Since in 1998, Paine has been working on the Dendroid
series, sculptures of steel pipes assembled to form looming tree-like structures. Installing his steel trees throughout various parks country wide, Paine intentionally sets them within and against “natural” landscapes. In both installations I have seen—Split
(2003), permanently gifted to the Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, and a temporary installation of Conjoined
(2007) in Madison Square Park — Paine’s pipe sculptures appear as industrially misplaced trees, as well as unpredictable mutations nature sometimes indulges: one bright silver, perfectly still tree amidst the shifting colors of nature. Paine’s welded trees do not represent the “manmade” fighting against, or corrupting, what is deemed “natural.” Instead, they engage us in considering the necessary, though strained, interaction between the two. Though Paine says, “I’m translating the trees into the specific language of industrial pipelines (Bomb Magazine, 2009),” his work can also be seen to be translating pipelines into the complex fractal language of trees.
though necessarily derivative of Paine’s previous Dendroids
, represents a formal and conceptual departure.
Though its sculptural form resembles branch-like structures, Maelstrom
does not represent a standing tree but a tangled and confused web of pipes. Maelstrom
focuses attention not on what it represents, but on how it has been constructed and installed. Whereas a piece like Split
is beautiful in a clunky and awkward manner, Maelstrom
is all joints, elbows, intersections, and connections. Walking physically through, around, under and at times over the pipes emphasizes the artworks shape, height, density
and durability; its materiality takes on a heightened significance. A roughly welded joint directly overhead, pipeline numbering underfoot, the occasional reflection in a particularly polished branch, or the sense of being physically overwhelmed by woven steel, all emphasize surface and texture, parts and pieces rather than the whole. Most interestingly, it is a structure of contradictions. It is
strong but feels fragile, it has been crafted with care and precision but feels careless or misshaped, and while it took cranes to bring the pieces to the rooftop, it feels as through a blustering wind could sweep them all away. Like a dormant computer, Maelstrom
comes alive through human interaction. It sways and bounces slightly at the touch of curious hands and leaning limbs
The MET roof garden is an odd space for any sculptor to work with, being so site specific, and despite the disturbing manner with which rooftop artwork is treated as a tourist attraction, this location is perfect for Roxy Paine’s steel whirlpool. Instead of being set in the midst of nature as the Dendroids
looms above it, reaching foreboding tentacles outward to the sky, the skyline, and the treetops of Central Park. Maelstrom
contrasts itself starkly with the natural and
the manmade. It threatens the elegant image of the Westside buildings while blocking and obscuring a perfect view of the park. There is no mistaking that Maelstrom
is a sinister piece. In one definition, Maelstrom referrers to a “restless, disordered, or tumultuous state of affairs,” The title fits perfectly with the emotive feeling of the sculpture, and like a good band name it invites additional analysis. The current state of our country, our attempts to unravel and untangle the great mass of systems we have lived within for so long, seems greatly considered in Paine’s piece. The beauty of Maelstrom’s
abstraction rests in the more malleable and complex possibilities of its interpretation. The uprooting, breaking apart, and hasty assemblage of social and financial structures that began in earnest last fall as giant networks collapsed into limp piles of meaningless assets, is caught within the branches and tangles of Paine’s work. Maelstrom
questions what we as a culture have made, what we have destroyed, what we can repair, and what we might be able to learn if we consider our habits of creation.