A Heavy Load: Q+A with Artist Eben Markowski
the force that attracts a body toward the center of the earth, or toward any other physical body having mass.
extreme or alarming importance; seriousness
Anyone who’s passed through the Burlington International Airport in the past three years has likely encountered a life-sized steel sculpture of an elephant. Her name is Gravity. And, yes, she’s massive. This month, Gravity’s creator Eben Markowski is leading all 5,000 pounds of her to a new location in Vermont. Loyal readers will remember our story, For Creatures Great and Small, where the artist spoke in-depth about his way of life and creative process. However, Eben reveals a lot about himself in one succinct statement in his artist bio:
For Eben, however, art is not an escape hatch from the pain. He works with it to create sculpture that inspires people to think about the ways we overlook, overconsume and burden the natural world while challenging us to do better, be kinder, and tread more lightly. Any chance to speak with the artist is always thought provoking, and so we asked him a few questions about Gravity’s move to a new site.
When and why did you create Gravity?
Gravity was commissioned by a fellow Vermonter around 2013. In working with my very supportive patron, I arrived at a design that attempted to represent the beauty and drama of an elephants existence under human dominance. An elephant constructed from the chains we use to enslave them.
On a greater level, Gravity seeks to articulate the complicated (and often marginalized) wholistic web of ecology that governs all life on this planet. This sentiment can be seen realized in the sculptures web-like design where each component is linked, in one way or another, together to create a balance that is visually and structurally harmonious.
How long was it at the Burlington International Airport (BTV)?
Director of Aviation, Gene Richards and the staff of BTV have created a wonderfully welcoming and supportive home for Gravity for approximately three years, punctuated by a first-semester stay at Champlain College in 2016.
Where is Gravity off to next?
At the invitation of Middlebury town manager, Kathleen Ramsey, and Sheldon Museum executive director, Bill Brooks, Gravity will be installed outside the Middlebury town offices from mid-April 2019 to April 2020.
How many pieces and parts is the sculpture?
Gravity has a load bearing skeleton comprised of six main components. Four legs, a spine, and a pelvis. Attached to her skeleton are the seven upper flesh plates which are forged steel panels of various thickness. The head, shoulders, torso, and rump. Each leg has multiple flesh panels too. The trunk and the tail are made up of many pieces. To answer your question, I would guess that there are hundreds of parts and pieces involved in making this sculpture complete. Maybe that audit is a job for Gravity's Middlebury friends to account for over her one year stay?!
Moving it must be a true feat! It's like a puzzle. How long does it take to disassemble? And reassemble?
The most time-consuming part of moving this sculpture happens prior to any disassembly. Typically, My wife, Heidi, and I spent about three hours color coding each specific chain attachment location in order to keep these chain harnesses from becoming tangled messes. Once the chain harnesses are carefully removed, the heavier steel flesh plates and skeleton disassemble and assemble in thirty minutes. Gravity is currently back at my studio being tailored towards greater simplicity based on our experiences having moved her now multiple times. A goal is to make Gravity's installations as refined as possible so that her assembly and disassembly can reliably and comfortably offer an opportunity for performance art.
How do you think the new location will serve the sculpture? How do you hope it will serve the community?
I am very excited for Gravity to have a new location and to be outside. I am often told by Gene Richards that she was very loved by visitors to BTV. It is my hope that Gravity will continue to draw crowds and inspire emotions within her viewers. I think that Middlebury offers a wide range of opportunities which may help in networking our next location for future installations. It is our desire that the presence of Gravity will facilitate discussions, educational experiences, and further artistic appreciation within this community and beyond.