March 1, 2007

Art of Sticks Documentary Creates Global Internet Buzz

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In the ever-expanding multimedia world, two Cornell students — Giorgio Piccoli ’07 and Gabriel Long ’09 — have found their niche. Thanks to the growing popularity of viewer-created content, the duo has been able to globally broadcast their documentary, The Art of Sticks, on Current TV.

Piccoli and Long decided to create a short documentary about Patrick Dougherty’s stick artwork, one piece of which is currently being displayed across the street from Collegetown Bagels.

“We were interested because the topic seemed fairly straightforward and simple,” said Long, who was formerly a Sun staff member. “It’s a unique art form, and we were intrigued from the outset.”

With Long directing and Piccoli producing, they wrapped up filming in October. In early November, the pair — working under the name Pi House Productions — submitted this “pod” to, where it was viewed and voted upon by Current members and staff. It rose quickly through the ranks, reaching fifth on the top 10 list at one point. It was bought within a week by Current TV and has been airing globally since Jan. 10. This is their second video to be globally broadcasted through this corporation.

Among the many online video-broadcasting sites, Piccoli and Long picked this one in particular. By submitting to the website, they were able to be aired on the actual television program and seen in 26 million homes around the world.

“Current TV is a news station for the younger generation. It’s aimed at viewers between the ages of 18 and 35,” said Piccoli. “You often find that news is depersonalized, but here people are telling stories that they actually care about. This is a channel where my voice can be heard. You can’t contribute to CNN.”

They interviewed Dougherty in late September on the last day the artist was at Cornell. The Art of Sticks affords viewers an intimate look into Dougherty’s techniques, as well as his motives and inspiration.

“I’ve been building things my whole life,” Dougherty said in the video.

In terms of the medium, many were confused at his choice to use saplings and branches instead of a more conventional material.

“Initially I started out with clay, but I couldn’t build big things with it,” said Dougherty. So he turned to sticks.

“I like the immediacy of this material: you can shape it easily, you can mark it easily, but with saplings, you can also build really large objects, and you can do it really quickly within a large urban space. I’m using this material for the line qualities; these are kind of like large drawings, and so, I’m just using sticks for that [linear] quality,” explained Dougherty in the video.

The intimate interview with the artist is paired with scenes of him constructing a sculpture. The shots of him actually building the pieces were filmed at Brown University by Tyler Henry, according to Piccoli, since the pieces at Cornell were entirely completed by that point.

The interview with Dougherty itself was conducted at the Cornell site. In the documentary, there are shots of CTB and members of the Ithaca community experiencing the artwork. In one memorable segment, there are two children playing tag inside the hollow sculptures.

“The piece has to sell itself. It has to be good enough so that the normal person that walks down the street is convinced that it was a worthy effort, and it’s worth being in their public space,” Dougherty said in the documentary.

Dougherty was commissioned by the Cornell Council for the Arts, as the first contemporary installation in the “5 years/ 5 Contemporary Installations for Ithaca,” according to the CCA’s press release in mid-August.

“The point of the installations is to put a large amount of support behind a single artist to produce a work that has a longer duration — it’s here for the four seasons,” said Prof. Milton Curry, architecture. Curry serves as director of the CCA.

Dougherty’s work was considered a success in terms of the CCA’s goals toward commissioning the artwork.

“He hits the mark in terms of the reconfiguration of public space in ways that are aesthetic and creative, not about scientific quantification that is associated with global sustainability,” Curry said.

No one could have been sure about the project’s success at its outset.

“There’s always resistance, because in the drama of building, people don’t know what you’re doing. So they say, ‘What’s going on here, doesn’t that belong at the dump?’ Slowly but surely as time goes on, and you’re concocting an illusion from these sticks and directing a kind of feeling and a view, people become much more interested in it,” Dougherty said.

Despite achieving national acclaim for his prolific pieces, Dougherty is an extremely down- to-earth guy, according to Piccoli, Long and Curry.

“He doesn’t have any presumptions of grandeur,” Long said.

Dougherty’s humble nature was solidified in his last line of the documentary: “I let art history take care of itself; I try to work everyday as an artist.”