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Artist Joshua Wiener stands atop one of the eight 17-foot rings that make up his sculpture, a $200,000 public art project. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Wiener and his team work on the sculpture at his Commerce Road studio. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Joshua Wiener knows you’re going to stand on his sculpture.
“There’s no need to keep them pristine. I expect handprints to interact with the material for the first six feet,” he says. “You’ll see the fade of the interaction, and then it’ll stop. And I expect footprints inside the bottom.”
He’s outside his studio on Commerce Road in Manchester, spraying welds with water to make them rust rapidly and blend in with the burnt-orange color of the weathering steel.
The eight 17-foot rings, a $200,000 public art project funded by the city's percent-for-art capital improvement budget, are going up this week near the south entrance to the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge. The project has been on a tight deadline, with the bridge set to be “substantially complete by the end of November,” according to Richmond Director of Planning and Development Review Mark Olinger. Wiener has been flexible, changing his project twice as the city figured out the size of the site he had to work with.
“Everything I do is site-specific, one-of-a-kind,” he says. “Maybe it introduces something to the environment, or it’s responsive to it.”
Changing the scope of the bridge-to-trail connection sent Wiener back to the drawing board before the final design, “A Path Untraveled,” emerged in July. “A week before my big meeting to present it to [the Public Arts Commission], they said, 'Oh, we funded the rest of the project,' ” he says. “I was like, 'OK, I’ll go back and redesign it.' ”
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A welder at work on one of the rings, weighing 3,800 pounds each (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Artist Joshua Wiener stands inside one of the rings at his Commerce Road studio. (Photo by Jay Paul)
That funding allowed the city to include a wheelchair-accessible switchback that expanded Wiener’s site – and changed his vision for the piece. “A big part of what I do is get on a bike with a sketchpad. I pedal and I think about the project,” he says. “I gain clarity through the physicality of that process. It helps me: the balance, the flow, the movement, all of it.”
Being able to bike the trails around the James River, largely built and maintained by Richmond’s mountain bike community, inspired the ring shape of the sculptures, as did the bike advocacy of the bridge’s namesake, Tyler Potterfield, a city planner who died in 2014.
“It’s a gentle nod to the biking community, and the [Americans with Disabilities Act] connection,” Wiener says. “My dad is in a wheelchair now. My brother has a disease where he will be soon. And we grew up going into nature. The accessibility that this bridge provides is like a wheel into nature. And [the rings] make their own path: It rolls up the hill, it rolls down. It creates this whole other trail.”
The material of the rings evokes the neighborhood that the bridge connects to downtown Richmond. “Manchester is heavily industrial, and then we’ve got the James, which is like this oasis of nature, so this is an ideal location because it’s a confluence of the two,” he says. “And I wanted the artwork to convey that, to have this grand presence, to feel like a significant human presence, but sit in a landscape very lightly.”
Part of that aesthetic will come from the varied views the sculptures will offer. Wiener says the landscapers have installed 15-foot trees around many of them, so that the rings will peek up over the top of the canopy in places.
Wiener’s heard some of the public’s dilettante interpretations of the rings. “That’s been the running joke, that they’re gonna roll down the hill,” he says, adding assurances that the rings will be securely attached to concrete foundations.
“And I’ve heard about needing a giant guy with a stick,” he says, a reference to the old-fashioned game of hoop-rolling. “When you create something where the scale is right and the materials are right, it allows for people to read into it lots of different things. Some people will cherish it and love it, and others will despise it.”
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A crane moves one of the rings into place near the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge's south entrance. The project is on track to be "substantially complete by the end of November," says Richmond Director of Planning Mark Olinger. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Installation of Wiener's sculpture began on Wednesday, Oct. 26. (Photo by Jay Paul)
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Photo by Jay Paul
Wiener welcomes your perspective on the 3,800-pound rings. They’re meant to interact with the landscape over their 1,100-foot trek — the paths, climbing walls, historic artifacts and bridges that make up the James River Park System — but also with the people who use those amenities. The sculpture's patina will darken over time, as nature and humanity exert their influence.
Go ahead: Stand inside, recreate da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man drawing, take your selfies.
This is your art, Richmond.