September 14, 2006

New Sculpture To Adorn Street In Collegetown

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All eyes are on Sheldon Court Plaza these days, as sculptor Patrick Dougherty works to create his latest public art installation.
Dougherty, a North Carolina native, is the first of five artists to participate in the Cornell Council for the Arts’ series called “5 Years / 5 Contemporary Installations.” His sculpture will ultimately be comprised of six individual structures and is set to open on Sept. 21.
Dougherty’s highly public artistic style, choice of sustainable materials and engaging building process made him the ideal choice for this latest CCA project.
Prof. Amaechi Okigbo, landscape architecture, a CCA member and project curator, said, “The CCA is a university organization whose goal is to promote arts on the Cornell campus through leadership and vision.”
Although Dougherty intends to complete the sculpture in just three weeks, the project has been in the works for two years. During his initial visit to Cornell, he gave a lecture entitled “Primitive Ways in an Accelerated World” at the Johnson Museum, coordinated growth and harvest of materials with the Cornell Plantations and local growers and visited Sheldon Court Plaza to familiarize himself with the project site.
In his 25 years working as a public installation artist and sculptor, Dougherty has built over 200 structures of this nature. His work has been showcased in countries from Denmark to Japan, and themes run the gamut from faces to teapots to houses.
While the Sheldon Court Plaza piece does not reflect any particular object, according to Dougherty it is more of “an amorphous energy form which enlivens the space.” He added that the sculpture is intended to be “a companion piece for the trees which will hopefully help pick up interest in the Plaza.”
Between teaching a volunteer how to reinforce a structure with branches and securing scaffolding, he described his vision for the Plaza as “something high and grand, without taking up much foot space.”
Dougherty’s installation method is to involve members of the community, who work on the sculpture in two-hour blocks. So far, about 20 volunteers from the Ithaca and Cornell communities have participated.
Ardeen White, an Ithaca resident and staff member at Olin Library, was enthusiastic about the opportunity to learn technique directly from the artist. After receiving an email which stated that Dougherty was looking for volunteers, she decided to sign up.
“I own property around here, and I’m interested in building this type of structure at home,” White said. “I’m here to get ideas and also because I like working with my hands.”
Dougherty, who uses only locally grown materials in his installations, is working with maple and dogwood saplings and branches from the Cornell Plantations and other local sources. He explained that his affinity for saplings stems from the fact that they are “man’s oldest building material, and they evoke an image of hunting and gathering.”
The long term nature of the project allowed for “careful planning and the selection of materials in an environmentally sensitive way,” Okigbo said. He also noted that the entire sculpture would be treated with a fire retardant to eliminate any “combustibility issues.”
Okigbo also explained that the installation would provide an important space for interaction between the Cornell and Ithaca communities, both through its creation and during the year-long period that it will be on display.
“People will feel a certain level of curiosity, and being able to touch and enter the structures will make the sculpture more accessible,” Okigbo said of the doorways built into each piece.
As an artist-in-residence, Dougherty will offer a public “Masterclass” lecture on Saturday, Sept. 16th at 10 a.m. in 157 Sibley Hall. The lecture will be filmed as part of a documentary to be narrated by Okigbo and CCA Director Milton Curry.
Only one element is missing from the sculpture: a name. Dougherty is taking suggestions, so stop by the construction site (you can’t miss it), check out his work, and share your ideas with him.