Tuesday, April 23, 2013

SCULPTURE in SAND and SNOW

In mid-August, 2012, a non-profit public arts organization named Creative Time sponsored a sand castle competition on Rockaway Beach in Queens and invited artists to compete. The participants had three hours to build their work.  I happened to be there for part of this process and photographed some of the projects. This was the inaugural year of the event, and it most certainly conforms to what Creative Time deems as one of its core values: that "public spaces are places for creative and free expression."

The photographs I took that day lay dormant in my computer file, waiting for inspiration to post. Inspiration arrived in late February of this year from the extreme opposite end of our country.  I had flown to to Anchorage, Alaska, with my wife.   On the morning after our arrival, I left our hotel only to discover a series of snow sculptures on Ship Creek, just below the center of the city. What serendipity! Here were the complements to those sand sculptures; and so this post featuring two sets of temporary public sculpture was born. 



Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach at the 86th St. Boardwalk, August 2012


Anchorage, Alaska, Knik Arm, Mud Flats, Early March, 2013

Not only was the sculpture formed from radically different media. It also emerged from radically different environments. Rockaway is a barrier island formed in the Late Pleistocene and Holocene times. It's all sand and flat, and one has difficulty envisioning the Wisconsin glacier, whose outwash had created it.   The tidal flats of Anchorage's Knik Arm and Ship Creek were formed much later by retreating glaciers; mountains still surround the area,  and the town of Girdwood, a short drive up the Turnagain Arm from Anchorage, still is surrounded today by seven permanent glaciers.

Today, the sand remains on Rockaway Beach, but Hurricane Sandy has demolished its wooden boardwalk.  The city is rushing to build a new one by the summer--this time of concrete--but the task is enormous and terribly disruptive.   Anchorage was spared any such natural disasters, although its snowfall for this year was no match for the record total of 134.5" that fell last year.




Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, August 17, 2012, General View


Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition [General Communication, Inc.], General View

Here we see the actual scenes of the two sculpture competitions. In the top photograph, work is in progress at Rockaway.  The bottom photograph shows Ship Creek, which separates the city of Anchorage from its port, where the finished sculptures were judged on the morning before we arrived and discovered them.


Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach at the 86th St. Boardwalk, Tattooed Bather, August 2012

Sand sculpture was not the only art to be found on the sands of Rockaway beach.  Here, the entire back of a young woman is covered with a Japanese-inspired tattoo consisting of two fish and a tentacled sea creature with claws.

Anchorage, Alaska, Tattooed Waitress, New Snow City Cafe

But then, even in the Alaskan winter, the art of the tattoo can be found, if a bit less ostentatiously.  Here, our waitress, Chrystal, kindly agreed to allow me to take a picture of the visible section of her body art.   She works at the Snow City Cafe, by the way, and this is definitely the hip place to go for breakfast or lunch in Anchorage.



Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, Mary Mattingly at work


Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, Tom Sachs at Work 

Sculpting in sand offers the option of piling it up before removing and modelling it, or just digging down, as the group under Tom Sachs was doing.


Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, What the Sand Told Us, by Laura Wass & Amit Greenberg
The concept of a sandcastle generally implies something architectural, castle-like, as most of us have constructed at some point in our beach-going lives.  But the sculptural product may just as well lean towards abstraction or symbolic forms, as in this work by Wass & Greenberg.

Here, the castle is no more than a vestigial capping element, a small, Mesoamerican pyramid atop these abstracted faces.  The title, What the Sand Told Us, alludes to that long-standing dialogue  that artists have with their material, going back at least to Michelangelo and his references to releasing the figure from the stone that imprisoned it.


Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Raven & Bear, by Snow Cats

A similar work of abstraction, also composed of faces, characterizes this snow sculpture by the Snow Cats.  Ravens and Bears are often depicted on native totem poles, and in Inuit myth the former even made the world and is a curious trickster, while the latter was the teacher of man, imparting the skills of survival, of hunting and gathering.



Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, Project by William Lamson

Of all the sculptures, the most abstract was this elegant piece by William Lamson.  Although in an interview he cites a gravel cylinder that he saw in a Japanese temple, it seems to me that his sculpture bears a much closer resemblance to one of the projects of that famous late 18th-century French Revolutionary architect, Étienne-Louis Boullée (see below).


