“Oh, those up there? Yes, those are gigantic lit-up bacteroidal sculptures hanging over our heads.”
At Temple University’s School of Medicine, where kaman + erland’s large-scale sculpture “Unseen World” can be seen from virtually any vantage point, this is probably a fairly common exchange. The couple’s 55 “giant bacteria…[are] an interpretive representation of the ecosystems all around us and inside us”, meant to encourage us to consider the things we do not see, the things we do not fully understand, to acknowledge the other lifeforms that we humans share this planet with. Every morning where my wife and I are driving into downtown Philadelphia to go to work, we pass by “Unseen World” and I look at it for as long as I can until I cannot crane my neck anymore. The individual pieces are obviously cellular in nature but it it not microscopic organisms that I am thinking about, it is the effectiveness of this piece as a work of public art.
kaman + erland’s website calls the duo “contemporary visual artists” which, while true, is selling themselves a bit short of the large work they are doing. They work on a grand scale, oftentimes hanging their creations and very often working in public spaces, making work that is produced with the most consideration to our planet’s ever-diminishing resources and intentionally meant to promote dialogue about and contemplation of the natural life that so inspires their work. Since many of k + e’s sculptures are located in Philadelphia I have been fortunate enough to see many myself and they are magnificent. It has always been a bit difficult for me to understand the appeal of mobiles – and public art -but these two make a strong case for them, as k+e’s work forces me to consider myself in the literal and figurative shadow of the works. I want to be into public art – really, I do – but so often, it seems, that the end result of public art projects are monuments to artist without much in mind for the audience…not so with k+e. Their website mentions the necessity of working alongside other people to get a work of public art installed and the grace and charm of their work attests to the fact that if many people were involved, there was still a specific vision that was executed (which seems like it’s own headache to figure out). And as far as artistry goes these pieces are free of extraneous elements which allows for the play of light, color, shapes, and sheer presence lead the viewers contemplation. With any luck I am not the only person out there taking the time to appreciate this great work around my city. Love your (good) public art, people! [I tried to find a complete listing of where to find their work, since their website lists more places than it shows but no luck.]