The phrase “Red Bull cube” probably doesn’t suggest anything to you now, unless it’s a jittery co-worker’s desk area or a possibly brilliant twist on the traditional boullion cube. But give it a month. On July 10, Red Bull will install 25 huge black cubes on the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. For the next 10 days, two faces of each giant cube will show backlit photographs of extreme sports: motocross, heli-skiing, spelunking and the like—not what people out for a moonlight stroll across the Stone Arch Bridge will be expecting.
Coming smack in the middle of the state’s sesquicentennial celebration, it seems an unlikely booking for the Stone Arch Bridge—the symbolic centerpiece of the St. Anthony Falls Historic District, which Minnesota Historical Society Director Nina Archabal often says is arguably the most historic site in the state. But the Minnesota 150th-year party is running on a skimpier budget than the Minnesota’s 100th in 1958, leaving a cultural void for an exhibit Red Bull calls “Illume,” which looks like someone outfitted a row of monoliths from “2001: A Space Odyssey” with television screens and tuned them into the Fuel TV extreme sports cable channel.
Red Bull bills it as the first international exhibit of action and adventure sports photography to tour the globe (see video). The energy drink company has so far plunked down “Illume” on a snow-terraced mountainside in Aspen, Colo., in a circle next to the ocean at Huntington Beach, Calif., on a street in Portland, Ore., and in a plaza in Atlanta, Ga., with plans to tour Europe and Asia in coming years. A June 11 press release about the exhibit’s Minneapolis stop got picked up by media as far-flung as southern Mississippi and the United Kingdom.
But finding anyone in Minnesota with knowledge of the Red Bull Illume exhibit turned out to be more challenging than a Rubik’s cube: “Red Bull Cube” didn’t mean anything to the first dozen or so locals contacted for this article. Partly, it’s a jurisdictional problem. The Hennepin County Regional Railroad Authority bought the bridge as a light-rail transit crossing but later turned it over for pedestrian and bike use. Minneapolis city government regulates backlit signs, issues permits for events in most public rights-of-way and has an arts commission and a series of summer arts events called Minneapolis Mosaic. Then there’s the semi-autonomous Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which oversees use of the Stone Arch Bridge, and that appears to be where Red Bull’s arrangement to install “Illume” resides, although the staffer involved wasn’t available for comment.
Spectacular events or events of any kind are rare on the Stone Arch Bridge, now an important commuting route for bicyclists. But when they happen, they tend to be homegrown, not trucked-in, corporate-sponsored events. On June 21, the Solstice River dance event returns to the bridge site for the 12th year. The annual Stone Arch Festival of the Arts (June 14–15) is actually held near, not on, the Stone Arch Bridge. (In their original state, the Falls at St. Anthony were a spectacular attraction, but a tunnel collapse catastrophe led to a federal fix that tamed them for good. The Stone Arch Bridge itself is spectacular, one of only two national engineering landmarks in the state, even if the federal government’s lock-and-dam project replaced with a metal truss the bridge’s best feature: a midriver curve.)
Mostly the Stone Arch Bridge is public space, prized for daily use and enjoyment, that people have defended against even rumors of creeping privatization, so it’s a bit strange to see it commandeered for Red Bull’s exhibit on extreme sports. But Illume is not just about passively gazing at athletes imperiling themselves in novel ways. Red Bull’s 8-foot cubes will create a slalom course for bicyclists trying to get to work across the bridge.