Étienne-Louis Boullée, Project for a Conical Cenotaph, 1778-1788 (France)





Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, The Colosseum, by Marie Lorenz


Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, Neuschwanstein, by Shelter Serra

Other works which embrace the theme of historic architecture are Marie Lorenz's Colosseum and Shelter Serra's Neuschwanstein.  

In regard to the former, I wish that I had stayed around to see how Marie managed to remove herself from the center before the judging.  She did say that she chose the Colosseum because it seemed safer to "start with a ruin;" and, as we can see, she and her friends wore togas for the judging.

As to the latter, here we come closest to the iconic sandcastle, even as its scale pales in comparison to many of the other sculptures.  Neuschwanstein (see below) is that famous medieval revival castle of the 19th-century built for Ludwig II of Bavaria.


Germany, Bavaria, Neuschwanstein Castle, 1869-92, for Ludwig II, by Eduard Riedel




Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, The Ol' Bull & Chain, by AK Awesome

Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, The Ol' Bull & Chain, by AK Awesome

The snow sculptors of Anchorage showed little interest in the iconic architecture of past epochs. What examples I found of snow architecture were clearly of less sophisticated forms.

In the first photograph (above) we see an "adobe" wall that signifies the prison of that Ol' Bull & Chain, but it is the sculpture of the Bull that is its real tour de force.  This, by the way, won first place among the division featuring 3-member teams.

In the case of Alaska Loves Their Radio (below) a transmission tower for KNBA radio sits adjacent to and serves a simple outhouse.   Architecture here is all about function!


Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Alaska Loves Their Radio, by KNBA Radio




Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Moose Hunting, by SFF Group

Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Moose Hunting, by SFF Group, detail

Whimsy plays a major role in this work of a moose with binoculars searching for his prey.  His rifle, equipped with a scope, lies before him on the ground, while a man with a backpack peers out from behind a snow-laden spruce tree.  Is man assisting the moose, or is he the hunted one?   

This received second place in the Family/Corporate Division.



Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, She Was Dreaming of Castles in the Sand, by Jen DeNike

Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, She Was Dreaming of Castles in the Sand, by Jen DeNike

Whimsy also played a role in this sculpture by Jen DeNike, simply as a consequence of its title, She Was Dreaming of Castles in the Sand.  A bikini-clad woman, asleep in the sand, reaches out with her right hand to touch the castle of which she dreams. The team of two also dressed for the occasion with filmy, full-length capes, on which the title of the sculpture could be read.



Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Jesus Is Crucified, by Jon Eric Thompson

Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Jesus Is Crucified, by Jon Eric Thompson

Jon Eric Thompson won second place in the solo division with his six-figure extravaganza, Jesus Is Crucified.   I like the way the haloes, as transparent discs of ice, become ethereal in the sunlight.


Queens, NYC, Rockaway Beach, Creative Time Sandcastle Competition, Multi-level water fountain by Jennifer Catron & Paul Outlaw

Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw, who regularly work as an artistic team, brought in some friends, all dressed in American flag bathing suits, and walked away with the gold prize at Rockaway. This piece may need some explaining, as it is an interactive sculpture.  The five of them sit at different heights, three on raised platforms, and become part of an elaborate water fountain. Equipped with gallon jugs and plastic straws, they take in water and then spout it back out--sometimes at the passing crowd.

I surmise that they are emulating some Roman Baroque fountain, such as Bernini's Fontana del Tritone (see below).

Gian Lorenzo Bernini, Triton Fountain, Rome, Piazza Barberini, 1642-3



Anchorage, Alaska, Ship Creek, GCI Snow Sculpture Competition, Orca Attack,  by Snow Warriors

The winner of the CGI Snow Sculpture Competition for 2013 in the Family/Corporate Division was this work, Orca Attack.  The Orca, or killer whale, has metamorphosed into a bomb-laden fighter jet. It is being guided into position, either for take-off or after landing. 

Among the indigenous cultures of the north, the Orca is seen both as merciless killer and as embodiment of the soul of a human. In fact, in Haida myth Orcas take on human form when submerged and the Tlingit of southeastern Alaska regard the Orca as the custodian of the sea.

That's it for this week.  No politics, just a little fun in the sun...and the sand...and the snow.




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