The Gusher, 2011. Found ceramics, concrete, grout, steel. 120 x 84 x 84 in.
For me, 2011 is marked by this project that I did at Socrates Sculpture Park this summer. In May and June I drove to every thrift store, flea market, and estate sale in NY and NJ to collect these ceramic plants and animals, walking up to pay with armloads full and making all the old ladies jealous.
In July and August I worked on site at Socrates to construct the piece. Right on the East River in Queens, the park is a fairly small open area of land which looks out on to Roosevelt Island and the Manhattan skyline. The work area is under a large hangar with a 30 ft. ceiling and no walls, so when it rained - and sometimes it did so horizontally - everything was soggy. I learned how to weld the armature on a 100 degree day AND I had a cold. In the beginning, I was still going to work at my job in Midtown for part of the day. Sometimes I would wake up at 5 and make the hour trek out to the park before work, and sometimes I would rush out there after work to catch the last bit of sunlight.
After welding the armature, I covered the frame with chicken wire and then began the slow process on smoothing a thin layer of concrete over the whole form. The concrete could only be applied when the chicken wire was horizontal or nearly so. In order to rotate the piece while working, the whole frame had to be rigged up to the hangar on chains and a pulley. Luckily the studio manager, Lars, has years of experience working with enormous, unwieldy objects.
Eventually, the piece found its way upside down in the middle of the hangar. Of course I was not the only person in residency there at the time, so while I’m maneuvering all this, 8, 10, 15 other people are also slinging concrete buffalo, resin dirt, styrofoam splooges, cast pillows, bronze molding, spackle spheres, and wood triangles in every direction. As stress levels rose, I took out the ceramics and began smashing them with a hammer, filling each piece with concrete to make them more resistant to breakage by enthusiastic children. Then each piece was screwed and glued into the main form.
The next step was to cover the entire knobbly surface with a layer of grout squeezed through a grout bag, which was essentially like frosting an gigantic, grey bulbous cake. Through a hurricane and an earthquake. I had lots of help in the final stages so if any of y’all are reading this, THANK YOU again (and apologies again for being crazy!). I’m glad to say I have finally lost my Popeye forearms.
Then, we did a final rotation of this monster to stand it upright and realized that it was totally unstable! Imagine crushing some kid with this thing. With some help of friends, I constructed a poop shoot and had to human conveyor belt many buckets of concrete up a 12 ft. ladder to slide some weight down its gullet. And hurray it worked! Just a week behind schedule. Ha! Just!
Days before the opening I’m digging the trenches out on the mound, running into the ruins of many a past sculpture buried in the ground. Two days to go: it’s lifted onto the crane truck and out to mound, 4 tons of concrete, steel, and goofy animals sailing through the air. The last day I spent wheeling carts old sod out to the site to build up the ground around the base of the piece. At 6pm, as the sun was getting low, I raked the last bit of topsoil into place.
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