Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tree-Ring Circus


The tree rings on the small tree on the sidewalk outside the COPPeR Office are part of the Art on the Streets (AOTS) public sculpture program that exhibits artwork for one year in Colorado Springs' downtown corridor. Eleven sculptors from around the country were juried in and invited to place work around town. I think this work has some properties that are atypical of artwork one typically finds in the area or as part of this type of art program.  And, it may be Colorado Springs' first multiple-sited, site-specific, community-specific artwork.  It might also be the largest.

It's challenging to create a work like this, because it follows contemporary art sensibilities and practices that don't get talked about much here. Maybe this is because there hasn't been anything like this, although an even larger art installation is going to take place in Manitou this October with The Chair Project. This work seeks to expand ideas about art, art making and art's value in the region.

After the work was installed, I emailed the organizers of the AOTS program to illuminate some of the reasons for my work. AOTS gave the installation a second place award, even though 

they did not have an artist statement at the time of adjudication.

As I explained in the email:

There is a gesture toward the businesses and activities in the vicinity of each sculpture siting--not in the rings themselves.  The rings are purposely non-objective and use a black & white color scheme to differentiate them from any common associations with other things. I changed pattern recognition on a couple of the trees to deviate from conformity and habituation of the viewer. One tree has colored rings, but it proves to be the hardest to find. 
The sites I chose were based on several factors:

-the physical characteristics of the tree  (straight saplings when possible)
-the visual aspects of the site  (noisy to serene sites, the rings have a different effect in each)
-frequency of occurrence and the use of both sides of the street (about 3 per block along 7 blocks)
-the kind of businesses or social activities in the immediate area  (the rings could bring visitors to each site, endorsing existing businesses and bring attention to vacancies or new businesses)
-the likeliness or unlikeliness of vandalism 

Following are site selection photos taken in early April followed by completed installation photos taken the morning of June 24, along with my thoughts and reasons about siting. At the end of the email is an artist statement and something about how the rings were made and installed.
Thank you for reading.

- Sean O'Meallie

Tree Ring Circus -
#1.   SW corner of Boulder & Tejon

This is the northernmost site.  Driving south, this begins the highly active stretch of Tejon Street.  There is usually a cluster of people in their teens and twenties and a few homeless folk hanging around the front door of the locally owned coffee shop located on this corner.  Seeing the crowd clustered here as I drive into downtown signals to me the the start of the active street culture of our downtown community.

#2.   320 N Tejon

In April, Richard Skorman, the owner of Poor Richard's restaurant, bistro and bookstore was a candidate for Colorado Spring's first "strong mayor." Richard is a recognized supporter of the creative class in the community, but not Republican in a largely Republican leaning county. I thought including this site would have meaning whether he won or lost the election. He lost. I want to honor Richard's commitment to the community and his aspiration to make Colorado Springs a more interesting place. This block has a huge amount of visitation due to Richard's businesses.

#3.   Tejon near Platte across from the El Paso Club

This area of Tejon St is the loneliest, grayest part of the entire street.  A lively nightspot called Jinx's Place used to be on this corner.  It could use a mural or a projected photo image of the former business.

#4.   SW corner of Platte & Tejon

This is a lush raised garden area at one of the most used intersections downtown.  Drivers wanting to bypass the shopping district or enter the shopping district, either cross or turn south onto Tejon St at this intersection.  The neighborhood immediately turns more urban.  Acacia Park is to the east.  The El Paso Club, the oldest man's club west of the Mississippi, is to the north. 

#5.   226 N Tejon

I love the urban clash of bikes with the tree here.  I intentionally kept the rings high on this one so that the use of the tree for securing bikes could continue. I also wanted to honor Mountain Chalet, one of Colorado Spring's favorite downtown fixtures. The bikes belong to residents of The Albany, a low income apartment house. The residents were very accommodating during the installation, removing all their bikes for the two hours necessary to install the armature and rings. They look after the artwork and are careful not to lean their bikes on the rebar.

#6.   214 1/2 N Tejon
Here's an empty storefront. It's been empty a long time. There are a few of these as backdrops to the tree treatments. Not only does the place look vacant, but it looks disregarded. I wondered if calling attention to this area would help advertise the location for the owner and additionally, for a new tenant.

#7.   Acacia Park

What an important urban community space this park is. Here, I'd like to honor Kat and Bob Tudor for their gifts and investments in the community. Their wildly popular Uncle Wilbur Fountain plaza is in the background below.

#8.   124 N Tejon

I chose this tree because of the setting and rhythm of the placements along the street.  Johannes Hunter is a long time downtown jeweler. I decided to incorporate a more intricate and lacy design motif on the rings. Michelle's candy store, once famous for its lace candies, chocolates and soda fountain, now defunct, slides into decrepitude next door.

115 N Tejon

Primarily chosen for physical and rhythmic reasons, I notice that the storefront advertises artmaking experiences available to anyone coming to their open classes.  Right next door is Lasko Fine Art, a very small art gallery finding a way to survive.

#10.   112 N Tejon

Bryan & Scott Jewelers has been around for 70+ years. It's my local gallery. Owner Roberto Agnolini has been supporting artists and the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center for many years. The business and building are up for sale.

#11.   31 N Tejon - SE corner N of The Famous

This site offered a bit of a sidestep from the Tejon Street busyness, although a lot of vehicles and people go by. It seems a little off the path, but it's a nice little oasis. The spacing rhythm and backdrop led me to select this tree. The tree is full of 2" thorns. There's usually a homeless person sitting in the shade here. There's some office space available in the building behind.

