Guest Blogger Tina Aguilar teaches Humanities and Cultural Studies at Brookhaven College School of the Arts.
My conversation about the Lochwood Branch Library continues this week with North Texas sculptor Rex Kare, whose work is on display in the library. He joins the legion of North Texas public artists who offer their creative and cultural influence. The City of Dallas Public Art Program is proud to have more than 300 artists in the Public Art Registry.
Tina Aguilar: This is beautiful work, combining text, form and feeling. I am interested in your interpretation of this public art project and your consideration of the Green scope of work: materials, design and site. What got you interested in this project?
Rex Kare: I had never attempted a public work before this. One thing that caught my interest was that the artwork would be created for a community. It would not be a work that would be made and then disappear into someone’s private collection. The fact that it was to be placed into a library, a space with a specific function, and regularly accessed by the public, made the project a new experience for me. The work would be specific to the site, with its design and materials made to suit its surroundings and to somehow reflect the function of the space. I thought this would be a good challenge.
T.A.: What about the materials?
R.K.: The first thing that came to mind when I saw the design for the new library was that the materials I choose cannot be traditional sculpting material. I immediately imagined that anything I made would be made of some type of plastic or resin. This would pose some new challenges for me, but it seemed to feel right for the space. Since ultimately I wanted to create a work that resembled paper, the urethane material was a good choice.
T.A.: Many viewers of art may not know the “behind the scenes” integral with public art initiatives. Representatives from the community of the project location, arts and design professionals, and city liaisons participate together in a public art process. How did you approach the design?
R.K.: I kept a very open mind. This was a new experience, a different kind of client, a different kind of space. I held no presumptions for what they were looking for. The design process began the moment I met with the selection committee. That meeting, although at that point no design from the artist was required (and for that matter I had not yet been chosen), became a brainstorming session of sorts, where I was asked what kinds of images I would create for the space. I would propose some ideas on the fly and listen to the committee’s input. Some people there were from the Lochwood and Casaview community. This was good, because I could gain a sense of what they were looking for, especially as a community that would be regularly using the library. It took some time to refine down to an idea that I felt suited the space and its location as well as my own aesthetic inclinations.
T.A.: How did you document and coordinate the project coming together?
R.K.: I photographed much of the process. I still am, as I work on completing the second sculpture. Coordination of the project was more a matter of keeping up with the building timeline of the library. There were some delays, but ultimately through constant communication with the Office of Cultural Affairs, the architects, construction and the project managers, I was able to keep myself on track for the first sculpture to be installed before the opening.
T.A.: What was your inspiration?
R.K.: It began with the design and function of the space. This is where spending time visiting with the design architects and people from the community was very helpful. A library is like a repository of information and ideas, where people come to learn, imagine, share. And much of this information is conveyed through writing – particularly on paper. So, that became a critical element as well. That’s when I thought of scrolls of text unraveling and flying through the space. What would end up on the paper took a bit more time. The design went through many versions before coming up with the final design. I wanted something on the front entry piece that would speak to the library’s function. That’s when I remembered William Blake and his “Songs of Innocence.” It was the last stanza of the introduction poem that I believe is a good reflection of that function. For the upcoming main hall sculpture, I’ve decided to represent a variety of writing systems from around the world, written on a series of strands similar to the ones in the entryway. These will intertwine and fill the upper space of the main room as it winds its way toward the high windows.
T.A.: Can you describe the intricacies of making the sculpture?
R.K.: Sure. Since this fabrication process was new for me, most of the tools I used I had to build – from the oven to the bending tools. At first I was going to cast the raw urethane myself, but this posed some safety issues. Luckily, some good artist friends pointed me to a resource that specialized in fabrication of a material very similar to what I was producing. Additionally, the material is made with 40 percent pre-consumer waste. So, I felt it would be even more fitting for this new building. So I had urethane sheets custom made for the project, from which I cut long, 10’ strands. Following scale models I had made during the design phase, I heated each plastic strand individually. I then bent them into shape, using the jigs or by hand bending. Typically, each piece required at least three visits to the oven, then finishing with a heat gun. I then would assemble the strands, hanging them from points similar to their permanent location, on temporary twine lines. Once I found the best position, I would replace the twine with some very thin stainless steel cables and hanging equipment. Application of the lettering was a matter of creating stencils of the text, and then a combination of airbrush work and hand painting was used to apply the letters to the surface of the forms.
T.A.: Civic engagement and sustainable art initiatives were part of the topics explored at the Americans for the Arts annual conference in Seattle last summer. How has your understanding of place and civic spaces shifted or developed with this project?
R.K.: I think it has reinforced my thought that a space cannot only be defined by its name or apparent function. An understanding that the community that uses it, the architecture that encompasses it, and the location it occupies helps define the space as well. It’s too simplistic to define the function of a space by a title. It’s more dynamic than that. So, the creation of a work of art for a civic space isn’t just a matter of creating a work for any generic library. It requires influence from the community, the architect and the artist. The work I created for the Lochwood Library is for its users and wouldn’t necessarily work for another library, even if, say, architecturally it looked similar.
T.A.: Keeping in tune with this place being a reservoir of thought, what are you reading at present?
R.K.: I’m currently reading Rembrandt’s Eyes by Simon Schama.
Rex Kare will install his second sculpture this spring. He has taught life drawing and painting since 1997 and currently teaches at Quad C in the Collin County Community College District.