Pleated Gnomon: Dedication Speech by Councilmember Caplan
September 25, 2016
This is our third major commission, Sarah Morris’s Monaco Pools being the first, Jose Bedia’s ethnological plazas the second. The dedication of this new piece, as with any art installation, invites some reflection about the artwork. I’ve been thinking about Pleated Gnomon and I’ll offer my theme and meaning for this particular piece by itself and as a part of our collection. I think the theme is deeply important to us, and I hope to do justice to the artists’ own summary and his purpose and aspiration. First, a note of gratitude is in order for successive Councils’ and for the community at large who’ve recognized the importance of and supported the Art in Public Places program. And we’ve got to recognize with admiration our distinguished Art in Public Places Board and its erudite consultant, César Trasobares. It’s not easy to do this well. It takes knowledge, discernment, taste, and a bit of courage. Each project begins with a blank canvas. Our board is so excellent at this. They and really all of us deserve congratulations, for this excellent latest project and its predecessors, which so enrich our cultural life and add value and garner esteem for our community.
Mr. Jim Drain, our featured artist, a special welcome to you sir. It’s been some time since we met in the Providence airport, and anticipated this day. We’re grateful for your work and your presence today, and especially for whatever spark of creativity led you to conceive of Pleated Gnomon, which I think is so right for us. On behalf of my fellow Councilmembers, present and past, and doubtless future, our Manager and staff, particularly Jud who assists the Board and César, requiring capabilities not learned in BPZ Director school, and public art lovers generally, thank you for being here to dedicate our newest and most vertical APP installation, Mr. Drain’s Pleated Gnomon. And a note of appreciation for Prof. Walter Van Hamme, professor of physics and astronomy at FIU, who is here and with whom Mr. Drain consulted. Thank you Professor.
I’ve said that it’s a fool’s errand to speak about the art in the presence of the artist. But after all, art is meant to be discussed, so I’ll confidently venture a few thoughts about the meaning of this piece and our collection overall in our distinctly local context. Pleated Gnomon alludes to Mashta House, a dim reference captured more in photo than in memory. So it’s something of an historical homage, but it’s also a scientific instrument, a working sundial, employing the most advanced method of earth-sun-latitudinal geometry and timekeeping perfected by the Babylonians and Egyptians. So in this piece we find the historical, the educational and the mystical, cosmological even.
I work in words, so I’ll mention that a Gnomon is this perpendicular; the thing that casts shadows on the dial, which is the base. Assuming the proper orientation and angle, which Dr. Van Hamme assured, this ancient device requires nothing but the natural movement of earth in space. The Gnomon casts shadows as the sun passes, and the progression of shadows measures time passing. The pleats segment the Gnomon, interrupting what otherwise would be seamless, like time. Time is seamless in physics, but in our modern lives time is experienced and measured in segments; like the segments between the pleats that mirror the colored lights as the sun passes overhead.
However we measure or even notice time passing, nature marks time -- by day and night, high tide, low tide, seasons, weather, flood or drought. And Pleated Gnomon marks time by means of human invention rooted in nature. This is a major element in our self-identity. We’re thoughtfully connected to nature even as we build and manage this Village. We’re Islanders, separate geographically, even psychologically, surrounded by the sea and highly sensible of our Island ecology like all islanders tend to be.
We talk a lot about growth and change; congestion. But our Island Paradise hasn’t changed so much in its essentials. We haven’t moved from around 25° N Latitude, 80° W Longitude, near the Gulf Steam. We’re still here. The Tequestas knew the same sky, the same tidal changes, the same shadows in morning and afternoon. I’m not sure they had butterflies, but I’m glad we do. Island Paradise rings true to us because we’re so interconnected with nature. And our public art reminds us that this beautiful state of existence is right over our heads and right under our noses.
The Bedia plazas imagine our place in nature as we walk along busy Crandon Boulevard, illustrating that our modern-day build-out and workaday functions are inseparable from nature. The Sarah Morris pools bring to mind human developments in nature; fronds and shadows and the glimmer of surface water in the backyard. And now we have a new reminder of our natural connection in time and place, in the form of this beautifully rendered place of repose, teaching tool and cosmological clock. Pleated Gnomon brings to mind something existential - the natural seamless endless cycle of life; ever-encroaching endings and ever-coming new beginnings. This sculptural device aimed at an azimuth and struck existence.
Please pause on this. Here, in our Island Paradise, we have represented by art, in a playful even commonplace manner, the relationship between the mortal and eternal, the built and natural. We encounter this through our public art in passing moments every day, right before our eyes or at our feet, without our beckoning, encompassing and sustaining us just as in nature.
Thank you for being here to dedicate Pleated Gnomon and to re-dedicate ourselves to treasure and protect nature. And may we appreciate our natural legacy by living well and fully in all the moments marked by the progressing lights and shadows revealed by our version of Stonehenge; our now-dedicated Pleated Gnomon.