When Matt and Maria Salenger were commissioned to create an art installation outside the International Living Learning Center, they decided to sit down with international OSU students and ask them about the things they brought from their home culture to the United States.
Those answers formed the inspiration for the installation, called “What We Hold Dear.” The Salengers translated the responses into objects which represent five different cultural groups that study and live in the ILCC. The installation includes a set of 10 concrete statues carrying bronze vessels on their backs, and is currently being installed at the northwest and southeast corners of the building.
The vessels are carved in shapes that represent the various cultures, and are adorned with the objects chosen to represent the ideas students take with them from home. For example, the Japanese vessel is wrapped like a gift, representing the strong gift-giving tradition of the culture. The Indonesian vessel has a special rock on it, based on a folktale about the importance of respecting family elders.
“We do a lot of interactive projects,” Matt Salenger said as he took a break from supervising the installation of the project. “We wanted to capture the uniqueness of the students who go here, and what they carry with them.”
Each bronze vessel was designed using 3-D computer modeling, and then carved by computer. The concrete figures are all intentionally genderless and cultureless. An Arizona artist cast the figures based on a foam carving the Salengers provided.
The Salengers live and work in Tempe, Ariz., and were commissioned two years ago to create a piece for OSU. The work was paid for through the Oregon’s “Percent for Art” program, facilitated by the Oregon Arts Commission. The program requires that at least 1 percent of the direct construction funds of a new or remodeled state building with construction budget of $100,000 or more be set aside for the acquisition of art for the building.
In addition to the sculptures, the Salengers worked with poet Ron Phares to create short poems for the vessels based on the interviews they conducted with international OSU students. The poems will be attached to five of the vessels, and the other five will have text explaining the inspiration behind the cultural representations.
“The immortal moon/ houses a human soul/ a woman/ alone/ but shared/ with friends/ amidst falling leaves,” begins the poem representing Chinese culture.
Matt Salenger said there weren’t many limits on the project, other than avoiding any particularly controversial words or images.
“Avoid religion and politics,” he said. “As long as you do that you’re ok.” Although it can be hard to separate things like religion and culture, the pieces manage to represent cultures without overt mentions of specific belief systems, and instead portray a broader sense of home and family.
The positioning of the sculptures, in a ring, facing each other, was very intentional as well.
“They’re all facing toward the center, and coming together as a community,” Salenger pointed out. Just as the international students are coming from far-flung places around the globe, and uniting in one building, forming a new family within the walls.
The new installation can be viewed in the plaza to the northwest of the ILLC, just north of Cascadia Marketplace.
For more information on the Salengers, see http://colabstudio.com/
~ Theresa Hogue