PUBLIC ART COMMISSION
In June of 2017, a 400-year-old white pine tree, 36” in diameter, fell during a windstorm in Waupaca, WI, crushing an outbuilding on Brent's parents’ property. We persuaded his Dad to have the lumber milled into 6 x 6 timbers. He hired a portable mill and in November we milled the pine along with several other trees that came down in the storm – 3000 board feet in all. Right around the time when the tree fell, we were on our way to Grand Marais, MN to visit North House Folk School to consult with them about their timber framing courses. There we learned that white pine, the same species of the tree that flattened Brent's parent’s garage, was considered the ideal timber framing material. We had been thinking about the sculptural possibilities of timber framing ever since we fabricated a timbered structure for the artist Fo Wilson at Lynden Sculpture Garden in 2015. So when we were approached about doing a piece for Sculpture Milwaukee, and the organizers showed interest in the Fo Wilson structure at Lynden, we began sharpening our chisels.
We have been fascinated for some time by the geometry of failing buildings and structures, which is exhibited most demonstrably in the neglected farmsteads of the rural Midwest, where partial ruins of barns and outbuildings are a familiar sight. Succumbing to time and the forces of nature, wooden structures lean, sag, and buckle, creating new geometries that contradict their original intended forms. The results are sometimes comical, sometimes bizarre, and always infused with the emotional resonance of a lost way of life.
For Sculpture Milwaukee, our piece, Skew, is a sculptural interpretation of one of these failing structures. Using the wind-downed pine, we will utilize traditional timber framing techniques to construct a half-scale shed that is severely leaning in two directions. Placed on a base that leans similarly, the result is an uncanny distortion of a familiar form. This distortion, however, is not due to failing joinery or dilapidation, but is instead carefully and sturdily constructed in this configuration. Timbers are parallelogram in section and visible joinery is distorted according to the skewed geometry of the structure. The alteration is, in fact, digital in origin – it was first laid out using 3-D modeling software, and digital tools were used to skew the structure in multiple directions. The resulting deformations have a distinctly digital feel that is alien to our normal physical environment. Translating this digital language to age-old methods of rough, hand-built construction, the result is an uncanny collision of past and future that is both familiar and unsettling.