A Most Unusual Landscape Sculpture
The Designer recently interviewed artist Deedee Morrison of Birmingham, Alabama, to ask her about the inspiration for her intriguing art.
Morrison works out of a quarry in Birmingham -- Wade Sand and Gravel -- where she’s been crafting metal, limestone and LED light sculptures for the past 10 years. At the gravel pit, she combines nature’s elements -- fire and steel, rock and light -- to create sustainable art that she hopes makes people think about the environment in which they live. She recently introduced solar power to light up her artworks.
The Designer: What gave you the idea to incorporate solar power into your artwork? It seems outside the mainstream of public art.
Morrison: Light was introduced into my sculptures years ago by the nature of the materials and technologies that I utilize to create art. I am a fabricator, so the sculptures, by design, are built on an internal armature system that creates hollow spaces. I began experimenting with color and light to fill up the space inside the sculpture and give the work an added dimension, particularly at night.
Several years ago, while I was on a boat in a harbor in New York, I saw a home with an enormous solar panel system in the front yard. I thought it was inspired and forward-thinking, but flawed - because it had solved one problem and created another: an eyesore for both the home and everyone on the lake. But it did germinate an idea regarding the relationship of my artwork and light, and I began the transition into creating solar-powered light sculptures. I kept thinking
about the system that I had seen on the lawn: If given the opportunity, how would I create both an aesthetically pleasing sculpture that would not only serve
the home (or community) for its energy function but also have a powerful artistic statement?
The first solar-powered sculpture that I fashioned came out of this process. It is called Sun-Catcher and it’s a visual display of the power and energy that’s
available every day from a single solar panel’s relationship with the sun. The solar panel is actually incorporated into the sculpture and is installed on the top
panel of the sun totem, capturing energy during the day and emitting its dramatic stored light at night.
The Designer: You have an unconventional setting for your studio. Is this the environmental inspiration behind your artwork?
Morrison: I work in a very industrial setting that is an amazing work environment for an artist. My studio is in the home of the Old Republic Steel Mill and what is now Wade Sand and Gravel Quarry. When I work with rocks out of the quarry, the limestone is harvested from an area with 600 million years of geological history. I think the process of harvesting the stone brings a certain awareness and perspective to my work.
The second element of influence is the backdrop of the old steel mill and buildings that fostered the industrial development of this whole region and has now been made obsolete. Republic Steel closed in the 1970‘s. There is, of course, residue and environmental impact from this period in Birmingham’s history, but the plant made the most of the known technology at the time by producing by-products from the coke ovens that included gas, tar, light oil, etc. I think it’s fascinating to think about how technology can continue to answer many of the compelling challenges we face today - for smarter, cleaner and more efficient energy as our understanding evolves to find out what best
serves our future and the future of our children.
The Designer: You are a public artist - what does that mean? Give us an idea of what public art does for a community.
Morrison: Public art has the wonderful opportunity of communicating the values and cultural identity of a city. The public art opportunities in the
United States have grown remarkably over the last 10 years as many cities have come to understand the importance of art in the revitalization and
economic development of urban areas. Many cities have instituted “Percent for the Arts” programs that have transformed the public landscape. As an
artist, it is a wonderful experience to answer a call for a public art program, be awarded a contract, work on the project for nine months and install a
sculpture that the community supports and embraces.
I have recently installed two solar sculpture projects in Clearwater, Florida and Chattanooga,
Tennessee. I also have two upcoming solar light sculpture installations this summer in Colorado and California and I am working on renewable energy
exhibitions for several Botanical Gardens. Botanical Gardens are a natural fit for organically inspired sustainable art that works to promote renewable energy solutions.
The Designer: Can you tell us a little more about your most recent solar powered light installation.
Morrison: Seed Pod is a sculpture that I fabricated for the Renaissance Park in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The park is a 23 acre wetland park created on what was once a manufacturing site. The park effectively demonstrates how a polluted area can be returned to a clean river habitat and a natural park setting. The design of the park promoted the return of native plants, enhancing the river eco-systems. It also provides a wonderful balance between urban renewal and the conservation of natural resources.
The eight by twelve foot sculpture that I designed for the park represents a seed coming out of a dormant state to form new life. The sculpture displays the power and energy that’s available every day from a single solar panel. Near the Seed Pod sculpture is an 18 foot solar tower that, like plants, collects and stores the energy released from the sun. The Seed Pod and the solar tower* are intimately connected in the phenomena of life and growth. The solar tower captures the energy of the sun during the day and the Seed Pod sculpture lights up at night, giving the sculpture its dramatic added dimension of light. Solar sculptures in the right environment are extremely effective ways to demonstrate how solar energy works and can become an icon of sustainability for a city.
The Designer: Where would you like to go with this - how do you see solar and art in the future?
Morrison: Currently, solar panels and systems are considered unattractive in the majority of settings where they are placed. But what if a system that is sculptural by design can be created to capture energy and add aesthetically to the environment simultaneously? Solar sculptures in the right environment are extremely effective ways to demonstrate how solar energy works and can become an icon of sustainability for a community. My dream is for a project of monumental scale, where the solar light sculpture could feed not only the light sculpture, but harvest the energy for the adjacent building, home, or park where the sculpture resides. What a powerful statement.