100Stone: Anchorage art installation makes a powerful statement about suffering, caring

The feeling hit from the moment I left my vehicle at Point Woronzof and could see the first sculpture, beseeching a bleak winter sky from a cliff above the beach. It's visceral and profound, immediate and resonant. As I walked closer, and then down among the dozens of figures on the icy shoreline, the feeling deepened. The figures create a presence that invades your comfort zone, but not in any threatening way. It feels more like a personal message in a code that transcends all boundaries of age, race, sex, level of skepticism -- or resistance.

It feels familiar. Has any mother ever missed the emotional slump in her child when the birthday party invitation misses her cubby? The silent tears of a friend facing an unexplained hurt? We know this language. We know when someone is hurting. Yet, all too often, we do not know what to do with those feelings.

I am referring to the unique, unprecedented 100Stone art-in-place installation created by our very own Sarah Davies and her dedicated crew along the volatile shores of Cook Inlet. No two visits are the same, and the art is now gently eroding away with unforgiving tides, just as it is supposed to. I was drawn to her vision from the beginning because it was such a comprehensive, involving process.

The methodology of creating the body cast forms over and around people, family members and friends who have actually been impacted by hidden sorrows, struggles, mental health challenges and suffering was exceptionally meaningful. I watched the fear of a middle-aged woman, the glee of a high schooler, a group laughing teenagers at Covenant House as they were layered with plastic and burlap, and slathered in plaster. Sarah continually calmed and reassured as she orchestrated her vision. I listened as she explained that everyone would be safe in this process, they could call a halt at any time -- no sculpture was worth more than anyone's well-being. And I watched the trust, and opening of those who chose to participate, and the pride and acceptance of a concrete representation of dark and scary things held inside.

Interested in the play of light on this haunting installation, I kept returning: early morning, later evening, even once in moonlight where my only company was the municipal parks garbage collector. Once I came with a friend and her eight-year-old son. Each experience has been compelling in a different way.

It is art as living therapy -- and remains so as it continually evolves, saturated with metaphors. Mother Nature's tidal destruction and storm surges stirred passionate commentary, and the ensuing re-building generated even more awareness. Suicide, depression, daily hidden hurts that can be written in genetic coding -- or situational -- also have surges, devastation and rebuilding -- for the afflicted and their family and friends. I find myself pondering connections in my own life to the "what could I have done" questions surrounding my nephew's suicide just five years ago next month. Questions about friends who have plunged in winter's darkness; about a neighbor who withdrew to the point where she died alone and was left undiscovered for several days. Hopelessness and despair that we can turn away from out of self-protection. How is it that we recognize the language, understand it means pain and loneliness, yet are too frozen to respond? Perhaps out of fear the well is simply not full enough to help?

But maybe, just maybe -- it's not so daunting. Maybe it can be a kind word, a random compliment, a gesture or a smile given to someone who has lost their connection to the life-stream of others' seeming happiness. Maybe it just means letting someone know she is not alone, that he does matter, that this too can pass, that there is help and understanding -- and to not give up.

Thank you, Sarah, for reminding us of our humanity in such an accessible and meaningful way, at such a heartbreaking time in our collective worlds.

Mary Katzke is an independent filmmaker and executive director of Affinityfilms Inc.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com