On a rainy Saturday in New Haven, city resident Chris Scheidel stops to take a photograph of the newest metal-framed addition to Orange Street. He smiles, talking about how he thinks it could have just landed here from the sky, this pile of oversized metal calamari.
Lurking between two buildings at the edge of the Lot, DeWitt Godrey’s “Pamplona: New Haven” stands as Artspace’s newest public installation.
Fifteen vertical steel circles fill the 17-foot-wide pedestrian alley, which connects the Chapel Street bus stop to Orange Street. The loops, varying from 1.5 feet to 7 feet across, are built of bent sheet-metal strips bolted together and are stacked as tall as the buildings that frame them. Pedestrians can venture through the center bottom loop. The accumulated weight of the top circles distorts the lower ones into asymmetrical ellipses. Orange rust dusts the steel structure, and serial numbers are legible on the inside of the circles; both characteristics allude to the metal’s past, giving the sculpture an industrial, scavenged finish and appearance.
Installed in an out-of-the-way corner of the Lot, “Pamplona” takes on an element of surprise. Like Andy Goldsworthy’s “Midsummer Snowballs,” coming around the corner, it’s the last thing a passer-by would expect (Goldsworthy, a Scottish artist, annually places seven-foot-tall snowballs around London in the summer). The Lot introduces rotating exhibits of public art to downtown New Haven, and “Pamplona” plays into this mission — the work is itself surprising, and its location adds to the installation’s overall effect. The loops and their organic shape contrast not only with the adjacent geometric cinder-block buildings, but also with the downtown urban landscape.
Surprisingly, considering Pamplona’s materials and size, the loops seem light and springy. At any moment, they could fly up in search of a new location, a narrow street or an enclosed garden where they could await to startle the next unsuspecting art enthusiast.
The Lot’s sign, set back from the bus stop, invites people to walk through “Pamplona,” explaining that “the sculpture changes shape, responding to the buildings, the sidewalk and the people who touch it” and that “with each person’s footsteps and movements, this sculpture will move and evolve.” These welcoming words are appropriate because of its public location.
But although the metal loops may settle and shift, the only evident effects of people’s interactions are wet footprints from pedestrians on a rainy day.
Many men and woman, consumed by their errands, walk through Pamplona as if it were a temporary piece of construction scaffolding. When asked about the sculpture, two men look up as if it had escaped their notice … twice. People walking beneath the structure focus on the ground, talk on their cell phones or carry groceries, oblivious to the hundreds of pounds of metal above their heads.
“Pamplona: New Haven” is part of The Public Art / Moving Sites traveling installations presented by the Cambridge Arts Council, Mass.; Rockingham Arts and Museum Project, Bellows Falls, Vt.; and Artspace. A different arrangement of “Pamplona” first was installed next to the sculpture’s namesake cafe in Cambridge, Mass., in February of this year. Returning to New Haven, artist DeWitt Godrey ’82 continued this project with his second public instillation. Previously, Godrey has focused more on sculptures for galleries and sculpture parks.
Gazing through the loops to the area of Orange Street beyond the sculpture, the viewer accepts the steel squid slices. Curvaceous like the graffiti, stacked like the scaffolding, airy and open like the gutted building awaiting repairs, “Pamplona” continues to blend into the New Haven landscape until it’s replaced by the next installation after April 7.