Vermont Arts Council opens cordwood art project
By DAVID W. SMITH
Oct. 16, 2017
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Right now, the sculpture garden of the Vermont Arts Council resembles a lot of driveways and backyards in Vermont — it's graced by a pile of cordwood.
This one, built from a delivery of four cords, is loosely stacked about 8 feet high around a yellow post. But the pile doesn't represent an unfinished chore; rather, it seeks to say something about time, place, process and the Vermont economy. It's an art project and — in an abstract way — a performance.
"As soon as we put that pole on the property, the site changed. The performance started," said Nancy Winship Milliken, a Charlotte artist taking part in a two-year collaborative art installation, "SiteTime," sponsored by the Arts Council.
The cordwood, she explained, will frame a series of performances, sculpture and material artwork that will unfold as the stack, called the "slumping" pile, gradually settles and changes over time.
SiteTime began earlier this month during one of Montpelier's quarterly Art Walk exhibitions. Milliken and two other artists from the Center for Public Art— a collective centered at Johnson State College — conceived of the dynamic exhibition that will include other artists.
Michael Zebrowski, SiteTime's curator and a Center for Public Art founder, wasn't specific on future performances. He said the project is fairly well planned out, but will include "details," that will be a surprise to everyone. When the Arts Council contacted them about a sculpture exhibit, he said, the collective's members began musing about a project that was cyclical rather than static in nature.
"What's something we could talk to that's a cycle, but something that's very much about the state of Vermont?" said Zebrowski, who lives in Morrisville.
The idea of cordwood emerged, he said, because it speaks to a process of growth, cutting, transporting, stacking and burning, as well as state economics and the critical importance of staying warm. This wood, delivered from Hardwick, represents the amount a typical family would burn in a winter.
Exhibit participants hope it gets the viewer thinking about both the physical site and the moment in time within a longer process.
"Over time, the wood will settle — that's called slumping because you don't add anything," said Erika Senft Miller, a Colchester artist and the third collaborator. "The wood will dry out. Gravity will do its work."
Minutes before the official opening on Oct. 6, Senft Miller was busy coordinating a team of six female dancers with whom she would take part in an accompanying performance piece focusing on minute movement. Inspired by the butoh tradition of Japanese dance theater, the performers lay on their backs on the gravel surface of the garden, cycling through a series of barely perceptible movements, often with tree branches, coordinated with the help of smartphones located by their heads.
Outside the perimeter, photographers and videographers recorded events. Onlookers divided their attention between the dancers and the work being done at the wood pile, where Milliken and her husband tossed split logs toward the center to better arrange the stack. The steady "kerchuk" of landing logs, Milliken said, "will be layered with the abstracted butoh dance performance of Erika's."
Senft Miller said she's trying to draw a parallel between the motionlessness of the logs and minimal movement of the dancers, while emphasizing the activity and synchronization beneath the surface.
"Trees communicate with each other — at a very slow pace, but they do," she said.
Kira Bacon, director of communications for the Arts Council, said they change the sculpture at the gallery every two years. This year they worked with the Center for Public Art hoping something "a little bit different" would emerge.
"To do something that feels evolutionary and maybe isn't quite clear the first time you see it," she said.
Moments before the dance performance began, Bacon said she was excited, and has been hearing little bits and pieces about the exhibit. "It'll be really fun to see what happens this evening."
The second "scene" in the SiteTime installation will be at the next Art Walk in January.
Information from: The Times Argus, http://www.timesargus.com/