Transforming a beach into a public art studio.
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Garbage: a pile of bricks on the side of the road.
Art: a pile of bricks on a pedestal in the Museum of Modern Art.

This is the power of context, something I grapple with not only in creating, but in viewing art.

“What is art?” this is an interminable debate that I don’t wish to go into here, but we know that at least one “condition” that makes art art is context.

One aspect of context is place: Earth, My Home, A Rainforest, The MoMA. These places help define the objects inside them: How do we approach them? What do they mean? But they also help define how we behave in relation to the space: Can I touch that painting? Can I take off my shoes?

What I am most interested in, however, is the power of an object to change the context of its own surroundings.

At the end of the summer, I spent a few days on the beach stacking rocks. Stacking rocks is a meditative process, and some would say an art unto itself. In a few days, my little sister, a friend, and I had created about twenty stacked rock towers in a small area of the beach.

When I returned to the beach a few days later some stacks were knocked over and some stacks were still standing, but I also found something unexpected—new stacks. An upside down beer bottle, pushed into the sand, was the base. On top of that was placed a vertical rock supported by sticks. I kept returning to the spot every few days to find something new. One day, I returned to find every single stack knocked down and combined into a giant rock pile. I couldn’t help but think, “what a beautiful new piece!” After the stacks were gone, nobody knew what to do with the space and my sculpture park slowly faded away. I couldn’t help but feel good because I hadn’t expected anyone else to run with my idea, and to respond to the small change in context that I had made.

I had transformed a beach scattered with stones into a man-made sculpture park. What I didn’t intend was for the sculptures to transform the beach into a public art studio, and for the experience of stacking rocks to transform my thinking as an artist.

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Casey A. Gollan > Artworks and Projects