Sculptural Transformation: Felled Oak is Inspiration for Art Installation

May 14, 2007 -- A huge, centuries-old oak tree that succumbed to age and inclement weather last September is the inspiration for a sculpture installation by architecture graduate student and sculptor Firat Erdim.

"I am interested in ways of engaging the ground and a place," Erdim  said of the site-specific work.

His sculpture construction reveals elements of his two worlds. The base is a large hollowed-out fragment of the oak's trunk that Erdim salvaged from the spot in front of the Drama Building where the tree had stood. The creation rests on the point where a branch once helped provide balance and grace to the tree. Steel rods jut out, supplying stability and an armature to which are lashed branches from a cherry tree. At the intersection of these elements Erdim has packed on red clay soil that was kicked up when the tree fell. The sculpture is a contrast of strength and fragility. Each part of the installation reveals the efforts of putting it together, said Erdim. "By bringing together all the materials and imbuing them with human activity they come together and are part of a process again."

Part of the process relies on nature. As the clay soil dries, it adheres to the twine lashing the cherry limbs to the rods. When it rains some of the clay washes away, falling through a hole in the same oak limb that once held the life-sustaining systems that had rotted away. Erdim appreciates the fact that the sculpture requires maintenance. "It affirms that it has value," he said.
Since coming to U.Va's School of Architecture last fall, Erdim has blended his interest in both sculpture and architecture. In addition to the current installation, he has worked on sculpture projects in studio art's Dell Courtyard. His architecture thesis project is the design of an open sculpture studio on the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

The Culbreth Earth/Oak is part of his work for a sculpture class with McIntire Department of Art sculpture professor William Bennett. Erdim finds that he likes working with the processes of sculpting but also likes the abstraction and distancing of working on an urban scale that architecture affords. 

The sculpture project is not the lone artistic creation in that portion of the Grounds, which is adjacent to three construction projects and surrounded on two sides by chain link fence. Other temporary projects enliven the space. An earth circle, part of a set for a production of "Iphigenia and Other Daughters" by Drama Department graduate student Joel Grothe, and an art project by students in a class lead by assistant professor of architecture Sanda Iliescu add to the creative activity in the area.

Erdim appreciates the interaction of the disciplines and the site.

"I hope the landscape here will be engaged that way, with various projects" after the building construction projects are completed, he said.

Erdim's installation will be on view through May 23.