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Art Beat: Volunteers needed to reassemble ambitious outdoor installation Friday

  • Author: Mike Dunham
  • Updated: May 31, 2016
  • Published December 4, 2015

The 85 statues of Sarah Davies' ambitious "100Stone" art installation at Point Woronzof were barely up when wind, tides and a williwaw thaw came close to obliterating it. Set in place on Nov. 21, the body casts of Alaskans with potentially lethal emotional and mental issues walking from the beach into the water -- intended to raise awareness of depression and suicide -- were toppled, scattered and buried by ice four days later.

The artist had hoped they would stay in place until being removed sometime between February and April.

On one hand, something like this was supposed to happen. Davies expected some trauma to the work that she and a large team of collaborators had created over the past several months. The damage wrought by nature would be a metaphor for the damage wrought by mental illness. The artist actually sounded philosophical and even a little pleased by the event.

However, the dedication of the installation had not yet taken place. And the morgue of fallen concrete-and-plaster forms couldn't be left. Nor could the steel rods driven 6 feet into the ground that had failed to hold the statues in place. (In retrospect, it's hard to see how they could have, given the forces at work.)

Davies put out calls for volunteers to help haul the statues to the high water mark and remove the rods. Surprisingly, most of the statues were largely intact, though some had what could be considered "cosmetic" damage, and we hear three were lost.

The "100Stone" team came up with a new plan and went to work Thursday reinstalling the figures in what is hoped to be a more stable configuration. That work will continue Friday starting at 9 a.m. Davies says that two Magic Buses will be shuttling workers and off-site carpool parking has been set up. Details are available at 100stoneproject.com and facebook.com/100stoneproject. Bring ice grips; conditions Thursday afternoon were slippery.

The public dedication will still take place at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 5.

Visually speaking, the work as originally installed was one of the most arresting man-made scenes I've ever seen, a throng of desperate people slogging helplessly into the muddy swirl of Cook Inlet with Mount Spurr on the distant shore on one side and the spinning wind generators of Fire Island on the other. It was especially effective in the low winter light as the sun dipped below the clouds and turned the gray forms red and pink.

After the demolition "100Stone" was, if anything, even more stunning. The people who had been on their feet were now on their backs and sides or fallen forward in a Hieronymous Bosch-like tableau that fairly shouted, "All hope is lost!"

But more impressive than the visible physical components of the installation, impressive though they have been, is the invisible courage that made it possible in the first place, a courage that has been redoubled as Davies and the other members of the project -- too numerous to list here -- grabbed their tools and threw their backs into salvaging both the art and the idea.

Shortly after the 30-plus-foot tides hit around Thanksgiving, I saw a skeleton crew of volunteers struggling to wrestle the heavy statues from the mud and ice. I would have bet money that they couldn't get it done before the next 30-plus-foot tide, rising as I watched. But they did.

At press time I don't know how many people are on the scene at Point Woronzof, but I hope there are many. And I don't know what the final configuration will look like. What I feel pretty certain about is that "100Stone" will continue to astound.

Upgrades at Alutiiq Museum

The Alutiiq Museum and Archeological Repository in Kodiak has a new Web platform for accessing museum programs and information about Alutiiq traditions. Better search functions, easier mobile viewing, embedded video, an events calendar and -- of particular interest this time of year -- an improved online gift store are all part of the package. The museum hopes to expand the site to include a virtual tour next year. In the meantime, check it out and catch up on the latest "Alutiiq Word of the Week" at alutiiqmuseum.org.

The museum's collection of artifacts is also getting an upgrade thanks to a grant from Museums Alaska. The grant will be used to inventory, clean and re-house metal items in its collection. These range from some of the first iron nails brought to Alaska to contemporary silver jewelry and include antique axes, a copper kettle, brass pocket watch and even a lead icon.

Sealaska invites robe seller to Juneau

The Sealaska Heritage Institute held a public ceremony for the return of a sacred Chilkat robe at the Walter Soboleff Cultural Center in Juneau on Tuesday, Dec. 1. The robe, probably 150 years old or more, was acquired when Sealaska staff found it advertised on eBay. The seller, George Blucker of Texas, agreed to repatriate it to Southeast Alaska Natives at a price much lower than what might have received from other bidders. Blucker told Alaska Dispatch News that he chose to take the loss out of respect for the art and the people who made it.

Sealaska originally hoped to fly Blucker to Juneau for the event, but time was tight and plane tickets so close to Thanksgiving were on the steep side. Instead they offered to bring him up in June for Celebration 2016, one of the biggest cultural festivals in the state.

SHI President Rosita Worl noted that looking at the robes in museums doesn't do justice to them. They were intended to be seen in motion, used in dances. By coming up for Celebration, Blucker will be able to see firsthand people dancing in their robes, she said.

Alaska rodeo clown subject of AIFF entry

Shortly after completing the articles regarding the Anchorage International Film Festival for Friday's paper, we learned that one of the films in the series is a documentary about Ronald Burton, a rodeo clown who has been taking part in rodeos around Anchorage and Fairbanks for the past two years. "Man in the Can" will be part of the Short Docs program at 5:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, at the Alaska Experience Theater. First-time director Noessa Higa tells us she spent the past couple of years following Burton around and that the film is a "one-woman production." It's won "best of" prizes in Iowa and Texas, where people might be expected to know a thing or two about rodeo. But it also picked up the Audience Award at the Dances With Films festival in Hollywood, which she says "was a heavy entertainment (industry) and city slicker crowd."

Workshop tools for Native artists

The Alaska State Council on the Arts and the CIRI Foundation have published "The Alaska Native Artist Resource Workbook" to help advance the careers of Alaska Native artists. The book is a supplement to professional development workshops held by the council over the years and is intended, in part, to supply material that local art groups can use to conduct their own workshops aimed at supporting Native artists in creating a business and expanding marketplace opportunities. Individuals and groups wanting to know more can contact the council by calling 907-269-6610 or, outside Anchorage, 888-278-7424.

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