The recyled materials artist Jason Middlebrook employed to bring his site-specific installation Submerged to SCAD Museum of Art - lumber salvaged by Southern Pine Company - remind him of his childhood home of Northern California, where majestic Redwoods soar. As high as those mega trees stand hangs the centerpiece of Submerged. Contrary to the exhibition’s title, though, Jason’s spectacular chandelier is the first piece to be hoisted up into the museum’s signature 86-foot tall steel and glass tower. Giving the historic lumber such a prominent position in the tower that’s been described as a beacon of Savannah was Jason’s precise intention.
To construct his chandelier, Jason will fasten the tips of lumber, weighing between 20 and 50 pounds each, to steel rings using heavy-duty flathead screws.
Thread: What’s the story behind the reclaimed lumber?
Jason Middlebrook: For 200 years these logs were in the Savannah River and the points of these logs were made and driven down into the river to build all the pier system that basically built Savannah. So I saw the logs, but first I saw these points. I was like these are so cool and they have this incredible history to this city
T: How did SCAD MOA and the tower itself inspire you? What made you think chandelier?
JM: Well the verticality of it, the light, the fact that nothing had ever been hung in there. It’s a brand new museum. I love that it’s the maximum height of anything that can be built in Savannah. It just cried out for an object that has a functional intention, and then when I saw the points I went home and I started drawing. I actually drew a chandelier here in my hotel in Savannah. I started looking at chandeliers and they’re tear drop in shape.
T: Tell me how you preparred the wooden tips for the sculpture and your use of color.
JM: We tape the wood off and then we seal the tape with a matte medium and then we do three coats of color. We have really uneven surface so Frances Russell (B.F.A., fibers, senior) and Anna (Jason's assistant) have been helping to clean up the edges for me because I want them to be crisp because the material is so rough in its manner. When you see the planks the color will make more sense because they’re really vibrant and this color is more understated. I only painted 24 and there are 55 of these points in the chandelier.
JM: The colors were designed to reinforce the planks and my palate. So there’s a lot of primary color, a lot of engaged color and it’s really just accents. I like color. I think color contextualized it in a contemporary art sort of way and it allows the viewer to engage in it more than just found wood. It starts to have a dialogue when you add some color. Even the black and white planks will feel engaged.
T: Someone told me that this is the first time you’ve painted both sides of the planks. Why just one side, previously?
JM: Well, for years they’ve just leaned. They occupy a space that's both sculptural and painting. This gives me a chance to treat them like Calder-esque…they’ll be like mobiles in the way that they’re suspended.
Untitled Painted Plank 4 by Jason Middlebrook. Jason will hang five cypress planks in the lobby of SCAD MOA to complement his chandelier.
T: What’s your advice for new artists who want to work with natural materials or found objects?
JM: I think the thing is to be super conscientious with everything, like place, site, material, history. Really think about where the materials came from and what that signifies. And be thoughtful about your decisions before you go head first, before you rip up a tree or cut down a tree. Think about, “Oh, this piece of furniture is broken. Maybe it can be fixed and circulated back into the community.”
T: Does deFine Art (Feb. 18-21) represent a unique opportunity for you?
JM: The best part is that the museum is trying to create a spectacle this week. That’s kind of how art works. That’s the art fair model. If you build it they will come. I think it’s a really good model because people won’t go somewhere unless…it’s like a P.T. Barnum thing. You gotta do a "thing" for people to come.
T: Especially in this age of over the top entertainment.
JM: Yeah, and this way they’re like, “We’re going to put all of our eggs in one basket for one week. And then we’ll get some energy and then learn from it, and next year it will be better or different." I love being a part of those things because there’s energy.
See Submerged at SCAD MOA from Feb. 18 - Aug. 3, 2014. The fifth edition of SCAD deFine Art runs Feb. 18 - 21 in Savannah, Atlanta and Hong Kong.