Monday, April 12, 2010

Nooksack by Claude Zervas

Nooksack (2005) by Claude Zervas
CCFL lamps, wire, inverters, steel. 216" x 108" x 40" variable
Seattle Art Museum permanent collection

Many Seattleites would say the appeal of our city is due in large part to being surrounded by monumental mountains, verdant forests, and a plenitude of lakes, rivers and waterways. When it comes to awe-inspiring landscapes, we are pretty blessed. With all this nature, it becomes hard to not contemplate our relationship with our environment.

The Northwest has a rich artistic vocabulary in terms of subject matter and materials. Many regional artists reference our landscape in both direct (Matthew Offenbacher, Justin Colt Beckman, Eirik Johnson) and indirect (Gretchen Bennett, Susan Robb, Whiting Tennis) ways. Seattle also sits at a unique crossroad where nature meets high tech.

Our abundance of resources has spawned the rise of many technological revolutions. North Carolina might have been first in flight, but Boeing dominated the last half of the 20th century. Albuquerque’s loss became Seattle’s boon when Microsoft relocated here in the late ‘70s. Taking a cue from the world’s largest river, Amazon became the world’s largest e-commerce site.

Claude Zervas, a Washington native, makes art about nature but with a decidedly technological bent. While his materials might vary, each piece is imbued with a Northwest sensibility - videos of forests that grow a fungus based on a computer program, chainsaw-carved bears fitted with glowing eyes that change colors, and ‘clouds' created by rolls of paper and a computer.

Building on the Northwest trinity of nature, technology and recycling, he creates works that explore the nexus of what makes our region so unique. Claude is a master of many mediums but where he really shines is in his work with light. I can’t think of any piece of art in Seattle that is more representative of this convergence than his sculpture, Nooksack.

Comprised of fluorescent lamps and other electrical components, Claude’s sculpture takes both its name and its form from the Nooksack River. It’s a series of lights laid end to end with dangling cords that form ribbon-y trails that act as artistic tributaries tracing the river’s path towards the Puget Sound.

Nooksack the sculpture is everything Nooksack the river isn’t. The sculpture is white and gleaming; the river can be silty and turgid. The river is sinuous and at one point, provided electricity to the region while the sculpture is angular and sharp and requires electricity to activate it. Simply put, it’s a masterpiece of form and technology.

Later this year, Claude will install a site-specific artwork at the Brightwater Environmental Education and Community Center. Continuing his exploration of light and nature, Claude has been awarded the commission for a “Recycled Materials Chandelier”.
"I think because of the word 'chandelier' I started thinking about Rococo style and came up with a design that references both bacteria and Rococo flourishes. The exhibition hall site has a very modern 'green' design and my piece will provide a pretty stark formal counterpoint.”
Claude is illuminating nature, both figuratively and literally. Who could ask for anything more as we enter darkness of winter?

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