When Grounds For Sculpture’s Tom Moran invited internationally known Greek-born sculptor Athena Tacha to participate in his first show as chief curator, “Mythos,” the focus quickly turned to her specialty of landscape site-sculpture. In the invitation he mentioned having a good number of gray granite blocks for use.

The artist answered with both a visit and the following written response that reveals her approach, her inspirations, and an interesting preview of future development:

When I went to Grounds For Sculpture to see the site, I was attracted by a small drain pond near its north entrance, surrounded by gentle artificial berms –– and Tom agreed that it might be a natural site for me to work with. So the pond and the granite blocks became my ‘raw’ materials, and my thoughts gravitated to using them. I also took notice of a grove of dark green bamboo in the gardens of the main Grounds.

Water hinted at a whirlpool, and the theme of Myth brought up memories of ancient Crete’s labyrinth and Mycenean ruins. Whirlpools and galaxies, having been a perennial source of inspiration for me, instinctively led me to the idea of wrapping around the pond twirling walls of “giant” granite blocks (“cyclopean masonry”). For a softer touch, I introduced two curving rows of bamboo embracing the granite walls –– the main energy arms of galaxies.

What followed turned out to be one of my most elusive, open-ended, and fluid sculptures. Fluidity and chaotic order have always been leading principles in my art, but here the lack of permanence and of an exact site plan led me to a pervasive changeability of form. The branches of the spiral (one of the most fluid shapes) can be opened or closed tighter around the pond, their individual length can be modified, and even their number could be changed (from six to eight).

The material used for the model, sugar cubes that approximated in shape and texture the available granite blocks, seemed also appropriate for the impermanent nature of the sculpture. It was interesting that, from the initial sketch model to the present “final” model (which may change again for budgetary or technical reasons), every time I tried to rebuild the upper levels of each wall, it ended up different, even though the final result looked similar in its irregular “balancing” of forms.

Since the building method must be simple dry masonry, the shear weight of the blocks (two tons each?) –– compression –– holds them together. On every level added, each block has to lie on two or more blocks below, straddling cracks. Cracks (joints) between blocks never coincide, under them, or on any side of them. My building principles are economy and maximum solidity: I increase the width of any part of a branch of the spiral only by one extra row of granite blocks, their joints not coinciding with the adjacent row; I place each block of the second level on top of a double row below, and straddling cracks; and I have only a single row of blocks on the rare third level, standing on a double row of the second level, again straddling cracks between blocks below them, to consolidate the structure through weight.

The sugar cubes, due to their fragile and crumbly surface, were sprayed with white enamel and then toned down with gentle graphite rubbing. Having practically no weight and little friction to hold them together, they had to be glued, which turned out to be an extremely delicate task. For bamboo, I had to try out five different weeds, from tiny bamboo shoots to several varieties of grasses, dry them and spray them green –– until I found the proper type to evoke bamboo in the scale of the model (one-half inch equals one foot). My long experience with model making was helpful for creating the pond and grass surfaces. The model has to convey the final large sculpture (some 50 by 70 feet), but also look good as a small sculpture.

It was impossible to undertake execution this year, for both budgetary and technical reasons, but we hope to build “Labyrinthos” for the future. It will be interesting to see how it will evolve into reality, and how many more transformations the form can go through without losing its capability to express that the dynamic combination of rock, water, and live nature are the key to our planet, and perhaps to the entire universe.

Mythos –– Visions of Mythology and Legend, Grounds For Sculpture, 18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton. Opens Saturday, October 20, featuring work by Michele Oka Doner, Carlos Dorrien, Nina Levy, Bruce Lindsay, Marsha Pels, and Dana Stewart. On view to July 28, 2013. 609-586-0616 or www.groundsforsculpture.org

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