His mission: Build an ingenious monument to our ability to fight the virus

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EVERETT — Stuart Nakamura did the work for him. He wanted to incorporate Everett’s experiences during the years-long pandemic into a public artwork.

“It’s a tough question,” he said.

Everett’s citizen-led Cultural Arts Council selected Nakamura late last year to create the piece. He has a budget of about $25,000 and a timeline of several months to figure out what it will look like. This free-standing steel sculpture will live in front of the library’s evergreen branch.

As for the design process? Nakamura hopes the locals can help. The theme is resilience.

“What you say may affect my thinking,” he said to a thin crowd of four at the library on Tuesday. Have a pen and paper ready for participants to write down their thoughts. Ultimately, Nakamura will edit these quotes and use a laser to etch them into the artwork, whatever its shape.

“I don’t want anyone to leave,” he told the Daily Herald. “It’s almost like we’re creating abbreviated haiku for their minds.”

Tyler Chim, the city’s tourism and events coordinator, said there will be more outreach to solicit public input. This could be in the form of a community survey, or it could be a physical installation in a library where people can add their thoughts.

Arts Commissioner MaryAnn Darbys said the group wanted to make sure people of color were involved.

“We want to represent our entire community,” she said. “I would say this is a great opportunity for the entire community to engage and share your COVID-related experience and how it’s impacting you and your family.”

Nakamura is a Seattle-based artist who attended the California Institute of the Arts in the 1970s before moving to Washington. His public art is scattered in Hawaii and Washington, where he was born. Most of these are concentrated in the Puget Sound area.

“Memory Vessel” by Stuart Nakamura (2014) at Gig Harbour, for the Gig Harbour Arts Council. This stainless steel artwork is a recognition and tribute to the Scandinavian heritage of the city’s founder. The vessel is a structural representation of the classic Gokstad Faering utility vessel found in this part of Europe and is decorated with iconic symbols from Scandinavian art and crafts. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Nakamura)

At Bothell High School, his 2009 work “What the Water Says” is an aerial view of the local terrain, made of birch, glass and aluminum. In “The Origin of Coffee” at Starbucks headquarters, Nakamura turns concrete into woven baskets. Its bronze features glass mosaic pieces. In Kent, huge river reeds made of steel greet students at a local primary school.

The piece will be his first in the Everett area – and, he says, his first “tragically oriented artwork”.

However, the committee decided early on that the work should be positive.

“Sometimes a beautiful piece, even if it’s not a memorial, brings tears to the eyes,” Darby told the Herald.

She said there had been enough grief, death and fear over the past two years.

“Nā Kālai Ola” (“Life Voyagers”) by Stuart Nakamura (2017) at the Innovative Public Charter School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, for the Hawaii State Foundation for Culture and the Arts. Small glass mosaic inlays of six aquatic animals create areas of self-discovery for school children and add colour to the concrete pads.  (Photo courtesy of Stuart Nakamura)

“Nā Kālai Ola” (“Life Voyagers”) by Stuart Nakamura (2017) at the Innovative Public Charter School in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, for the Hawaii State Foundation for Culture and the Arts. Small glass mosaic inlays of six aquatic animals create areas of self-discovery for school children and add colour to the concrete pads. (Photo courtesy of Stuart Nakamura)

“In our minds and hearts, we want people to realize, ‘Yes, we’ve been through a lot, but we’ve made it through,'” she said. “We’re better as a community because of it. … We’ve been able to reach out and jump over barriers.”

There are a lot of images out there that summarize this. Nakamura has several ideas. He clicks on some pictures in a PowerPoint presentation. The waves beat against the lighthouse. A spider web. Lush vegetation clings to the arid cliffs.

Participants have some ideas of their own. a storm. Earth rotates in the Milky Way. Rising sun.

For filmmaker and arts commissioner Tra Patterson, the pandemic has been a cocoon. The time spent in isolation and away from exhausting work meant it was “really time to come in and heal”. Now, it feels like she’s entering a new world.

Over the next few weeks, Nakamura wants Everett’s residents to reflect on how they can build emotional resilience during the pandemic.

“Right now, I’m not a sociologist,” he said. “I’m just an artist trying to turn abstract ideas into images.”

Claudia Yaw: 425-339-3449; [email protected] Twitter: @yawclaudia.

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