thinmanlittlebird proposes a work for each pedestal of the Library. On the left is thinman and on the right is littlebird. thinman is a very tall figure that both exceeds the Library’s frame, attenuates its bulk, leans out of the classical plumb line and organically grows up from its inorganic base. Cast in bronze, it rises 30 feet extending beyond the decorative fascia of the building. Obviously, little can compete with heft and the breadth of the Library but thinman is tall enough to draw us up and out of the building and gaunt and wobbly enough to substantially differ from its massive right rectilinear background.
On the right side, in contrast to the arboreal thinman , I had originally considered a second figure, one stout, ponderous and almost shrouding its pedestal. This kind if duality between light and heavy, thin and thick, tall and short, organic and
inert, open and closed is common in my work. But I began to think further about the Platonic purity of the Library and the idea of finding a form that while being similarly perfect would contrast the pervasive cubical surroundings.
I have worked with toroid forms for many years, i.e. floater, 1982. A torus has an everting nature where its surface turns inside out endlessly. It appears both full and buoyant and heavy and hollow. I thought to have littlebird, cast in bronze eight to ten feet in diameter, attached to the wall hovering above its pedestal like a giant halo. If the structure of the building does not allow, I could also see the littlebird sitting on its pedestal leaning casually against the wall. The name littlebird comes from thinking about how the torus, once installed, may attract a little bird to perch on it. I started thinking about casting a small bird (a sparrow?) in bronze and fixing it on the top edge of the torus of littlebird. I have sometimes thought to call this part of the commission proposal “little bird perched at the edge of the universe” (littlebirdperchedattheedgeoftheuniverse) as the torus is often used to describe certain concepts in astronomy. We are not unlike this little bird.
thinman extends our physical selves to the literally improbable. littlebird is the self contained model of our insideoutsidein selves, spatial, temporal, solid and empty, heavy and light, full and full of holes. It is Platonically pure and indivisible but organically continuous. thinman is all about place while littlebird seems a momentary visitor. In the end, thinmanlittlebird tries to address differently the two pedestals in ways that hopefully respect the building and still extend, challenge, lighten and even “play” with its seriousness.
I am a little wary of discussing my work in symbolic terms. As wistful and needy as I am for content in my work, I try to stay focused on my intuitive and formal senses in approaching a work. Even though there may appear to be a clear
meaning by the shear physical presence of my sculptural form in space, I have never viewed my work as a "certifying" process. I want to be as open to the possibilities as the viewer. One of the ways to continue to have a work be "experienced in the whole body" is to keep some distance from a cerebral approach. It is important that the work be intelligent but my best work is always as much mental as physical.
Forgive the digression and possible pretension here stated. I have written a few additional comments:
I think of a library as a kind of field, a universe, vast and varied in its expression of our humanity. In this context, I have submitted two contrasting propositions for the pedestals at the Library. As I discussed in my proposal, my Lannan Foundation Commission presented one work, stretch, that operated literally in space, using the pedestal as a launching pad and most importantly drawing our bodies up into the architecture. Could it embody ideas of transcendence, longing, striving? Yes, it is so, especially in the sense of breaking the hermetic nature of the pedestal. It defies its pedestal, gravity and containment. Does this relate to the human condition? It at least points to the tension between our immaterial and dimensionless spirits that reside in our defined, heavy and mortal bodies.
The spread element was meant to occupy an ambiguous space above its pedestal. Its relationship to "place" is on the border between our minds and our bodies. Are we looking at neuronal paths, vascular systems or a floating body that spreads horizontally
in space while its counterpart stretch reaches toward the ceiling? Is stretch about consciousness and spread about unconsciousness? A sculptor as Pygmalion, to quote myself, "tries to bring the dead to life". To claim that I can really do this is pretentious if not blasphemous. As wistful as I am as a human being, as a sculptor I try to stay in the world of "concrete dreaming."
As for thinmanlittlebird, it is impossible to not take into account the long tradition of and expectation for a "significant figure" in such a significant position as a pedestal in front of this neoclassical Library. It calls to mind the original plans for this Library's exterior and the long history of such circumstances. But we live in a time where the confidence in our bodies as a unified, undivided spiritual whole has been shattered by industrialization, science and mass culture. I believe this is why in our times there is such difficulty with and scarcity of credible representations of the whole human figure. We often experience our bodies as fragments and mechanical parts. thinman could be read as more of a gesture, on the threshold between our bodies and
space. It is impatient with the confines of its pedestal and the Library in the background. Its relationship to the pedestal is tenuous and fragile. The lack of "body" in thinman pushes us to the ethereal and sublime while simultaneously acknowledging our own physical doubt.
This proposal almost suggests two world views and maybe two different ways that we adapt to life....East and West. With the acknowledgement of our current condition, thinman recalls our Hellenic past where the perfection of matter was a firm
belief, the classical ideal. This kind of optimism is today touched with a pathos and sense of loss. thinman tentatively occupies its pedestal and the library behind and stretches to escape these limits. It teeters against the inertia and cubic solidity of its material context. The muscular "heroic" past gives way to the extreme extension of thinman as a gaunt, lean, maybe even wasted figure starkly contrasting the robust background Library. Conversely, littlebird is almost an Eastern idea. The Indian stupa is a touch point for me. We understand it as a primary solid form, massive and earthbound. But as we walk around it, contemplate it, it becomes spatial and temporal and strangely light, even hollow. It is solid and hollow like an egg. It is a graven tomb and
fecund womb. The torus defies its pedestal too but in a different less literal way. It has no anchoring surface as it endlessly turns in and out of itself.
I worked briefly with Jim Turrell as a student and I remember his observation. In the East, in such a situation as Ryoangi Temple in Kyoto, one can "go to the moon by contemplating a rock" but in the West (re the Hellenic classical), we have to be very
concrete and literally construct a rocket to go to the moon.
Both thinman and littlebird are types of transcendence but go about it in very different ways. Both have a kind of delicacy and strength. Both have a kind of pathos. One carries on with the impossible literal bridge to the universe both inside and out, the
other finds us miniscule and light at the edge of its unfathomable and continuous breadth.