Friday, August 26, 2011

Don't blow me down! The sculptures of Tim Prentice menaced by the hurricane

On the Friday before Hurricane Irene reaches the northwest corner of Connecticut, I paid a call on Tim Prentice, a neighbor who is best known as a kinetic sculptor. Tim and his team create mobiles. These delicate structures of wire, Lexan and other materials hover in the air, or are attached to vertical surfaces, where they spin or wave in the breeze. Some move slowly, others are more intricate. Tim's house and shop are a compelling attraction, since his yard teems with startling mobiles unlike anything you'd expect to see on a road in rural Connecticut.

His work has been installed in hundreds of venues, from embassies to corporate headquarters in the United States and around the world. On his website he says, " I take it as an article of faith that the air around us moves in ways which are organic, whimsical, and unpredictable. I therefore assume that if I were to abdicate the design to the wind, the work would take on these same qualities. The engineer in me wants to minimize friction and inertia to make the air visible. The architect studies matters of scale and proportion. The navigator and sailor want to know the strength and direction of the wind. The artist wants to understand its changing shape...."

With nonstop hurricane porn blaring from the media, I thought, how are Tim's fragile-seeming sculptures going to fare in a high wind? I paid a call on him to find out. I found Tim in his barn wrapping a video shoot for a presentation. I asked him whether he was going to bring any of his pieces inside to protect them.

"I don't know," he said. "I'm curious to see how they perform in a high wind. I had one commission that was out in the open, and the client called me before a nor'easter wanting to know if it would hold up. I told them to leave it out so we could see how it would do. But they chickened out and brought it inside."

Tim noted that some of his pieces could handle a 70-mile-per-hour wind, but was dubious about anythng stronger. He never takes the outdoor sculptures inside. "Sometimes after a tough winter we find squares of Lexan lying on the ground, and we have to fix them back up a little bit." With a shrug, he added, "I don't have to decide today. We'll see what the weatherman is saying tomorrow."

As his wife Marie Prentice (a noted poet in her own right) pointed out, Tim was philosophical about the fate of his sculptures because his shop is right there, and he can fix anything that gets too badly chewed up.

The fate of art subjected to climate change impacts rarely comes up in your average climate discussion. But maybe it should, especially when the art exists to make use of the wind, the way Tim's art does.

All photographs by Brian Thomas, which you can use under the Creative Commons license of your choice

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