Vascular Form V, Orientation
Back in 2001, with the help of an FSP/Jerome Fellowship, Foon Sham installed one of his sculptures at Franconia Sculpture Park. Back then, Franconia was located at a 16-acre site on Route 8. This spring, Foon Sham returned to our newly expanded 43-acre park on Route 95 to complete an Open Studio Fellowship, creating and installing new artwork at Franconia. With assistance from one of his students, Dane Rudisill Winkler, Foon fabricated a 12.5 foot tall sculpture in 10 days. Like a well-oiled machine, these two created a breathtaking piece in record time using only 2x4s. They transformed this ubiquitous building material into something wholey unrecognizable by cutting and reassembling the wooden pieces in an unpredictable way.
Foon’s assistant is no stranger to Franconia. Dane served as an Intern Artist in 2012 and later a Site Manager. Since his time at Franconia, he’s gone on to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Maryland under the guidance of Foon Sham. With only 1 year left before graduation, we’re excited to see what he does next. More on that later… After Foon and Dane put the final touches on Vascular Form V, Orientation, I had an opportunity to talk to Foon about his time at Franconia. Here’s what he had to say:
What is your creative process like when you’re making sculpture?
Usually when I work on a project, the place I’m creating it for provides me with a set criteria. I then create the piece to fit that purpose. When creating a project in this manner, I respond to the request from the client as well as to the site. When I travel, especially for a residency, I become inspired by the place I am in – like my trip to Norway, the landscape there inspired me. In my studio, I make work based on materials. Typically I work with wood, which I’ve been working with for 25-30 years. I get my wood by cutting down trees, or from people in high-end furniture stores discarding “scrap.” I make drawings and start collecting materials. I take materials that would be considered waste and turn them into ingredients for sculpture: wood scraps, phone books, sodas, things people throw away. When I have a collection of material in my studio, I start making sketches of a potential work…responding to my own inspiration and the material. In contrast, for commission work, I sometimes need to buy new materials, especially if the quality of the materials is a concern.
Tell me about your project at Franconia. How does it relate to your past work?
Currently, I’m continuing to develop a body of artwork that are vessels. The piece at Franconia is part of a series I’ve been working on since 1997 called Vascular Vessel Form, a container of some sort that people can walk in and then interact with the material as well as have the experience of being inside something. The form invites the viewer in. When you enter, you notice a change in temperature, the pattern of the wood, which looks woven, but is really blocks of wood screwed together, and the skylight up top. Some of the larger pieces have echos, but this piece doesn’t.
Why did you want to create your project at Franconia? What did the experience of working here offer?
I had a piece at FSP before, some 12 years ago. That piece has been destroyed, or thrown away, I’m not sure which, but either way it no longer exists. I love having the opportunity to put another piece here knowing that people still like my work.
I really enjoy seeing how Franconia has grown over the years as a sculpture park, creating opportunities for artists and students I have worked with over the years. I like being part of that process and being part of the community that includes some of my good friends. It’s been absolutely wonderful working with sculptors of all ages, especially the young, emerging ones. It’s been great to witness them working together like a pack of wolves and also working independentely. One of the things I keep telling my students is make as many friends as you can. The things we make are so big we need extra help from friends to build, transport, and install.
FSP has become one of the most wonderful training ground for young sculptors. Many go on to graduate school and become established artists later in their career. This has been a great experience to observe the programs so I can tell my students about the type of work they’ll be doing: moving sculptures, landscaping, working as a group, and more. It’s a great experience…nowhere else has that.
Where and with whom did you study? How have those experiences influenced your own work?
When I first came overseas from Hong Kong, I studied at California School of Arts and Crafts (currently California College of the Arts) pursuing Textile Design thinking that I would go home and work in the clothing industry. Then I took a sculpture class in school and fell in love. I went to MICA for one year as part of Rhinehart School of Sculpture and continued my education at Virginia Commonwealth University for graduate school. In between, I studied at the Philadelphia College of Art for Industrial Design (currently University of the Arts), Pratt for one summer of photography, and finally the College of William and Mary for a semester of advanced education. I never went on to finish my PhD because I wanted to be a sculptor not a scholar. Paul Harris from California School of Arts and Crafts taught me about art and to add a strong emotional impact to my work. He showed me that you can create art to make people’s heart beat fast. That’s something I want to do with my smaller scale artwork. The emotional, psychological impact of art is important to me. Dennis Leon taught me how to respond to the site rather than just putting work out in a space. Norman Carlberg at MICA taught me how to make modular components to put together. At VCU I worked with a group of sculptors who taught me that anything goes in sculpture. Joe Siepel taught me that any material can be used for art, there’s no limit. No limit in terms of ideas or material. Sculpture can be anything as long as you name it so. Sculpture is everything.
I learned to be totally open-minded and free-willed by the end of grad school.
How did your time at Franconia compare to other residencies you’ve completed?
I’ve gone to Nordic Artist Center in Norway where I had my own apartment, cooked for myself, and went to the studio alone. There was no collaboration. There was a common workshop, but not much interaction. At Virginia Center of Creative Arts they cook dinner for you every night. All the artists eat together at night. It’s a social time and a time for networking. In Scotland, you buy your own groceries but there’s a common kitchen. There’s no equipment so I made some drawings while I was there. At the residency in Melbourne, Australia, I was woodworking with wood craftsmen making furniture and cabinets. I was the only sculptor among them. There you live on your own and share a studio with furniture makers. Each one provided different experiences and different opportunities to produce different work. FSP inspired me to make something large because the forklifts and cranes so easily accessible. There’s so much equipment and machines available. I’ve never seen that before; it’s wonderful! FSP is different. It has a lot of interns whereas other residencies don’t have interns at all. In this residency, I take part in the cooking and cleaning which I think is interesting – you get to know the people you live and work with more than just by making art. I love that. I saw Dane and me making meals for the group, and Bobby teaching the interns to make bread. You watch artists making steel and at the same time making dinner for each other. It’s great!
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
After my experience, I really want to make even bigger work than what I’ve made before. What I enjoyed the most was working with all sculptors of all ages working together and I love the white pizza we had at that place nearby!
And lastly, but most importantly, thank you to John Hock for giving me the opportunity to create a piece at FSP and Dane Winkler for your assistance constructing the sculpture and the wonderful crew for supporting the installation.
While we wait to see which of Foon’s students will come here next, we’ll be sharing a bit more about Dane’s experiences here: first as an intern artist, then as park manager, and now as a fellow’s assistant. Check back soon for all that and more!