I saw Orly Genger’s Terra at the end of its life, in February of 2016. In early April, the sculpture will be gone. Installed in October of 2014 in Oklahoma City, the work lived in the blocks of a public park for one and a half years, sponsored by Oklahoma Contemporary.
The work was by all accounts very popular during its lifetime, as the loops and whorls of red rope cameoed in social media posts and snapshots. Perhaps it is the color, the texture, or simply the size of the work that drew people to it. The rope is repurposed lobster rope, 1.4 million feet of it, painted a bright terracotta red.
But what drew me into the sculpture was the detail, the conspicuous signs of aging that occurred as the artwork spent 18 months out in the sun, rain, wind, and snow. The paint was cracking and peeling. As the rope settled, the zip-ties and rebar staked used to pile and anchor it were becoming visible. It had attracted leaf litter, and other scraps blown by the wind. In some places, it almost appeared to be rotting, containing moisture and dark dirt within the deep recesses of its knots and folds.
But for all of this, the sculpture was still spectacular and impressive. Even as it condensed and settled, the work maintained its curving scale. Decreased in height, the rope within the sculpture was ever as long. Despite how the work had changed, it was not evaporating, it was not degrading, it was not fading away into the background. I thought about how this rope, no longer used for lobster traps, would still have existed even if it had not been built into a sculpture by Genger. The shadows it cast across the park in the evening sky gave the material an opaque quality. This is a wide, twisting wall, built from the material that is left over from our societal machinations. Even after the sculpture is gone, that material will continue to exist. Terra was about permanency, as much as it was temporary.
And even if you missed Terra before its inevitable removal, you may yet see it again. In Austin, Texas, the Contemporary Austin has just sponsored Genger’s Hurlyburly, a similar work of knotted rope, that will be in place from early 2016 through February 2017. That work is made with the same rope used in Genger’s Current, which was sponsored by the same institution in 2014. Where one might find the materials in Terra in the future, we can only guess. But human material has a way of sticking around, and artists like Orly Genger remind us of this, with their impressive, temporary constructions.