“How do artists and architects visual ideas? How do they differ?”
Who cares for the Sky?

“The Guggenheim-fellow Artist Sabina Ott hired us to help her create the mountain for her exhibit at the Hyde Park Art Center.”

When I worked with Sabina Ott, I realized that architects understand three dimensions, especially the section, in ways that others, including artists, do not. Artists have other distinct skills and, we architects can collaborate, learn from and help an artist turn an spatial idea into a built reality. The plan sketch on the left was very provocative and sexual, I thought. The mountain was like a pair of breasts. The elevation she drew did not correspond with the plan and the idea of elevation. Elevating the mountain and designing it for a staircase highlights the schism between the disciplines of art and architecture but also, in the end, the schism between drawing, modeling and materiality. The final exhibit maintained the geometry of the model–you have to be able to climb a winding stair with similar height risers–but the final forms that Sabina Ott modeled had a roughness about them that was transformative and wonderful. It reminded me of the drawings of James Turrell that do not capture the transformative power of light or the plan drawings of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion that express the cross columns as solids when they are in fact, as Robin Evans famously wrote, “flashes of light.” Here’s Sabina in her own words:

Why mountain? (Text by Sabina Ott)

Imagine a mountain, a big white mountain, filling the ground floor exhibition space at the Hyde Park Art Center. A mountain that spans the length and width and height of the gallery, a mountain with two caverns and a tunnel with small grottos filled with sculptures and sound, and an outer trail that goes up up and up to the top. When you reach the top, there is a chair and you can sit there.  On the smaller peak of the mountain a video is projected across the space to the opposite wall, and on the higher peak as well- each video captures a different aspect of the sky- one night, one day.

Based on Gertrude Stein’s children’s story The World is Round, written in 1939 for a neighbor’s child named Rose, the installation who cares for the sky is an embodiment of the mountain (and the many myths and legends about mountains from around the world) that Rose decides she must climb on the way to her autonomy and self articulation. Carrying a blue chair, she encounters many obstacles, none so daunting as her own fears and thoughts. But she succeeds in reaching the top, with her blue chair and comes to reach outside of herself to an understanding of the world.

Rebecca Solnit, in her book Wanderlust states that “Mountains, like labyrinths and other built structures, function as metaphorical and symbolic space. There is no more clear geographical equivalent to the idea of arrival and triumph than the topmost peak beyond which there is no farther to go… “  she then addresses language metaphors “English and many other languages associate altitude, ascent,, and height with power, virtue, and status. Thus we speak of being on top of the world, or at the top of one’s field, at the height of one’s ability, on the way up, of peak experiences and the peak of a career, of rising and moving up in the world; to say nothing of social climbers, up ward mobility, high minded saints and lowly rascals, and of course the upper and lower classes.”  

As an archetype present in almost every culture, the mountain symbol denotes a higher supernatural power, and a link between the material and spiritual world. We see this symbol in Egyptian, and Mayan pyramids, in Ziggurats of the Middle East, in the Many temple mounds scattered around the world, and in numerous myths (e.g. Mount Olympus) and religious literature (e.g. Mount Zion) as well as the Tibetan and Hindu reverence of the Himalayas.

Mount Kailāsa in the Himalayas is the abode of Shiva.

Mountains can also be a tower of meaning- a universal construct standing above the rest of the constructs in the landscape of our mind.  We develop consciousness in many different areas, and not all to the same level.   Towers of meaning correspond to this multi-modal consciousness, mapping directly to a mountain range or mountain-like temples each at different heights.
Rebecca Solnit, again: “In Christina cosmology, heaven is above us and hell is below, and Dante portrays Purgatory as a conical mountain he arduously ascends, conflating spiritual and geographical travel. A walk uphill traverses these metaphysical territories, a goalless ramble across the same mountain moves through very different metaphysics.”

In the installation, who cares for the sky, the mountain will become all of these things- a site for play and exploration as well as an experience of metaphorical and symbolic space. To quote Thoreau “To the traveller, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form.”
The mountain, its volume approximately 8000 cubic ft, will be engineered to allow viewers to safely climb a staircase up to a top platform and sit on the top in a chair, as well as stop along the way to view various sculptural installations embedded in its surface. There will be a tunnel through which people can walk and two caves, also filled with sculptures and embedded sound. The materials will include wood, cardboard, canvas and polystyrene.  The aesthetic will be similar to that found in my exhibition “here and there pink melon joy”.  Select artists will be invited to create small sculptures that will become part of the mountain, either inside the tunnel walls, inside the caves and on the outside of the mountain- harkening to the notion of a collective experience of the metaphorical mountain.

The piece will lend itself to many different kinds of programing, such as a group reading of sections of The World is Round, projects to be done with some of the Hyde Park Art Center classes, in drawing, painting and particularly ceramic sculpture- whose projects could be embedded into the mountain side. There would also be a performance by sound collaborator Joe Jeffers and the south side step group The ERA. #sabinaott #hydeparkartcenter #RobinEvans #JamesTurrell #thinkinghand #JuahniPallasmaa #williamhuchting