Three creative responses to what three artists see before them

A visitor in the meadow outside Aspet contemplates Fabienne Lasserre’s “To the Nothing.”

The Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site has invited three artists to place their work on the grounds through the summer and into the fall. 

Rosalyn Driscoll’s “The One That Got Away” is installed in the birch allée that leads from the visitor center to the main house, and Fabienne Lasserre’s “To the Nothing” and Clive Moloney’s “Your Water Footprint” stand in the meadow that spreads westward from Aspet, Augustus St. Gaudens’s Federalist style home.

The exhibition is called “Natural Forces: Three Sculptors Respond” and, as artists will, they all responded to different things in quite different ways. 

Rosalyn Driscoll's "The One That Got Away."

Driscoll’s installation is most clearly integrated into the designed landscape at the site and she explicitly states, in the accompanying program, that her flowing fabric pennant is an evocation of St. Gaudens’s use of fabric for dramatic effect in his work. Visitors can see this most clearly in the nearby cowled bronze figure of Clover Adams.

Driscoll has fastened the ends of her panels to adjacent trees that form a line between the path and the lawn below. Each panel stands as if photographed flapping wildly in a stiff wind, as if frozen in place as you move freely around and past it.

She was inspired by the drapery studies made by St. Gaudens, so she has made a sculpture of an image of a real thing. 

The shape is quite organic; its geometry resembles that of a flowing stream, complex and yet somehow sensible and ordered. The birch allée is itself such a combination of order and fluidity, a double row of white and black upright trunks with the arching canopies of branches meeting overhead.

The work should be viewed from both inside the allée and from the lawn below. 

In the confined space of the birch-lined walkway, the fabric pennant feels large and crowds you a bit, blocking your view outward, but the sight of it undulating down the row of trees to the end of the path is dramatic. From the lawn below, you are at some distance and can take in the entire length of the thing at once. From this angle it does not overwhelm at all, but instead feels like a potential permanent element of the landscape design.

In contrast, Lassere seems to treat the site as a room without walls. Her works — a series of two — are mounted on crossed I-beams themselves held above the ground on metal stakes. The sculptures are made of steel, foam, corrugated plastic, aqua resin, and silica, colored with acrylic and enamel paints. Their overall shape is oblong, but they are perforated with irregular polygonal windows, so that observers may see through to the landscape beyond them. 

Lassere is inviting you to circle her work so that different views and objects are framed in the openings. In this way, she hopes to have the viewer integrate what she has put into the place with the place itself. By placing two sculptures in the field, Lassere assures that you will also see each sculpture through the other.

Clive Moloney's installation.

Moloney’s work is mordantly funny, combining as it does politics and absurdity, which is not exactly an expected combination in an Irish artist. The most substantial element of his installation is a cylindrical water tank made of cedar planks bound together with plastic bands and surmounted by a shingled conical roof. Upright plumbing is scattered through the meadow around the tank. Some are simple vertical pipes surmounted by a faucet. Others are branched and stand like spindly saquaro cacti, and all are painted a baby blue color.

The water tank is a self-portrait with the artist’s daily water consumption of 1,500 gallons representing his person. (As a European, he uses less than the average American’s 2,200 gallons per day.) 

Each of the plumbing sculptures has a small tag attached to it. On each tag is an object and the number of gallons of water it takes to produce it: e.g. Valentine’s roses 37. The height of each pipework is related to the water volume: one centimeter equals one gallon. Some of them are branched because the PVC will not stand upright if it is taller than 360 centimeters.

The Cornish historical site is open until 4:30 p.m., but the grounds are open until dusk. Repeated visits to these sculptures in different weather, at different hours of the day, and into the next season are likely to reward you with varied experiences. 

At present the field below the house is dry and brown in the near drought conditions, while the allée is still cool and shaded. If we get rain, the meadow will green up and there will be wildflowers by August. By the end of September, the birch leaves will have begun to yellow. By the time the exhibition closes on Oct. 21, the birch leaves will have fallen and Driscoll’s sculpture may dominate the landscape in an entirely different way.

-- Bill Chaisson
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