The 2008 Beijing Olympic Landscape Sculpture Contest has chosen a design submitted by art professor Scott Fuller and fellow artist Asherah Cinnamon as a finalist from among the 2,400 designs submitted. If it wins, their sculpture - "Reaching for Courage: Gateway to China"- will be installed at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
The 290 finalists are competing for medals in a kind of "artistic Olympics" to determine the 29 ultimate winners, which will be announced this fall. In all, artists from 81 countries participated in the contest.
Featuring a series of towering gates, each designed to resemble a flame, Fuller and Cinnamon's sculpture is made of molded architectural glass on a 26-foot-tall steel framework. Sandwiched between the layers of glass is a translucent digital print with a vibrant array of reds, yellows and oranges.
Each of the five gates also forms the Chinese character for "people" or "enter" - the translation depends on the orientation of the gate. "In a sense, the five gateways are symbolic of the five Olympic rings, but I hope that if the piece gets built, it will have a life beyond the Olympics," Fuller says of the design that he conceives of as a symbolic plaza or gateway for goodwill.
A model of the "Gateway" sculpture began a public tour to major cities in China and other countries last summer as part of a traveling exhibit featuring the contest finalists. In a China View newspaper article about the "Excellent Works" exhibit, the "Gateway" sculpture was among only eight that were praised by name. In a catalog Fuller received of the finalists, the "Gateway" work was marked as one of 150 preferred works.
Fuller and Cinnamon were students at Maine College of Art when a Chinese professor there asked a member of the Olympic contest committee to speak to artists at the school about the competition. Fuller and Cinnamon began a successful collaboration, meetings dozens of times and discarding sketch after sketch before reaching "Gateway."
Cinnamon was deeply motivated to participate in the contest for personal reasons: She was born in China after her parents and 20,000 other Jews were saved from the Holocaust by Shanghai's open immigration policies.
Based on the idea of a triumphal arch, originally built by the Romans to celebrate power and conquest, the "Gateway" sculpture celebrates the triumph of diplomacy instead. "Nations are delicate," Fuller says. "The Olympics are a diplomatic tool ....We tried to create a space where many cultures can come together."
At times a fascination with fire inspires Fuller's art, and the "Gateway" piece draws on this with its flame-inspired hues. When internally lit at night, the piece will form a glowing beacon. "Conversations will happen," Fuller says about what he hopes the art will provoke.
If the sculpture wins a coveted medal and becomes one of 29 built for the 29th Olympiad, Fuller and his colleague hope to oversee its construction in China. The artists had to sign away their rights to control the making of the sculpture, however. "I don't like giving up control ... but I decided this was such a unique opportunity," Fuller states.
In the meantime, 3 million people are expected to see a model of the Gateway sculpture as it tours China with the other finalists. Because artistic expression was repressed there for so long, throngs of Chinese people have viewed the sculptures at the tour stops. Not only do people get to see the art, they get to vote on it. Their votes, combined with an expert panel, will decide the winners.
Fuller says he and Cinnamon shared a true spirit of collaboration in coming up with their design. Looking ahead and imagining that "Gateway" could be built, Fuller hopes that the runner carrying the Olympic torch might even pass through it.
Scott Fuller's collaboration with Asherah Cinnamon on the Olympic sculpture design is not unusual. He thrives on working with other artists. "It keeps my work fresh," he says.
Although a prolific artist with more than 100 works in both public and private collections, Fuller doesn't consider himself a sculptor or a painter or any other artist category. "I like to take from any mode of expression to communicate what I'm trying to communicate," he says.
Even as a teenager (he announced to his parents at age 14 that he was going to be an artist), he used multiple techniques, and then continued to fold in more. His permanent works include large-scale drawings and collages using a range of materials, indoor and outdoor installations, object-based sculpture, ceramics and photography.
Born in Auburn, Calif., Fuller, 29, attended Brigham Young University in Hawaii. After graduation, he taught courses in ceramics and sculpture at the university for three years and worked as a professional artist.
In 2005, he designed and built the largest wood-burning kiln in Hawaii. "Fire in its raw state is the root of many technologies," says Fuller, who enjoys the ancient process of taking earth, refining it and firing it in his ceramics work.
However, Fuller also uses fire as a jumping-off point for his some of his photography. In his image "Basket," he takes fragments of digital fire images and mirrors them electronically into forms that become recognizable things, such moths, birds or faces. He sometimes goes a step further by retransmitting a computer-generated image into a pen-and-ink drawing that he hand-colors, essentially bringing back the original image to the human hand.
"Pohaku," ceramic sculpture, 2005.
Mirroring is a computer technique that shows up often in his work. In "Ectogate," he mirrors and layers an image of dried echinacea vines from his garden into a poetic abstraction. "This kind of symmetry is found in the natural world," he says, "such as in the arrangement of crystals and the physical structure of plants and animals."
A piece called "Icemorphing" is far from nature, however. It originated from photographing thin, wrinkled polyurethane sheets, proving that Fuller is not easily categorized.
In 2006, Fuller received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Interdisciplinary Studio Arts from Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine. While a graduate student there, he engaged his particular passion for public art by creating "Light Beneath the Snow,"an ephemeral piece using fire and snow, in a large downtown park. One other large-scale installation in downtown Portland also employed candles and snow. "These installations were designed to engage the local community in building as well as participating in the work," he says.
Fuller, who is consistently busy sending out proposals for more public art projects, hopes to expand art offerings at Saint Joseph's. Already he has introduced courses in digital photography and ceramics; to that, he hopes to add printmaking and sculpture, once space is available. "I'm looking forward to creating a professional fine arts studio on campus," he says. "With young student minds, the possibilities are endless."