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‹THE STRAY› (A Hypothetical Exhibition Text)

Situated on the Paradeplatz in the middle of Zürich, ‹The Stray› is the latest work of sculptor Nicholas Micros, who`s monumental plaster ‹Multitudes› graced the square of St.Peter`s church in the summer and fall of 2016 in the city as well. ‹Multitudes›, created from plaster elements cast from public sculptures around the city, had a performative aspect and was truely site-specific to every part of the city.

Similarly focused on Zürich and conceived especially for the Paradeplatz, ‹The Stray› addresses the time honored and familiar theme of the public fountain in the square. Zürich is famous for its many diverse and creative fountains that unfortunately too often go unnoticed. They are never the less important enough to the identity of the city that there is special department dedicated to care for them. A favorite of the artist is the intimate scaled ‹The Calling Boy› by Ida Schär Krause on Seestrasse in Wollishofen from 1932.

While Zürich is not the political capitol of Switzerland, it is inarguably its liveliest metropolis and the main business and cultural center. Many inhabitants and visitors would agree that the Paradeplatz is the symbolic center square of the city. Tellingly, it is still known to all as ‹Stadtmitte›. One might propose if the Paradeplatz is the energetic center of the city, it may be considered as the energetic center of the nation too.

Although entitled ‹The Stray›, the work could also be named ‹The Tramp›, ‹The Hobo›, or ‹Der Streuner›. In any event, the title may refer to an individual that is operating, willingly or not, away from the group: an outcast, an uprooted transient, a romantic outsider or a resourceful rebel.

Often in sculpture, except for providing stability and a proper viewing horizon, figure and base have little creative relation to one another. Here however, strong figurative and abstract imagery are juxtaposed and meaning is present in the two symbiotic parts of the sculpture and the traditional relationship of top and bottom is subtly questioned. Together they create a kind of allegory and an opportunity for thoughtful gazing.

The work depicts a life-size, life-like dog of uncertain breed, age and gender. It was first modeled by hand in coarse brick-clay, and later cast in the common material of ubiquitous garden statues and modern public structures: Portland Cement. The dog is portrayed in the wolf-like act of howling. Similar to figurative statues on older stone fountains, church sculpture, clock hands, and tavern signs in Zürich, the work is partially leafed with gold. As in other works of Micros, important areas of expression are often called to attention in this way.

The image of the dog was inspired by photos of a small wooden work dated 500 BC from the nomadic Scythian culture of central Asia, works of the 19th century french animal sculptor Barye, and local dogs. It brings to mind the many canines depicted historically in art like the one made by Alberto Giacometti in the collection of the Art Museum of Zürich.

The gilded dog is situated on a disused town fountain that Micros discovered stored behind the maintenance building in the rural town of Ottenbach near Zürich where he lives and works. The fountain is made from a fieldstone boulder of red ‹Rotacker› variegated sandstone. Prized for their beauty and often used for fountains, the rounded stones are commonly found in the region while farming and excavating: including under the streets of Zürich. They traveled here by way of glacier over 15,000 years ago from the Glarus region. Lent by the municipality for the exhibition, the old fountain made from a prehistoric wandering stone is set tipped to one side, just as the artist found it.

Animal depictions have always played a prominent roll in Micros` work. Many such examples were to be seen in the exhibition ‹Pansy Studies› in the Lokremise Zürich in 2013. ‹Purrer›, sited permanently at the central bus station of Ottenbach, depicts a life-size cat in bronze in the process of acrobatic self-cleaning. Similar to ‹The Stray›, it is perched on large ‹Rotacker› stones.

In prehistory, the Celts were known to create mystical installations in the area out of massive found rocks. Later, large boulders were often used as bases for monumental sculpture. Vincenzo Vela`s ‹William Tell› in Lugano comes to mind. Moreover, the fieldstone of ‹The Stray› pays homage to an array of modernist sculptors such as Isamu Noguchi, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, and Ulrich Rückriem who often worked with raw stones. As the fountain is left unaltered as found, it can be viewed as a Duchampian Ready-made as well.

At first sight, the strong image of howling evokes a wolf. On closer inspection, especially of the ears, this gives way to the image of a dog. Subsequently, one is presented with the prospect of the ancestral presence of the wolf in the dog. Wolves are known to howl when injured or when separated from the group to signal location.

In dogs, the vestigial instinct to howl can be spontaneously activated by sirens, music, a coming storm, or other mysterious impulses. Viewed in this light, the work takes on a joyous nature and the lush 24-karat gold leaf around the head seems to emphasize this aspect. Naturally, gold brings many other associations to mind such as: nobility saintliness, alchemy, wealth, greed, immortality, authenticity, longing, illusion and delusion.

Erected with great communal effort in Swiss town centers, fountains are important meeting points that provide essential water. The reddish tone of the stone harmonizes well with the green-gray hue of the cement and with the warm richness of the gold too. In many cultures stone still stands for permanence. But with its glacial history, this stone implies transience as well. Curiously, It provides a stable but exposed sanctuary to the lone animal.

On first encounter, ‹The Stray› is a surprising addition to the square and can be simply enjoyed as an engaging form. Viewed more closely, both dog and fountain create an invigorating tension and narrative scene that posits stimulating questions: Where did the enigmatic animal come from? Will it stay or move on? On the main square of a prosperous city where fountains are well attended too, why is this one tipped and dry? Is the fountain a sanctuary or trap? Does the artful hound howl out of thirst, loneliness, desire or rapture? What unknown force waits to roll the primordial stone again?

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