THE ARCHITECTURE OF THE UNIVERSITY OF OREGON
|Artist: Suikang Zhao.
Location: Student Health Center
Reprinted from Inside Oregon, August 6, 2007:
"Steel Vine conveys messages of healing, wholeness to the campus community"
New York City-based artist Suikang Zhao is working on campus with welding torches to mold and twist steel into art. Messages embedded in the vines reflect the healing that happens in the building, Zhao said.
Messages of health and wellness in 26 languages will be woven into an intricate series of vine-like, steel sculptures crawling up parts of the University of Oregon Health and Counseling & Testing Center.
"In the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech, it is imperative that mental health centers on campuses across the country are not only welcoming, but actively set a tone of well-being. This art project is a big step in that direction," said Robin Holmes, vice president for student affairs at the University of Oregon.
The suspended steel designs mark the finishing touches on a $10.8 million remodeling and expansion project of the building that houses both the university's Health Center and the Counseling & Testing Center. New York City-based artist Suikang Zhao is working on campus with welding torches to mold and twist steel into art. Messages imbedded in the vines reflect the healing that happens in the building, Zhao said. The project is in keeping with a longstanding tradition of public art in Oregon, which in 1977 became of one the first states to devote a portion of construction costs to works of art.
During a visit to the UO in the fall of 2006, Zhao collected messages of healing and wholeness submitted by many in the university community. Submissions were in several languages, ranging from Japanese and Korean to Hawaiian and French. In the project, Zhao is weaving the words into overlapping spirals of letters, which aren't easily read. Instead, visitors will be able to use a key to find the sentiments, such as the word "harmony," which are spelled out in the project. The organic nature of the spiraling steel letters mimics both the interconnectedness and ambiguity of life, said Zhao, who was 29 when he moved to the U.S. from China in 1986.
"The messages in this project can't really be defined or explained. They can only be experienced," he said. "Like much of what happens in life, this project is ambiguous. There's a rhythm and pattern to it, but like so much in life it can't be defined."
Zhao, a professor of fine art at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, has completed public art projects all over the country, including ones in Denver International Airport, the Portland City Planning and Development Center, and the Phoenix light rail system. A committee with representatives of the students, the UO Health Center, the Counseling & Testing Center, the UO Office of Planning, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, Boora Architects and the Oregon Arts Commission selected Zhao's proposal from a pool of applications from artists all over the country. The committee worked with Zhao to incorporate input from the community into the final piece.
"We wanted something that creatively reflected a message about the work that goes on in the building," said committee member Anne Mattson, associate director of the Health Center. "We are really impressed with the degree to which this project does that."
Just as observers look for the messages written into the twisted steel, all people must take on similar searches for healing and wholeness in their own lives, said committee-member Gwen Jansen, of the UO Counseling & Testing Center.
"The vines will be thought provoking," Jansen said. "And like all compelling art, the steel sculptures can lead observers to insights and deep feelings in a subtle way."
Zhao, who is working on the project with two apprentices from New York, Pamsan Cheng and Jillian Leedy, and University of Oregon art student, Reagan Hauswald, will be in Eugene until Aug. 25.
Oregon Revised Statutes require that "not less than 1 percent of the direct construction funds of new or remodeled state buildings with construction budgets of $100,000 or greater" be set aside for art. Oregon is one of at least 27 states with percent for art legislation guiding the inclusion of works of art in new public construction. In addition to statewide programs, there are more than 130 active public art programs which are managed by counties, cities, boroughs, transportation authorities, redevelopment authorities and private non-profit agencies.