Downwinder Memorial

This post is part of a new section I am working on: De-Commissioned work. These are commissions that I proposed and was not selected for, but that would have more closely reflected my true direction in the arts than many of the commissions that I have been selected to create.
This pigeon-holing of creative potential/direction is one of the dilemmas of public art; ie- oh, you sculpt fish, or chickens, or the nude figure, or complex abstractions…luckily I haven’t pigeon-holed myself too tightly.
This Downwinder (term familiar in the Western US for those effected by fallout of nuclear testing) work is the impetus behind the current Standing Female Nude with Heavy Ball.

May 6, 2005

Dear Memory Grove Downwinder Memorial Foundation,

To grow up in the West is to live in the constant presence of the nuclear age.

I grew up in Montana, with an ICBM command post at the doorstep of my father’s secluded ranch. Every Friday afternoon air-raid sirens would sound throughout the city and all schoolchildren would hide under their desks in a “duck and cover” drill. Even as a second grader I realized the futility of this action, but went ahead with the rest of my classmates, knowing that any other action would be equally futile.

We later moved to Boulder, Colorado and lived less than ten miles from Rocky Flats – the military plant where plutonium triggers for nuclear warheads and other ‘hot devices’ were manufactured during the Cold War. Although this site was eventually decommissioned, it has now been slated to reopen for the creation of new classes of nuclear warheads.

For thirteen summers I worked on the Continental Divide above Boulder guarding a remote wilderness area of two glacial valleys. These glaciers contain a hot radioactive layer that global warming may soon expose. This hot layer occurred when a winter storm swept Nevada’s nuclear test fallout into Colorado. These glacial valleys are the primary source of Boulder’s public drinking water.

Now, as the United States military prepares to resume nuclear testing in Nevada, this memorial may have the sad burden of commemorating our future as well. I believe this project requires a work that is both emotionally poignant and intellectually challenging – an artwork that exemplifies the past and also warns against a possible future. This subject matter demands the highest level of integrity in approach as this memorial will stand for so many who have suffered terribly.

My figurative work, while grounded in a deep understanding of the human form, is primarily motivated in capturing the inner life of humanity. It explores issues facing the modern individual; including isolation, existential contemplation, and mortality. Rather than illustrating a particular malady, my aesthetic alludes to the broader issue of duress. In this pursuit I’ve developed unique sculptural surface qualities that utilize the extreme heat of the casting process to craze the figure’s surface with flashing and irregularities – implying the pressures of mortality upon the body.

Within this process, sensitivity to the model and what is unique about their body and persona grounds the work. Strength of figuration is crucial to afford the chaotic casting process and subsequent abstracting effects. This approach creates patterns of flashing where molten bronze partially shatters the mold and areas of shrinkage where the molten bronze chills into itself, creating pitting and cavities within the figure. Subtle weld lines are also left upon the figure as remnants of the creation process. These intentional imperfections of flashing, metal shrinkage, and welding tangibly exhibit the incredible forces that act upon the cast figure – forces that parallel those of radiation upon the body.

An initial concept for this project includes a grouping of life size human figures in bronze, separated by the on-site creek from a small elevated stainless steel sphere. Each figure’s gesture is wearied and contorted by the overwhelming burden of an invisible physical weight – a spherical negative space “held” in the figure’s hands. The figures also resist an invisible attraction between their burden and the stainless steel sphere on the opposite shore of the creek. These invisible forces of weight and attraction affect the entire figure, –implying radiation acting disruptively upon the body.

The relationship derived from the weighted figures standing on the opposite shore of the creek from the polished stainless steel sphere personifies the malignant invisible presence of radiation. These figures, created through this unique casting process, express the dilemma of humanity within the nuclear age.

It is rare for an artist to encounter a public commission that so closely aligns with their most personal direction. Use of the literal figure and the particularly identified issue of fallout-related illness must be approached with non-literal means and I believe my work could uniquely allow a deeper level of response and interpretation.

Thank you for your consideration.

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