At the height of rush hour, pedestrians dart through a cluster of metal waves appearing to crash into a skyscraper in the heart of Boston’s financial district. Some take a break from their commute to gaze at the towering stainless steel and aluminum pieces, which mirror a secondary set of structures strung up inside the 22-story building.
“People have told me that UPLIFT looks like water, air, dragons, fire – even angels,” installation artist Mia Pearlman told students gathered in the RISD Auditorium to hear about how she makes her amazing work. “The forms are purposefully abstract so onlookers can dream up their own interpretations.”
In 2013 Liberty Mutual Insurance Group commissioned Pearlman to make the permanent, site-specific sculpture for its Back Bay headquarters. Inspired by the clean architectural lines of the skyscraper, she drafted plans by experimenting with paper models cut with a fresh X-Acto knife. Workers from Polich Tallix Fine Art Foundry then used an industrial water jet cutter and loads of elbow grease to fabricate the 14-foot metal slabs needed for the piece.
“It’s hard to imagine how much labor goes into a project like this – but it’s pure magic when you see it come together,” the Brooklyn-based artist explained to those attending her April 17 talk, which was sponsored by RISD’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI). “I deeply considered the many different audiences who pass by the site. Hopefully [the work] adds a bit of joy to the urban landscape.”
Although this is her first large-scale public art project, Pearlman is an expert at using simple materials to radically transform space. Critics have long been enamored of her temporary cut and painted paper installations, which suggest windswept clouds, tornadoes and other wild weather patterns.
Pearlman is currently showing work at the Museum Kunst der Westküste in Alkersum, Germany and at the Printemps Boulevard Haussmann in Paris, France. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority also recently commissioned her piece called SOAR – a series of permanent stainless steel window screens for the 80th Street A Train station in Queens.
“My process is very spontaneous and intuitive,” Pearlman told students. “I usually don't sketch drafts – unless curators really want them. My decisions are made in the moment.”
Students seem to appreciate Pearlman’s organic aesthetic. “Celebrated art is often contained in sterile glass boxes,” notes Tess Spalty 14 PT/MAT 15, who attended the talk. “But Mia’s work is so unusual in that it appears to be growing along gallery walls, swirling among ceiling rafters – even rising up against concrete sidewalks. It feels alive.”
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