In January, the Ithaca City Council will vote on whether to approve two new public art sculptures that have received mixed reviews from residents. The intriguing new sculptures would both be placed in local parks and have already been adopted by the Community Life Commission.
“Anthropocene” was inspired by the definition of the word which is “the current geological age, considered to be the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment”. The sculpture is the brainchild of Monica Fransiscus and Tom Hirschl, who work at Cornell University, see the sculpture as a statement on climate change. The overall message of the sculpture, according to Fransiscus, is sustainability.
“Originally, we looked for what is the main cause of climate change,” Fransiscus said. “It’s the car that causes these greenhouse gases and Tom’s class deals a lot with inequality, poverty, sustainability, the end of the industrial revolution, robots in the workplace and the income disparity. […] Then we thought to use car parts, they are free. I also didn’t want to buy stuff or make stuff.
When reviewing the design, Fransiscus said she wanted a ring and chose the color scheme based on the Earth’s heat zones. She wants to paint what would be the chrome of the North and South Poles, representing Antarctica and the Arctic. The middle areas of the sculpture would be red and orange. This leaves the remaining areas as agricultural areas, which would be green and blue.
This room will also include solar lights. The piece is ready to go but the piece is still awaiting approval from the Communal Council. However, there has been some pushback for the statue to be located in Baker Park, voiced by attendees at this month’s Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting. One concern was what would happen to the sculpture when exposed to Ithaca waterfront conditions for an extended period of time, which worried Fransiscus and Hirschl.
“The foundation should be stable,” said Fransiscus, who would rather place it somewhere unexpected. “If it’s near a lot of trees, there are two problems like affecting the roots and damaging the old trees. Then, if there is a lot of shade, the solar lights will not turn on. There’s been talk to put it in The Octopus, there’s urban terrain there. […] There is never anyone inside. A lot of traffic goes through there.
The second sculpture, Tompkins Giant No. 1, is a tribute to the legend of the Taughannock Giant, created by Jared Charzewski and funded by the Community Arts Partnership (CAP). John Spence, executive director of CAP, said the project began in 2017 when Tom Knipe, then working with the Tompkins County Department of Tourism and the Tourism Strategic Planning Council, met with Spence, Jennifer Tavares of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce and others to consider. the purchase and installation of a sculpture.
By spring 2020, the sculpture is expected to be completed and, if approved, housed in Cass Park along the waterfront trail. The 20-foot sculpture will be made of recycled steel with a multi-colored patina and clear coating for protection, and would cost $18,000.
Reactions have not been all positive, with local residents showing hesitation both about the location and about the sculptures in general. Resident Mary Slaught said the Anthropocene would take away the beauty and wildlife of Baker Park; some, however, noted the sculpture’s important message while claiming it was out of place.
“The ‘Anthropocene’ sculpture is relevant to today’s issues of pollution, climate catastrophe and mass extinction,” wrote local resident David Nutter. “While large enough to be appreciated and inviting people to walk through it and meditate from within, the proposed sculpture is not large enough to be off-putting. It will be a friendly, colorful, and light-lit form. I am in favor of this sculpture being placed somewhere, although I wonder if it will get its fair value on the edge of Baker Park, and I think it will benefit from some explanatory information on site.
As for Tompkins Giant #1, most people felt that he looked strikingly similar to the character Groot famously seen in the Marvel comics. Critics have focused on the sculpture’s large size and sleazy appearance. Alderman Cynthia Brock wrote a comment opposing the carving, in response to a series of comments from Nutter.
“I share your discomfort for the giant, although I haven’t been able to properly explain why it bothers me,” Brock wrote. “In any case, he does not feel a welcoming presence that would encourage me to visit him – and could rather dissuade me from being near him and the area he ‘supervises’.”