Sabina Ott’s who cares for the sky? demands participation of all ages the moment one enters the room. Forcing viewers to confront their obsession with conquest, the artist has built a mountain, which fills the Hyde Park Art Center’s main gallery. The scale of the 8,000 cubic-foot mountain is an element that forces instant reflection: How did this material get in here? How does it feel to be next to something so large? And most importantly, can I climb it?
Artificial vines drip from the installation’s bleached crevices, contrasting the texture of the mountain: white, sharp waves like freshly chipped boulders. The mountain, made from canvas, cardboard, polystyrene, and wood, is hardly breathable. Ott plays with conventional gallery norms by including and highlighting the work of other artists in the mountain’s through-tunnel. The pieces, which vary from yarn balls to black and white photographs, to twin ring pops covered in silver glitter, and posed on a mirror, are all small enough to be placed on various shelves carved into the mountain or hung from the cavernous ceiling. Though vastly different in subject and medium, the pieces, together, feel akin to light, airy relics, as if the true treasure is not found in the view from the top but from the desire to search within.
The center of the tunnel, which reaches through both sides of the mountain, is so insulated by its materials that Joe Jeffers’ booming soundtrack is dissolved into almost nothing. A small speaker emits fragmented songs, reminiscent of nursery rhymes, which transport viewers even further into the mountain, away from the exterior and their ambition to climb it.
But the mountain can and should be climbed, of course. Just as the character Rose climbs a looming peak in Gertrude Stein’s The World is Round (1938), which serves as inspiration for who cares for the sky? At the top of the installation stand small blue chairs, chairs we might have sat in years ago while an adult read us a story. But there are other places to stop and consider oneself in the space of the sculpture too. Two carved grottos contain rocks just the right size for sitting (one even offers a bean-bag like chair), and a separate island, appearing as though it could be the top of the mountain chopped off and placed next to it, contains a bench-like structure for repose. The variety of seating invites viewers young and old to take part in the act of inaction, which seems to be an important element, as if contemplating the mountain is a feat as urgent as climbing it.
Who cares for the sky? as an immediate question can only be answered by replying, “All of us,” and more specifically, “All of us children.” The desire to see the world from a new point of view is truly the desire to be young again, the desire to see the world as something we can climb and possess.
Sabina Ott’s who cares for the sky? runs through May 21st at Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell.