Second year graduate student Joseph Leroux managed to squeeze inside the narrow height of a 16-foot-wide ‘flying saucer’ made from recycled barn boards that hung 20 feet off the ground.
Leroux had no choice if he wanted to help UW- Madison Art Department professors Gail Simpson and Aris Georgiades hang the piece, entitled “Others,” around a tree at the Abington Art Center in Philadelphia.
“We had to get inside it to put the parts together,” said Leroux, who had never before been involved in a public art project.
Flying saucers and UFOs were popular subject matter in movies and comic books during the 1950's, often interpreted as a metaphor for America's Cold War-era fear of immigrants and Communists.
“The anxiety about invading “aliens” can be seen as a manifestation of a cultural hysteria fostered by our own government,” Simpson explained. “We felt that we might be in a similar historical moment today.”
The idea for the piece “just popped up” as a result of one of many discussions between the artist-couple, but the design and installation issues were fairly difficult, she said.
“We have wanted to do the project for a while, since it reflects our interests in the current social and political climate,” she said, adding that Georgiades received a Vilas Fellowship which helped pay for the project.
Leroux, who came to UW to study sculpture with Georgiades, stumbled into the flying saucer project because he happened to mention his cross-country road trip hobby as Georgiades was planning the installation.
“It started out as an arbitrary comment and turned into a trip,” Leroux said.
He even had the necessary experience, not only as a sculptor but having been in construction for a couple years prepared him for working in extreme conditions: the team traveled to Philly in late May to install the sculpture during a record cold snap.
“It was rainy and windy and scary putting it up on the extended forklift we had to rent to get it up in the tree (about 20 feet off the ground),” Simpson said. “We were all glad when it was done.”
The saucer is attached, as if speared, to a maple tree near a busy intersection at the corner of the Abington Art Center’s 27-acre wooded sculpture park.
“We hope it will last two years there,” Simpson said. “The top of the structure contains birdhouses which we hope birds, or something, will adopt.”
By the end of the trip, Leroux discovered how much he enjoys the group activity needed to complete a public art project.
“I really like that aspect of it,” he said. “(And) Aris’ projects are a little more fun... there’s a layer of humor to them.”