Award-winning artist John Grade creates artwork inspired by the transience of nature to produce 3D site-specific sculptures. Grade is motivated by changes taking place in the natural world, and the forms of the organisms found there. Kinetics, impermanence, and a sense of uncertainty are often central to his themes. His latest creation is called Reservoir and is a massive web-like structure dangled between several tall trees. The delicate structure has five thousand heat-formed transparent chambers that collect falling rain.
The glittering chandelier-like art piece is featured in the Arte Sella Sculpture Park in Borgo Valsugana, Italy. Every chamber is delicately molded from casts of 10 different human hands cupped together and edged with steam-bent strips of Alaskan yellow cedar. “We cast ten different people’s hands for variations in scale,” Grade said to Colossal.com. The individual droplets are attached with fishing line to a pair of translucent marine nets. The nets are held by stainless steel rings on the tree trunks to maintain balance and support the tree trunks above the structure.
Grade previously studied the Park’s ecosystem, carefully planning the installation of Reservoir. He wanted it to move in harmony with the environment. “I became most interested in the way rain falls through this grove of trees, the canopy delaying the droplet’s journey to the ground as well as how quiet and sheltered the forest was during heavy rain,” (Colossal.com). “I wanted to make a sculpture that responded to the rain directly as well as a sculpture that responded to people,” he said.
Art in the forest
When it rains or snows, the water collects inside the Reservoir’s transparent receptacles. The globules take the shape of individual raindrops. As the rain chandelier becomes heavier it begins to droop. When it’s sunny, it springs back into its original form as the water starts to evaporate. “The sculpture rises and falls with precipitation differently each time it rains or snows,” Grade said (Colossal.com). The metal coils, installed below the artwork, always keep Reservoir at a height of 10 feet above the forest floor.
As a dry sculpture, Reservoir weighs 70 pounds, but when filled with rain, it can top 800 pounds. The beauty of Reservoir, besides its captivating appearance, is that it serves as a water reserve for the environment. When water vaporizes, it creates humid conditions that benefit the forest.
The artwork can also be manipulated by human actions that cause Reservoir to shift and move. For the launch, Grade collaborated with Italian choreographer Andrea Rampazzo to put together a 45-minute interactive dance performance. “Each tree has a cable connecting the net to the ground running down its length via pulleys which can either engage the spring limiting its downward trajectory to 12 feet of movement or bypass the spring to a second pulley near the base of the tree at waist height, this way the dancers can pull or release any of the 9 lines to create varied movement in the sculpture,” Grade explained (Colossal.com).
Cycles of nature
As an artist and sculptor, Grade’s fascination with the impermanence of nature inspired him, along with a large team, to create many magnificent works of art. One of them was called Middle Fork. It was a large-scale sculpture based on plaster casts taken from a live 140-year-old hemlock tree. The sculpture was displayed at MadArt Space after which it traveled to art fairs and museums, including the Smithsonian Renwick Gallery. Its journey ended when it was returned to the foot of the tree from which it was cast. There it gradually became covered with moss and degraded into the forest floor.
Grade’s recent projects draw inspiration from the mountains in Nevada’s Great Basin, the highland forests of Guatemala, and changing landforms above the Arctic Circle. He is currently working on a series investigating natural disasters. Upcoming large-scale sculptures will relate directly to phenomena like forest fires, windstorms, and earthquakes.