Look Up, An Asbury Pride Celebration, currently on display in the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall, was created by Gene Mignola, Fun House co-founder and textile printer for costumes on Broadway, dance, and opera. Requiring a year and a half from development, production, to final installation, Look Up celebrates the 31st anniversary of Jersey Pride and will fly in the Grand Arcade, Convention Hall, on the Asbury Park Boardwalk for the month of June.
A Bit of History
In 2008, Gene relocated his NYC print studio to Asbury Park and opened a store with his partner on Cookman Avenue. Gene immediately jumped into the Asbury Park art scene, befriending gallerist Jenn Hampton and working with artists Porkchop and Bradley Hoffer to create printed textiles for the show Art Bloc for Parlor Gallery.
As the store pivoted into original designs and production of Asbury Park-inspired merchandise, Gene spearheaded the collaboration between Fun House and the Wooden Walls Project, Asbury Park’s mural non-profit, and worked with mural artists to develop tote bags, beach towels, and designs for t-shirts inspired by their artwork along the boardwalk.
Gene’s love of Asbury Park goes back to his childhood. In the 1960s Gene and his brothers would accompany their father, who played oboe for the New Jersey Pop Orchestra, to the bandshell atop the Fifth Ave Pavilion. After five minutes of Sousa the boys would sneak out to enjoy the amusements and rides on the boardwalk, returning to the bandshell before the end of the concert.
In early childhood Gene discovered a passion for textile. His grandmother taught him to knit, and sewing was encouraged in the Mignola household. The spark that struck Gene’s imagination was when a kindergarten teacher taught her young students silk screening. Later, Gene the Eagle Scout would weave his summer hiking experiences into a tapestry. At Boston University he began his studies as a Weaving Major, then switched to Surface Design, earning a Bachelor of Applied Arts when he began his road to mastering textile design and production.
In 1992, Asbury Park hosted its first Pride Festival. Then, as a member of Team New York Aquatics, Gene and LGBTQ+ swim team members marched in the Pride parade, selling original t-shirts and merchandise at the festival rally to help fund the team’s trip.
Genius & Inspiration
Working in textiles, Gene is inspired by the works of Christo and Jeanne-Claude such as Running Fence should the highlighted titles be italics? and Ponte Neuf Wrapped. We visited the Christo’s The Gates, Central Park, New York City,
1979-2005, where the interaction of fabric, the landscape, the elements, and the viewer, as well as the physical construction of The Gates, were core to Gene’s intention for the Look Up installation.
Look Up is also a reference to the Archangel cry “Look up, prepare the way,” in Prior Walter’s AIDS-induced fever dream from Tony Kushner’s epic play Angels in America. AIDS decimated a huge portion of the LGBTQ+ community at the height of the pandemic that went ignored by public officials for years. Look Up is also a tribute to those in our community who did not survive AIDS to celebrate Pride in the new millennium.
In construction and assembly of Look Up, Gene spent over 300 hours sewing 700+ yards of fabric and 200+ yards of thread. The stripes were laid out from the front of our loft apartment to the back, the measurement for 90’. Once assembled and placed in the atrium of the Grand Arcade, Look Up would measure 40’ x 90”, suspended 45’ above the viewer.
In Gene’s Words
Like any large-scale installation, there were many twists and turns along the way. From sourcing Flame Retardant Fabrics, to having a space large enough to sew and assemble. Not just any gay flag, something special for Asbury Park. I wanted bunting, billowing stripes that will ripple with the breeze like the movement at the surface of the Ocean which it is so close. Topsy Turvy.
The original flag featured eight colors, each having a different meaning. At the top was hot pink, which represented sex, red for life, orange for healing, yellow signifying sunlight, green for nature, turquoise to represent art, indigo for harmony, and finally violet at the bottom for spirit.
The original Pride flag was created in 1978 by artist and openly gay military veteran Gilbert Baker at the request of Harvey Milk. The design underwent several revisions after its debut, the most common Pride flag now consists of six stripes: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The flag is typically displayed horizontally, with the red stripe on top, as it would be in a natural rainbow. In 2017 Philadelphia adopted a revised version of the flag “More Color More Pride” with the brown and black stripes at the top of the six-color flag. It is this inclusive Pride flag that would inspire Gene to create a, eight-color striped installation, as representative of the LGBTQ+ community and Asbury Park itself.
We invite you all to come out and enjoy some time in our beloved Asbury Park during Pride Month. There is so much to do, so many restaurants to visit, shops to explore, and of course, the boardwalk. When you enter the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall, don’t forget to Look Up!