I was awake at 1AM thinking about what moves me in sculpture. The current RING DANCE series holds me fascinated, and I was wondering what it is about that. The best answer I can come up with is “form and interplay of forms”, or “form and movement.”
When I equate interplay of forms with movement I realize I’m making a distinction that defines movement in a particularly subtle way—a way that excludes mechanical motion. Maybe I should come up with a new word, but I can’t think of one. So let’s talk about movement and experience—about perception.
Have you been to a sculpture park that includes a piece or two that catches the wind to create motion, or is motorized to rotate, or operate—repeating some cycle of motion? We do notice it immediately. That’s because the brain is wired to notice and assess motion very quickly. It’s a survival instinct, at the deepest levels of perception. Something moving might be a rock aimed at my head; I need to know about that as soon as possible.
Motion might also indicate running water, or a food source. As hunters living in the earth environment we have developed senses and sense reactions that assist in survival here. The tendency to quickly notice when a new motion comes into our field of view comes in handy crossing the street, and it’s very useful to advertisers. Ever wonder why those youths on the street corner are frantically waving signs for cheap mattress stores? Just as when there’s a TV on at the bar, or you are near the flickering flames of a fire—you can’t NOT notice it. Motion—particularly new motion—draws our attention.
Intriguingly, the same hard-wired feature causes us to dismiss movement that repeats. Once it’s no longer novel the brain begins to rule it out, or see past it—so that we won’t miss the newer motion that could arrive at any second. This explains what happens with those enjoyable pinwheels and other whirly-gigs at the farmer’s market. Very attractive at first, so we buy them. But with familiarity we stop noticing. It’s a good trick, you might say a cheap trick. That kind of motion doesn’t interest me in sculpture. I’m looking for forms that move us in more resilient ways.
The movement that I look for in sculpture is more closely related to the experience of walking through a landscape. The observer moves, and as the observer moves the perspective flows, lining up different features of the landscape in a constantly shifting dance of perceived relationships. In the forest, various trees line up then move apart; as the angles and curves play in the eye you experience a flow of perception. Same with walking through a redrock canyon, or in a cityscape of various building-forms, separated by streetscapes. It’s the perceptual movement that interests me, the observer’s interaction with form.
So I look for elements or collections of elements that offer opportunities for interplay with the passing eye. Sometimes a perspective stops me cold, and I want to consider the pleasing arrangement that has come together—I might even come back again and again to watch it line up in just that way. Then I move a little, and another surprise coalesces, from a different perspective. That’s the movement I’m talking about. I’m not always sure what will make it happen, but I love it when I find that it has.
Art and Practice
Don Freas is an artist, writer, and poet in Olympia, Washington.