Saturday, July 2, 2011

Go Tell it on the Mountain – New Monumentalism: art, nature and community

Using the views of the mountains from the track where the sculpture park will be located as a creative departure point, the artists are free to interpret the site-specificity of their work.

Following are some open-ended questions set by Paul Goodwin, curator to Tate Britain, to challenge the participating artists: with Donna Dodson’s responses...

How can artists (and art practice) convey and/or respond to the challenge of environmental sustainability in such extreme conditions?

Sometimes humans help other species survive, for example, the white stork that nests and breeds annually in europe has been successfully re-populated in the Swiss and Italian Alps. This repopulation has also coincided with a human population boom in Verbier. I want to play with these facts & the myth that storks bring babies in my piece.

Are the grand narratives of monumentalism, triumph over adversity and conquest of nature still relevant in age of global conflict and potential environmental catastrophe?

The landscape of Verbier demands a bold statement. All outdoor sculpture must hold up to the scale of the land and the sky and the changing seasons. However the subject or message of my work is poetic, responding to the ways humans successfully coexist with birds, flora and fauna. This conveys the relevance of myth, soul and imagination.

Is monumental sculpture an appropriate method or scale to engage diverse local communities?

A large scale piece would be a focal point, a meeting place, a topic of conversation that makes local news. It must inspire the curiosity of the casual viewer as well as capture the attention of the patron of the arts. As new comers to this place, artists can respond to Verbier and convey its character in a way that reminds Verbier residents of how it looked to them the first time they saw it, how they felt, what was unique, what was memorable.

What is the relationship of man to mountain, art to environmentalism?

Humans are the caretakers of the earth and responsible for the survival of the planet. We are in awe of nature’s majestic scale, its power and its mystery. Art must respond to the site, the people and the zeitgeist of a place and time and be an inert presence on the land.

How can a sculpture park articulate the historical and the contemporary within a framework that addresses current issues of relevance to local mountain communities as well as global environmental politics?

Art exists within the context of art that came before and responds to the art makers that exist now. In that sense it addresses itself to art history and the stories that make up artist’s lives. I would like to make Art that addresses the concerns of the white stork in relationship to the Swiss Alps. The lives of these birds raise global issues of conservation and science that are political and relevant to this place and to the people who live there. It is risky to make a personal statement about a place, or an idea but that is and has always been the role of the artist in the community.

Update: John Ivory posted a video as Donna Dodson Speaks with Paul Goodwin.

Image: Baby Bringer, 4m tall, mixed media by Donna Dodson

Baby Bringer by Donna Dodson

Gallery Ehva in Provincetown is owned and operated by a visionary artist, Ewa Nogiec. She threatens to leave the USA and go back to her home in Poland if the gallery business doesn’t work out for her. Art is her whole life. In preparation for my recent show, Birds of a Feather, she made an unusual request. She asked me to make a stork, because they are very special to her. They breed in Poland and remind her of home. They are born with black legs and beaks, but when they reach sexual maturity, their beaks and legs turn bright red. Their bodies are white expect for the brush of black that remains on the wingtips. As I developed a wood sculpture, White Stork, this bird took flight in my mind.

Kiki Thompson is a friend and fellow sculptor I met in 2001 at the International Sculpture Center conference in Pittsburg, PA. We became penpals that summer. When she was in NYC in the summer of 2010 doing a Public Art residency at the School of Visual Arts, I went down to visit. It had been over a decade since I had seen her. She mentioned an exciting sculpture project that was taking shape in the hands of Madeleine Paternot and herself. She invited me to come back another time for a lunch meeting where they presented their ideas for launching an artist residency and sculpture park in Verbier Switzerland where they both have roots. 3D foundation was born on that day.

When I received the news that I was invited to be an artist in residence and to create a monumental work of art in the Swiss Alps, I started doing some research to generate ideas. Birds were on my mind this year, and I found two possibilities, the white stork and the bearded vulture, since both birds breed in high altitudes, and both have been successfully repopulated with the help of human beings and conservation efforts. I mentioned both ideas to Kiki and she replied that the stork would be special because there had been a population boom in Verbier. When she was pregnant, there were 20 other women who were pregnant in the small mountain village of 2000. I took a photo of the White stork with me that served as a maquette for my piece, Baby bringer, or La Cigogne [French translation].

She is both a celebration of fertility and motherhood as well as a subversion on the popular myth that storks bring babies in a diaper clasped in their beaks.

Update: 3D Foundation Artist Residency and Sculpture Park gets some press coverage on Verbier web TV of Kiki Thompson in the park with the sculptures in winter.

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