Patrick Marold: The Windmill Project at Ent Center for the Arts in Colorado Springs firmly lands on contingency, environment, and illumination.
Patrick Marold: The Windmill Project
October 14, 2020–October 2021
Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs
Land Art and artworks that interact with their environmental surroundings necessarily predicate themselves upon contingency and the vicissitudes of the natural world. Iconic works such as Walter De Maria’s The Lightning Field and Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, for instance, require particular atmospheric conditions or water levels for viewers to experience these outdoor installations as fully-activated, aesthetic objects.
Located east of the Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, artist Patrick Marold’s The Windmill Project—a “site-responsive sculpture [that] illuminates the wind’s movement across the landscape”—is no exception to this premise.
Two thousand eight-foot-tall posts fabricated from translucent PVC pipes protrude from the ground in relatively symmetrical, undulating rows along the gentle roll of a hillside in Pulpit Rock Park at the Austin Bluffs Open Space. Anemometers—comprised of metal cups on a three-spoke axel—cap each post. When the force of wind spins the device, it powers internal LED lights that produce a dull, blue-white glow downward into their semi-transparent shafts.
The Colorado-based Marold has worked on various permutations of this project since 2000, but he installed this iteration in October 2020 with the assistance of UCCS students, staff, and volunteers in conjunction with The Space(s) Between: “a multi-site exhibition taking place during the 2020-2021 season in collaboration with University of Denver’s Vicky Myhren Gallery and featuring outdoor artworks between Colorado Springs and Denver along the I-25 corridor.” The show investigates “various understandings of how we experience the vastness of place and the iconic nature of the American West.”
The exhibition’s curators included several noteworthy artworks in the geographically expansive show. Tobias Fike’s Rectangular Artifice and Square Artifice—two open frames with scenic views—humorously, if perhaps unwittingly, engage in ouroboran logic with Alison Byerly’s The Uses of Landscape: The Picturesque Aesthetic and the National Park System. Ian Fischer’s billboard painting Linda unabashedly celebrates the hyper-commodification of both art and nature, while Elspeth Schulze’s Sift/Sieve (Undermine)—comprised of fifty-four disintegrating bags of sand—is an elegantly understated work of entropy.
But it would be difficult to argue against The Windmill Project functioning as the centerpiece of The Space(s) Between. With its impressive scale and execution, direct engagement with the natural world and contemporary issues of conservation—as well as the dialogue it creates with art historical titans of Land Art, Minimalism, and Postmodernity—The Windmill Project captures an eco-aesthetic imagination in marked ways, including the concept of contingency.
While marketing images of Marold’s installation promote nighttime views of a wholly lit field, one could just as easily—perhaps even more frequently—witness no illumination whatsoever. (In fact, during my trip to The Windmill Project, only a handful of LEDs briefly activated.) To see the hillside aglow in a blue-hued wash is not a matter of simply visiting Marold’s installation and waiting for darkness to fall as the sun slips behind the nearby Rocky Mountains. Rather, one must hope that the proper confluence of high- and low-pressure systems converge in order to produce suitable gusts of wind.
If one were to measure the success of viewership according to the installation’s illumination, then a visit to The Windmill Project could certainly result in frustration or the conclusion that one’s trip was a failure. But to do so would be to misjudge Marold’s installation and environmental art in general. The Ent Center’s website notes that the artwork visualizes a “living body of light”—and just as our own bodies rest, sleep, or remain inactive for extended periods of time, so, too, does The Windmill Project. To rest does not indicate failure. Instead, it is regenerative; it is operative.
In this sense, the artwork is a variable and dynamic creation that adapts to its surroundings while living in a particular ecological environment. To view The Windmill Project at rest, then, is not to view it as un- or deactivated; rather, it is to witness the installation in anticipatory stasis as it works in concert with the area’s atmospheric conditions.
When the anemometers remain still, a viewer experiences the kinetic potentiality of these objects. Anticipatory states are certainly more subtle encounters than their corresponding activated states, but they contain within themselves a gesture toward difference, the speculative, and possibility. While the contemporary imagination often envisions these ecological futures as apocalyptic, The Windmill Project’s static condition offers hope, however discrete, for a (literally) brighter tomorrow.
Patrick Marold: The Windmill Project continues through October 2021 at Ent Center for the Arts at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs, 5225 N Nevada Avenue.