about 3,000 pollinator plants going in.”

The labyrinth is one continual path — unlike a maze that has multiple paths — that takes on a looping pattern, which Friedman hopes will offer up a fresh perspective.

“The point of the switch backs along the path is to allow the person walking to create a new muscle memory and to see their world, inner and outer, from a different point of view,” she said.

A switchback in one part of the labyrinth.

The labyrinth is one continual path — unlike a maze that has multiple paths — that takes on a looping pattern, which artist Dara Friedman hopes will offer up a fresh perspective. Photo by Meredith Kulwicki

The opportunity to put the labyrinth in Silo City was made possible by Rigidized Metals owner Rick Smith, who has worked with UB on a few other projects in Silo City, including the installation of a trellis on the property.

“We’re thankful for the opportunity provided to us by CAS, and especially by Dean Robin Schulze, to work with the Buffalo community, as well as our partnerships with Dara, Rick and Josh on this project,” Horne said. “It allows students the unique experience to witness and participate in the production process of live art and to collaborate across disciplines with guest artists, UB faculty and community partners.”

Silo City hosts both public and private events throughout the year, and recently hosted the UB Humanities Festival. Plans for a celebration of “River Hill” are in the works and will likely take place next summer.

“The labyrinth provides an ancient and living form that works together to help us bond with nature, the divine and the nature of ourselves,” Friedman said.

Previous visiting artists working in collaboration with WAL included alumnus Alan Zweibel, Michael Mwenso, Grandmaster Flash and Asad Raza.