Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community

“Watershed” public art project for Grand Rapids Public Museum -Rena Detrixhe

In March of this year, I applied to exhibit new work at ArtPrize, a major annual art festival and competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had little knowledge of the event at the time, but was encouraged to apply by mentors familiar with my work. Anyone can apply; however, in order to exhibit, artists must secure a venue within the designated three-square-mile area of downtown Grand Rapids. Rather than entering with a completed work, I proposed to create a site-specific piece which would relate to the local environment, emphasizing that the venue should have some commitment or interest in nature and/or sustainability. In May I was contacted by the Grand Rapids Public Museum, an educational institution which focuses on science, history, and culture. Appropriately, their mission is to “cultivate and enrich the life of our community through a deeper understanding of the world around us.” I was asked if I would create a work of art for their outdoor exhibition. Thrilled with this opportunity to create a new site-specific work for a well-respected museum, I eagerly accepted.

I began planning my first trip to Grand Rapids, researching the local ecology and seeking out individuals and organizations working with the environment who would be willing to share their knowledge and experiences with me. On July 12th, I set out on my trip, each day booked with meetings, site visits, and related project research. The response I received from the Grand Rapids environmental community with was incredible. Nearly every individual I reached out to for information, perspective, or just conversation, was totally willing to take the time to meet with me, learn about my project and past work, and to share their own knowledge and experiences. I am so grateful to these individuals for their time and generosity.

The sculpture I am in the process of creating will be made from thousands of individually formed resin droplets emulating drops of water and arranged in a pattern derived from waterways, streams, weather patterns, etc., on sheer nylon fabric which will disappear into the landscape, creating the illusion that the water is suspended in space. The work will be positioned on the lawn of the Public Museum (which encourages education, curiosity and understanding through science, history and culture) and along the edge of the Grand River, the largest river in the state which both bisects and defines the city.

The idea for Watershed stemmed from several places. First, I discovered a unique relationship to water amongst Grand Rapids, its surroundings, and its inhabitants. There is a strange duality here. Of course, residents are aware of the situation they are in. They are surrounded by one of the greatest supplies of fresh water in the world. The Great Lakes border nearly the entire state, the Grand River cuts through the city, water is literally all around them (even underneath.) In many ways, it defines the region. On the other hand, because this resource is so abundant and so readily available, it can easily be taken for granted. When I shared my own experiences growing up in an agricultural community in Western Kansas, where water is often scarce and is currently disappearing rapidly, the tone immediately changed. Of course, there are many parts of the world where water is even more extremely limited and access to clean water is difficult if not impossible. While I cannot hope to delve into these complexities with this project alone, I hope to at least scratch the surface of the relationship to water in this pocket of the world.

There are a few main elements which will define WATERSHED…

Material: The work is a large sculptural drawing which will stretch across the lawn of the Public Museum. The drawing is comprised of individually formed resin droplets emulating drops of water. I am interested in borrowing the idea of ‘simulated nature’ as it exists at the Public Museum and other natural history museums. What you are viewing appears to be water…or some watery substance, but it is not. I have chosen a material that is artificial, and which relies on a chemical reaction in order to come into form. I think it is interesting to think about this in the context of water, something that we tend to associate with purity, cleanliness, and life. Also, unlike most outdoor sculpture, this piece is strikingly fragile. I wanted to express the preciousness and precariousness of water. It is a limited resource that is both extremely valuable and in need of protection. It is easily affected and contaminated, and without proper care, it can become ruined.

Site: The work is situated at the Public Museum, which as I have already mentioned has influenced the work by providing a platform of education about nature and environment, but it is also located along the Grand River. This river both bisects and defines the city of Grand Rapids. Once the piece is installed, it will interact with this landscape and depending on the vantage point, the river will be visible through the work. I am interested in creating this relationship between the viewer, the work, and their surroundings. Finally, the sculpture extends from the ground up into space; thus, like water it becomes a physical connection between the sky and the land.

Drawing: The sprawling form created by the combination of resin droplets is a composite image derived from various water systems. I looked at numerous examples of rivers and streams, including the water systems in Michigan, and integrated these into the drawing along with weather patterns and recurring patterns in nature such as meanders, spirals, and fractals. The resultant image is one that does not exist at once in nature, but is recognizable in its various elements. Depending on where the viewer stands, the form will appear to alter as it interacts with the landscape and changes in the wind, sunlight, and precipitation.

This work will be on display at the Grand Rapids Public Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan from September 23 – October 11. For more information on the project and its development, please visit the project website here.

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This entry was posted on September 13, 2015 by in Uncategorized.

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