#12.   30 N Tejon

Another empty storefront. Shewmaker's Cameras was an important resource for many artists in the community for many years. I knew a few of the employees. Not sure where they are now.

#13.   19 N Tejon

I'm not sure what all goes on in this building, but I needed a tree in the area and I thought the rings would fit with the architectural design of the entrance. There's a bank in the lobby and the county Public Defender's office. Perhaps the building is owned by LandCo, a local real estate developer in bankruptcy and tied to political and financial shenanigans with the former mayor and the U.S. Olympic Committee. The site is near the rowdy Cowboys bar and required a sturdy ring and armature.

#14.   3 N Tejon

Downtown's new 7 Eleven. This is on the corner of downtown's central intersection. Here the city is quadrisected into North, South, East and West. The building houses another bank, or used to. Now, a lot of youth and homeless hang out there and the downtown community makes good use of the convenience store's convenience. This tree required some of the largest rings in the installation, and sits kitty-corner from another large tree with rings. 

#15.   6 S Tejon:

Here North Tejon becomes South Tejon. US Bank has been a corporate financial sponsor for AOTS since it began. I used to bank at this location when it was Colorado Bank Exchange and had built some of the cabinetry in the lobby years ago when I was in that trade. This tree also required large rings. It plays a little with the tree in front of 7 Eleven, located diagonally across the intersection from this tree. A statue of Spencer Penrose is located nearby. 

#16.   15 S Tejon

The Ritz restaurant has been a local fixture for many years. My daughter works there and I know some of the employees. Every once in awhile, there's a scuffle or a stabbing within arm's length of this tree.  The tree also gets lots of water from leftover drinks and I suspect some mineral nutrients from an occasional puking. This probably goes for a number of the trees downtown. Here, the ring's black and white motif echos that of the Ritz. The bouncers and staff are helping to keep an eye on the sculpture.  

22 S Tejon

To foster alertness, I decided to use color on these rings. The sapling is one of the skinniest in the array and it's also tall. I chose this location for rhythmic layout reasons.

111 S Tejon

David Jenkins and his son Chris are developers and philanthropists and major supporters of the AOTS program. They've invested heavily in the community. I know Chris somewhat and I've spoken with David on the phone a few times. I wanted to acknowledge their contribution to local cultural organizations. I think the sophistication of the rings contrasts the sophistication of their architecture here, but both are clean modern ideas. During the installation of these rings, we were accosted by building security and threatened with dynamic emergency art extraction (they own the sidewalk!) until they discovered a gap in their internal communications. Now, Michael The Security Guard, and I are cool.

#19.   121 S Tejon

This tree, the smallest in the array, sits a few steps from the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR), a fledgling, community-supported organization that works to gather and disseminate information about cultural organizations and happenings to the community and tourism interests. It also works to educate and seek support for these same entities. This is a worthwhile effort by an earnest and dedicated group of civic-minded cultural activists. 

#20.   The Pioneers Museum

This former courthouse and county seat houses one of the most important historical collection of art and artifacts in the region.  Director Matt Mayberry is a dedicated historian, curator and cultural leader. The setting is quite nice. The rings, subtly present in the landscape. This is the last and southmost tree in the installation.

Tree Ring Circus is a multiple-location, site-specific art installation that makes use of intimate knowledge for the activities and history of the Tejon Street corridor in which it is sited.  The rings are specific to each tree and setting upon which they are situated.  The rings were fabricated about one mile from the site using local labor.
The artwork addresses the stated aims of the AOTS sculpture program.  The artwork is intended to fulfill the year long duration of the program and no longer.  The materials are impermanent and will not be re-sited or sold, but destroyed during their removal.  The artwork concept was planned to precisely meet the parameters of the AOTS program and yet, by intention, expand the possibilities of the program, enrich opportunities for artists and those invested in the success of the program and of downtown Colorado Springs.

The rings are non-objective, non-representational sculptural forms intended to evoke curiosity about their unlikely occurence, placement and recurrence along the streetscape, or to just be enjoyed for their existence.  The artwork
 is original and non-traditional.  It establishes its own syntax from which any viewer can derive meaning, question or enjoyment. 
All the rings are different across 20 different sitings.  They can be viewed and considered while driving or while walking the street.  The work is urban in conception, nature and setting and acknowledges the community and activities in which it exists and which support it.
Media / Fabrication / Installation:
The sculptures are made of Styrofoam sheeting, readily available from building suppliers and sold as insulation.  Foam circles were sawn to size, laminated to thickness, then hand shaped with rasps and sandpaper.  The rings were painted with exterior grade wood glue before being covered with two layers of paper saturated with the same glue.  The rings were then primed and painted white before masking for black paint.  The paints are all exterior grade.  Each ring was then sawn in half and labeled by site.  The rings are supported by 3/8" rebar posts driven into the ground to a specific height.  Usually the rebar needed to be driven into the ground 6-10 inches from the base of the tree to avoid roots, then bent to conform to the tree.  Steel rings of varying diameters were hand-formed in the studio then bent around the tree and wired to the rebar.  The foam rings were glued to the steel rings and rebar using silicone caulking.  Soft urethane foam spacers attached to the inside of the rings prevent the sculptures and rebar from knocking into the tree.  Nothing is attached to the tree.