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Sculpture Casting Project in Zürich, 2014-2015 and
sculpture exhibtion at the plaza of St.Peters Church, Zürich,
14. May - 30. October 2016

How does one define ‹site-specific› in public sculpture today? Is it possible to reconcile personal artistic expression with making public art as well? Do people realize how much work goes into creating monumental sculptures? Why do so many public sculptures in Zürich and other cities go unnoticed?

These are some of the questions I asked myself as I began to realize an exciting project in Zürich in the fall of 2014, when I spent a number of days with my students taking casts of different sculptures and statues throughout the city. With the help of ‹Art in Public Spaces in Zürich› (Bernadette Fülscher, Chronos Press, 2012), one hundred and fifty casts were taken from forty figurative, animal, and abstract public works. This includes a cast of the shoe of Zwingli from his statue at the Helmhaus too. I used the casts to create a large figure at the studio in Ottenbach, Kanton Zürich. The work is called ‹Multitudes› and pays homage to the wide range of public sculpture in Zürich.

It is also a tribute to the art of sculpture and the vibrant energy of city inhabitants. The work should enable one to see the city with new eyes. It draws from a wide range of works including well-known artists such as Auguste Rodin and Henry Moore, and little known local artists like Ida Schär Krause and Luigi Zanini. It includes works of artists long gone and those working today. The project has been generously supported by the Zurich Police Department, The Department of Art in Public Spaces Zürich, Zürich Transit Maritime (Hafenkran), and the Zürich Art Museum.

The casting work took place in full public view and allowed for lively discourse with curious people passing by. It brought normal sculpture practice out on to the street, where it took on the role of performance. The work in open-air transformed the city to an open-air studio. It enabled citizens hustling to work to experience the sculptor`s work first hand. It was a rare opportunity to observe the unseen processes and materials that created the public sculptures around them.

The title of the work comes from New Yorker Walt Whitman’s epic poem ‹Leaves of Grass› (1855). In his most famous work, Whitman argues for a society without hierarchies, enriched by its diversity, virtues, imperfections and the individual characters of those who make it up. He speaks of the need for citizens to be large, generous, and tolerant of spirit, but also for the need to deal well with inner contradictions:
«Do I contradict myself? Very well then... I contradict myself; I am large... I contain multitudes...»

The sculpture is four and a half meters high and is made of plaster and burlap over a steel, wood and wire mesh armature. The general shape represents an elongated human figure in a striding posture, similar to Alberto Giacometti`s iconic late works. Applied over this form are the casts collected from around the city. The many faces, hands, feet, paws, hoofs, breasts, male and female parts are placed in proper anatomical position. Elements from abstract works, text, inscriptions fill in the spaces in between. Numbers are applied to identify the sources of the casts, but along with the texts, express thought itself: the numbers and words we carry around with us all day in our heads. True to Whitman`s edict, there is no depicted hierarchy of form or style.

On closer inspection, the striding figure is actually walking in two directions simultaneously and appears to be dividing like a chromosome. It seems capable of endless self-replication, renewal and or polarization. The work is a poignant portrait of humanity as solitary individual and vibrating multitude at once.

It was routine in the past that in warmer months, large weather-vulnerable plaster sculptures were exhibited temporarily in public spaces. Continuing in this tradition, ‹Multitudes› will be exhibited in the plaza directly in front of historic Saint Peter’s Church in the center of Zürich, from May until October 2016.

The courtyard of Saint Peters is an ideal place for the sculpture for a number of reasons. The work is very much about Zürich and the church sits in the middle of the old city. The reform oriented, humanist ideals that inspired Whitman’s poem and ‹Multitudes›, are embodied by Saint Peter’s. However, the sumptuousness of the work strongly challenges the ‹Bilderverbot› or prohibition of visual imagery of the Reformation. This creates an invigorating conceptual tension.

Sculpturally speaking, the plaza provides an excellent, protected, spacious and intimate viewing space. The famous clock face of the church establishes the meaningful element of time as a backdrop to the work.

Nicholas Micros

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