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Neighbors of Kane County

The importance of art in Batavia

Nov 01, 2017 08:30AM

“Fractal Cluster” was installed in October.

In early October, the final sculpture to be installed on the Donovan Bridge in downtown Batavia was lifted into place by a City of Batavia crane. The long arm of the crane held aloft a series of stainless steel cubes fused together in a sculpture titled Fractal Cluster.

Artist Bruce Smith stood by as the crane and city workers collaborated with former City Administrator Bill McGrath to position the eight foot sculpture as it hung suspended by nylon rope against a clear autumn sky. The truck engine made it difficult to converse, but Smith smiled broadly as the cubical work was slowly raised and situated above four bolts protruding from the cement base where the sculpture would soon reside.

“You’ll have to talk loud,” Smith said, turning his head during conversation with visitors. “I should have protected my ears more when I was younger.” The process of creating his sculpture requires multiple rounds of boring through half-inch stainless steel to create the distinctive appearance unique to his metal sculptures. “It’s a loud process,” admitted.

Finally the sculpture is in position, but as the crane lowers it with guidance from McGrath and a team of two other city workers, there is a problem. One of the bolts is too tall. It strikes the sculpture through the hole in the base. They motion to lift the piece into the air and McGrath pulls out a saw and a nut to indicate how much height to chop off the bolt. Sparks fly for thirty seconds as the spinning blade cuts through the half-inch bolt. Then the sculpture is swung back into place and the work of bolting it down permanently can begin.

Once in place, the Fractal Cluster sculpture seems to still be moving. Sunlight falling on the stainless steel heightens the darker holes where White has carved an almost cosmic message for viewers.  A sign below the artwork expands on the subject: “Science works to provide explanations for all that we see around us, from the beginning to the end of time. As the host community to Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, Batavia is witness to the scientific search at the smallest scale of matter and energy as well as exploration of the birth of the universe as we know it.”

Directly across the street is an equally compelling call to light and human experience. Spintronic is a stainless steel and Dichroic Glass. “Spintronic’s beauty is derived from the dynamic that electons can create when acting under the influence of electromagnetic forces,” the artist Nicole Beck explains. “Yet the significance of this design may be in the energy and movement upward that reflects expansion, growth, and even joy.”

Spintronic  features glimmering circles of pale green, purple and orange that indeed swirl upward. Picture a drain emptying, but in reverse.

Next to Spintronic on the southeast side of the bridge is the organic sculpture titled Nature’s Sounds of Harmony. The stainless steel sculpture by Kai Schulte was created in 2009, and was chosen as the “Nature” component of the sculpture group. The tight little grove of stainless steel cattails sways and rings with the wind. It’s only real enemies in this world are some vandals that have been known to bend down the tall stalks, forcing them to be replaced.

There are hints of nature and history in the bronze and glass sculpture titled “A Look Back” by Oscar Leon and Jessica LoPresti.  “A Potawatomi stands on the bank of the Fox River, with its underlying limestone,” the narrative below the sculpture reads. “As a ‘keeper of the fire’, caring for the sacred campfire is an important responsibility.”

“He faces east, from which come life and new beginnings, unaware of the magnitude of changes coming to the region. Out of his sight rises a windmill, a symbol of Batavia’s move from an agrarian economy to one more characterized by manufacturing and later, commerce heavily reliant on the use of computers and the World Wide Web, which also had its beginnings here.”

Each of these sculptures thus captures a significant element of the history, nature and progress of Batavia. Their diverse appearance is vital to this process of expression. Yet their joint presence on the William J. Donovan Bridge gives passersby an opportunity to glimpse an example of human ingenuity and creative expression each and every day. That itself is a gift of existence in Batavia.