It’s a good thing that these three are ‘observed’ and not ‘observing’ ... that’d be weird.
Photo by Emily Maclaurin-King
Understanding outdoor sculpture on campus:
Understanding outdoor sculpture on campus
As you go about your daily business, traveling from here to there and doing this and that, how many times have you come across a rock? Large or small, rough or smooth, round or jagged. Maybe you sat on it to eat your lunch, moved it aside to make room for something else, or maybe, just maybe, you gave it a little kick.
On any of these occasions, did you stop and think about that rock? I mean really think about it. How old is it? Where did it come from? Where will it end up? It’s easy to forget that rocks were here long before we were, and will likely remain long after we are gone. The rock that sits in the gutter on University Avenue has been witness to events that the human mind cannot even fathom.
Perhaps the stones scattered around the streets of Kingston haven’t caught your attention, but in your travels past the Agnes Etherington Art Centre, you may have noticed the three large rocks that make their home on the front lawn. Fondly referred to as “big weird rocks,” these stones were designed to draw the viewer’s attention to their history, and in turn, the history of the universe.
For years, geologists have been using our silent friends to provide insight into the origins and history of the universe. In The Three Observed (1992) Canadian artist William Vazan encourages the viewer to consider this very notion. Unlike other sculptors, who use their material only as a vehicle to depict a subject, the rock itself is central to the meaning of Vazan’s work.
Using a sandblaster, the artist marked the surface of the granite with a series of patterns, signs and symbols reminiscent of archaic times. He did not work against the rocks, but rather, he worked with them, giving the granite a voice through his energetic design. The surface directs the viewer’s thoughts to the beginnings of humanity, and inevitably, to the history of the rocks and the universe itself. In this sense, the rocks become symbolic tools with which the audience is able to travel back through time to places and events that are only comprehensible in the realm of the imagination.
Vazan promotes open interpretation. He encourages us to create our own myth about the origin of the universe, merging real and imaginary worlds. This merging is reinforced by the inclusion of “wormholes” in the rock’s surface. A relatively recent scientific phenomenon, the “wormhole” is a sort of shortcut through spacetime which makes different parts of the same spacetime closer than usual. By including these symbols in the rock’s surface, Vazan suggests that the viewer is able to access the past through the use of the imagination in the present.
Another facet of the sculpture which adds to its experiential nature is its extremely tactile appearance. You can’t help but want to touch it. This plays into the viewer’s experience of the work in terms of its truth value. As humans, we have a tendency to want to be able to touch things to know they are real. The act of touching reinforces our connection with the rock and in turn with its history and meaning.
The relationship between the human and the natural world is a theme that runs throughout Vazan’s work. He seeks to awaken our ecological conscience, and remind us of our connection to the natural order of the universe.
Vazan’s emphasis on the relationship between humanity and nature is especially appealing because of its universality. The Three Observed provides no distinct interpretation of the origin of the universe, but rather encourages the individual to create their own myth and evaluate their relationship with the natural world.
Vazan’s works can be found in many Canadian cities as well as Korea, Japan and France. The installation on the lawn on the Agnes Etherington Art Centre was a gift from the private collector Dr. Michel D’Avirro in 1992.
Perhaps the next time one of our silent friends crosses your path, you might stop and consider the vast experiences it has witnessed, therein giving the rock a voice through the boundless realm of your imagination.