By Jennifer Sadler
Local artist Todd Slaughter is professor in The Ohio State University’s Department of Art's sculpture program. He has held many solo and group exhibitions, both nationally and internationally. His sculptural installations have been exhibited by the Aronoff Center for the Arts and the Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, the Akron Art Museum, the Neuberger Museum of Art, (NY), Artists Space and PS 1, New York, NY, and a major retrospective at the Chicago Cultural Center. Permanent public works can be found throughout Columbus and in the Midway Airport, Chicago, and Tarifa/Algeciras, Spain. He is the recipient of several Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship awards and a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist Fellowship. Reviews of his work have appeared in Sculpture Magazine and El Pais. GCAC recently interviewed Slaughter to learn more about his processes and involvement in creating public art.
GCAC: When did you become interested in creating public artworks?
Slaughter: I became interested in the possibilities of making artwork for particular places/sites in the 1980s. I was drawn to the possibilities implicit within the sites and my later college work focus—design and space planning—gave me exposure to and a high regard for architects, engineers and professional fabricators. I find the process quite rewarding.
GCAC: What is it that attracts you most when deciding whether to get involved with a project?
Slaughter: Like most anyone, I am attracted to projects that seem to have the most potential for doing something interesting. There are interests that have evolved within my studio practice, and the developing of public artworks has additional opportunities and responsibilities. The histories, cultures, geographies relating to both the site and those using the site can all be the core of a public placed artwork.
GCAC: What is one of the most rewarding aspects of creating public artwork? Can you share a particularly memorable experience?
Slaughter: The public artworks I have developed have been quite different from each other, although the cultural histories, physical geography and use of the site surrounding the artwork have usually stood out as their core ideas. Having said this, perhaps the public artwork that most affected me and my future artwork was the Vanitas installation in the early 1990s at the Columbus Metropolitan Library. The project was provided ample budget and time; I was also able to develop the installation with the architects during their process of renovating the library, and I spent several months reading and researching the nature of a library in the very library in which the artwork would be installed. This contemplative time I spent not only helped me form the framework for Vanitas, but also provided me a window into future studio interests.
GCAC: Can you share some insight into your process of conceiving and developing your works?
Slaughter: Public artworks, of course, can be temporary or unfolding events, interventions or iconic place markers. However, the development of a compelling, interactive sited work, peculiar to its site, continues to be my primary interest and goal in public artwork making. I enjoy studying the nature of particular sites, and pointing at what is unique or interesting about that site and those who use it. Perhaps the first question to answer is "what is already there?" I don't have a preferred material, process or form, and in many ways I am starting fresh with the consideration of each site and situation.
GCAC: Having worked in several communities around the world, what can you share about those that have particularly successful public art programs?
Slaughter: Several public art projects I have completed have been sponsored by institutions without art programs. However, two artworks of mine were sponsored and managed by outstanding art programs. They are the Chicago Public Art, Department of Cultural Affairs, and the Dublin Arts Council (DAC) of Dublin, Ohio. Chicago, of course, has a much longer history of public art sponsorship and more resources; however, the DAC and Department of Parks and Recreation of Dublin has, in my opinion, systematically built and maintained a fine collection of public artworks over the years.
In the opinion of many, an exemplary artwork is that of Anish Kapoor. Kapoor's Cloud Gate sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park has set a new high bar for the creation of an elegantly bold, interactive public artwork. This highly admired work leaves visitors in awe of its simple yet complex form, its unique reflection and inclusion of the city of Chicago on one side, its inclusion of Lake Michigan on the opposite side, and perhaps most striking of all, its inclusion of the visitors themselves in magical ways.
Image: The Body of Lake Michigan, a permanent sculptural installation within Midway Airport, Chicago. The translucent fiberglass sculpture is developed from dimensional data of Lake Michigan collected by the USGS of 1: 230, which dramatizes and clarifies all of the lake’s features, January 2002.Courtesy of Todd Slaughter.