Artists usually have longevity in mind when they’re making beautiful things. They want their creations to last.
Vancouver artist Erin Dengerink’s target is brevity. What interests her most about the icy artwork she installed Sunday at Columbia Springs Environmental Education Center is watching it disappear.
“It’s the opposite of what people usually do with art. They lock it away because they want it to last forever. But I’m really interested in the way things fall apart,” Dengerink said. “No one can own this, you can only experience it. If you did try to own it, you’d only own a puddle.”
Dozens of globes of solid ice are now dangling from the branches of trees, or set amongst a symbolic river of painted rocks on the ground, along Columbia Springs’ Heron Loop Trail. The initial display, at the Cordwood Classroom that begins the trail, also features metal trays gently ringing out as the ice balls above them melt away, drip by drip.
“Everything is a clock,” Dengerink, who lives in Vancouver and teaches at the Pacific Northwest College of Art, wrote in a statement about this temporary installation. “Fast or slow, everything is changing. … Each drip is a marker of this moment passing.”
Dengerink said her fondest wish is that people vising Columbia Springs will be surprised and pleased by the artwork, and sit down to contemplate it a while.
“If somebody comes along and doesn’t know what it is, it will be this weird, mysterious phenomenon that says something about time and change,” she said. “I love the joy of not knowing, the joy of discovery.”
Columbia Springs executive director Maureen Montague said she’s excited to bring more environmentally oriented artworks and artistic happenings to the 100-acre natural area.
“It’s about finding multiple ways to share our mission with the community,” she said. “One way is through fine art. Art grabs people’s heartstrings and consciousness in ways that nothing else can.”
Montague and Dengerink were together at a First Friday Art Walk event in downtown Vancouver earlier this year when they came up with the idea of an art installation at Columbia Springs that uses the woods as its museum walls, they said. Dengerink envisioned a “wintery piece that has time as a major element,” she said.
She started freezing globes of water and experimenting with stringing them up outdoors in October, she said. Some of the globes got stored at Columbia Springs, others in a freezer at the Salmon Creek home of Dengerink’s mother, Joan. Joan, who was on hand Sunday to help prepare the globes for their star turns, said she could still smell that freezer’s slightly fishy smell.
“That’s the lot of the artist’s mother,” Joan Dengerink said. “What’s in your freezer? Art.”
You don’t have long to see this melting meditation on time and nature. It’s at the east end of Columbia Springs, 12208 S.E. Evergreen Hwy., Vancouver; follow signs to the Cordwood Classroom and the Heron Loop Trail. Open hours are 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. Dengerink figures her ice globes might be gone by the end of this week, which is expected to be rainy.
“Change and disintegration are beautiful, natural processes,” she said. “People find them anxiety producing and upsetting, but (my feeling is), ‘No. This is what everything is.'”