Art & Design Division Chair Kim Waale’s plans for her long-awaited sabbatical were falling into place: a potential distant art residency followed by workshops in several locations. When COVID-19 restrictions quashed travel and many venues closed, she redrew her fall leave. The wholly different experience she devised proved professionally enriching and personally refreshing, nevertheless.
Waale ended up being invited to participate in “Personal Programs,” an exhibition at Stone Quarry Hill Art Park east of the Village of Cazenovia. Her close-to-home experience used sculpture materials that also got a do-over: Waale reprised them from a 2005 exhibit of 26 cast-concrete tree stumps once occupying a remote area there.
Now, “Slow Reveal,” as it is titled, provides experience art that is plotted atop the Park’s highest point. The installation of 26 cast concrete tree stumps offer visitors places to pause and use as they navigate the park and take in nature’s landscape. The installation can’t be viewed all at once, which encourages viewers to stroll, follow the stumps, and gain different vantage points. Some stumps are positioned in ponds, others in hedgerows. More are arranged in open spaces. Each weighs over 100 pounds and was originally created by taking rubber molds of real tree stumps, then casting the molds in concrete.
“It’s a very quiet sculpture,” Waale describes. “It’s not meant to command the landscape. It’s a sculpture that is in service of an experience for viewers. This is sculpture you should touch, you should sit on, you should stand on.”
Waale, who has been at Cazenovia College as a professor for 32 years and who has served as division chair for the past four, is very pleased with the outcome of the exhibit as well as the way her sabbatical experience turned around.
“It was gratifying to be able to take the parts of something I’d made earlier and reinvent the way I use them. I’m really happy with the idea of not adding more objects to burden the planet. There’s this idea that when you make artwork, you’re always supposed to make something new, but I think that’s a problematic equation. We don’t really need a lot more stuff. Experiences are in many ways more valuable.”
The concept this time, the artist says, “was less about the idea of nature as entertainment, and more about being still. By slowing down, by being in a place for even a slightly extended period of time, things get revealed to you that aren’t going to be revealed otherwise. Viewers, or maybe a better word is participants or even collaborators, can’t take the sculpture in all at one time; they have to build it in their mind’s eye. They complete the sculpture by participating with it. The material, concrete, seems very fixed; however, the sculpture is constantly being finished in new and various ways by the participants. These ideas are embodied in the title, “Slow Reveal.”
Working Around COVID
Pandemic restrictions also necessitated Waale to be creative about producing art that people could view in these times.
“It’s really very remarkable because the Art Park devised this exhibition to be all about how creative people can continue to make work during a pandemic and how viewers can continue to experience artwork during a pandemic,” she says. Consequently, “Slow Reveal” was created to be experienced by an individual or two or a family group who aren’t required to socially distance from each other.
The exhibit involved working with the entire Art Park staff, from idea to installation, including the executive director, curator, grounds crew, and even an engineer, Waale adds.
“They all supported me beautifully in the construction of it. It was a really great experience all the way around — being invited to do it, creating the proposal, feeling like I synched with the exhibition, and being able to have the help of the staff there to build it. Sometimes you do something and it’s just hard and there’s no easy path. But this really felt like it was just all working out. It was hard work, but it felt right on so many levels. The many hours I spent working on site, with the curator in particular, were very rewarding.”
Art Park Curator Sayward Schoonmaker, noting that the exhibition asked artists to work within the constraints of the pandemic, said Waale’s proposal to make new work from pre-existing art “was a wonderful experiment in site-specificity.”
“Because art is deeply contextual, conversational, and responsive, I knew Kim’s proposal to re-site her work…would elucidate new aspects of the grounds…[with] the new arrangement inviting visitor interaction and conversation with the sculptures. One can sit on, touch, and look at the sculptures, in counterpoint to the loneliness and disconnection we have felt of and with each other during this pandemic,” Schoonmaker says.
What provided inspiration for an outdoor sculpture featuring cast concrete replicas of tree stumps?
The Art & Design Division chair says she’s been imitating nature in her art for a long time, as a way to highlight western culture’s increasing comfort with imitations of nature as opposed to the real thing, citing Disneyland as an example.
“How much of the planet has not been touched by humankind? It’s an ever, ever smaller percentage. I hope my artwork makes people question the extent to which we accept the direction we’re moving in — more and more replication and less and less of the real thing.”