This Thursday at Artista Vista — the annual spring gallery crawl that kicks off from 5 to 9 p.m. — a piece of public art will be revealed that is unlike any that exists in Columbia so far.
Connecting Volumes, a large-scale sculpture composed of weathered steel and juxtaposing lines and curves, will have its permanent home at the corner of Lincoln and Lady Streets, near the entrance to the Vista Greenway, which connects the Vista to Finlay Park through a 100-year-old railroad tunnel.
The artists who designed and built the structure are Klaus Hartmann and Reiner Mahrlein of Kaiserslautern, Germany, which is one of Columbia’s sister cities. The two artists are known in Germany and throughout Europe for their public sculptures, and are known around Columbia’s art scene because they have been visiting Columbia off and on since the early 2000s.
“We had first contact around 2000 or 2001,” Mahrlein recalls.
And the contact goes both ways. For its 725th anniversary in 2001, Kaiserslautern invited artists from its sister cities to create fiberglass fish — important for the city, whose official city symbol is a carp. Part of the celebration included delegations visiting from all over the world, including one from Columbia that was partially made up of local artists.
In 2002, more local artists — Britta Cruz, Stephen Chesley, Chris Robinson and Mike Williams — returned to Kaiserslautern, where they worked with Hartmann and Mahrlein’s artist collective, Kunstierwerkgemeinschaft, to create and exhibit.
“From there,” Mahrlein says, “we became very friendly. And then they asked artists if they would be interested in making art for a city garage project.”
That project, aptly named The City Garage Project, resulted in a group showing of art created out of materials collected from the City Garage that had been demolished at the corner of Gervais and Pulaski streets.
Since then, Hartmann and Mahrlein have been to Columbia many times to create and show their work, forging a connection to the city that is special to both of them.
“This is the only American city we’ve ever visited,” Hartmann says.
The friendships the artists have made here are much like those between fond former roommates or neighbors. Hartmann and Mahrlein have been staying at the home of Wim Roefs, who owns if ART gallery and represents their work in the U.S., for over a week. Clark Ellefson has allowed the two to use his space, Lewis + Clark, to weld, forge and bend steel to make their design a reality. Lewis + Clark’s neighbors, One Eared Cow, leant welding materials to make things go a little faster for the artists. It’s like one big, happy Southern-German-American love fest.
The work itself, Connecting Volumes, will serve as a symbol of the relationship that has been built with Columbia, the artists say.
“It’s a point of view — an architecture for friendship and different parts coming together in a meeting,” Mahrlein says.
In addition to transatlantic friendship, the work also combines two sensibilities that produce very different sculptural forms. Hartmann has a fixation on the forms of ship vessels, exploring different ways that he can take the unfriendly cold of steel, the vast size of ships, and make them appealing to an untrained eye. Mahrlein, on the other hand, tends to explore tension and pressure. His work often uses granite and steel to explore such concepts, he says, “because one is man-made and the other is natural, but they are both made from the element of fire.”
Says Hartmann: “We were looking for objects that connect our personal work to build this sculpture together. We’re connecting community forms, in a larger sense, and showing the connection between artists. We’re taking those connections and translating them into form.”
The two men would like to see Columbians embrace their sculpture and accept it into the community by using it as a meeting space. The artists envision Columbians coming together to have lunch at or on the sculpture, or using it as a place to relax and contemplate the day.
“There is amazing space in this city,” says Mahrlein, who is used to the compactness of Europe. “We are very glad to have an opportunity to be involved in a public work like this.”
Seen before the unveiling, the emerging artwork was in pieces. Large, black, hard-angled chunks of metal were strewn about the outdoor workspace. There was a miniature model of the work that sat on its one curvaceous chunk. The model was rust-colored — an effect produced through the use of acid. After the final sculpture has experienced some weather, it should take on the same effect. The red rust of the model, with its contrasting and connecting lines, is very reminiscent of the stark industrial art often associated with Berlin.
Still, the artwork carries a message for Columbia. Our city can be hard and sharp in the way its citizens address each other over community tensions, but Columbians are also capable of showing softness and an eagerness to gather together and take a break from the day. To the extent that public art can send a public message, Connecting Volumes is trying to tell us not only to value our connection to Kaiserslautern, but also to value our connection to each other.
The artists will be at the sculpture’s site at 5 p.m. on Thursday during the kickoff to Artista Vista. They will speak about the piece, highlighting how it links Columbia to Kaiserslautern. For more information, visit www.ArtistaVista.com, where event maps and exhibition listings can be found.