The art of Remembrance

by Mary L. Grady
Mercer Island Reporter

For Ingrid Lahti, art is not just the representation of an event or a idea. True public art is shaped by the community and the environment around it.

Lahti, a long-time Mercer Island resident, is the visionary behind the haunting and shimmering sculpture installed this past weekend at the Bellevue Downtown Park to commemorate the tragedy of 9/11.

Lahti designed and constructed the sculpture by combining a visual representation of the tragedy with the ideas and handiwork of the people of Bellevue.

The sculpture, a likeness of the World Trade Center towers, stands in the reflecting pool at the south end of the park. It consists of two 12-foot-high retangular-shaped aluminum frame structures bolted onto a 250-pound metal anchor plate and hundreds of pounds of river rock in the pool. Each of the towers is covered with more than 1,500 medallions that hang on racks to suggest the windows of the towers. The 1.5-inch by 3.5-inch shiny aluminum medallions, shaped like military dog tags, have the names of each of the individuals who died at the towers, at the Pentagon and on American flight 77. The names were inscribed on the medallions by hundreds of people using black Sharpie pens.

``Literally hundreds of community members, by signing the medallions, have taken part in the making of the sculpture. It has been a tremendous response,'' said Barbara Jirsa of the Bellevue Art Museum, a major sponsor of the project.

The installation, which is temporary, was paid for by grants from the museum, the Washington State Commission for the Humanities and private donations.

The medallions move ceaselessly even in the slightest breeze and shimmer in the changing light. The constant movement of the sculpture creates a ``fractured surface,'' suggesting the notion of a building in pieces, the artist wrote in her proposal to the museum.

The sculpture is framed by the tall buildings of downtown Bellevue in the background. The community partners involved with the design of the structure and planning the events surrounding 9/11 wanted the sculpture to align with the tall buildings of downtown Bellevue, to ``make it more real,'' to convey a sense that it ``could have been me,'' said Jirsa.

Lahti, an Island resident since 1976, is an installation artist who has worked with stone, metal and neon. She holds a certificate in public art and design from Bellevue Community College and a master of fine arts from the University of Washington. Lahti has done work in Chicago, Bellingham, Seattle and is currently involved in a public art project in Tacoma for Sound Transit.

The artist is passionate and dedicated to her art. But she is modest about her contribution and vision that lead to the design and execution of the installation.

Lahti directs the credit for the work and its design to other influences. She points instead to the events of 9/11, the people involved in the commemorative events and the urban park that truly determined the design and its meaning.

She has spent countless hours on the project since July, volunteering her talent, time and considerable organizational skills in designing and engineering the project, its fabrication and installation.

``It has been astonishing to get so much support for the project,'' Lahti said, relating how she herself got on the phone to find materials and manufacturers and coaxed vendors into donating items.

She even drafted her son, Leo Eisenman, along with a cadre of helpers, to help with the installation. Helpers hauled and placed rock around the base, re-drilled hundreds of holes, positioned and attached the racks with the medallions.

The towers were fabricated by Alaska Copper and Brass, in south Seattle, owned by the Rosen family of Mercer Island and Seattle. The towers are simple in design and were fairly straightforward to fabricate, Rob Rosen said.

``I think that will be part of the beauty of the thing,'' he said. ``We are proud to be a small part of this.''

Last Saturday morning, Leslie Lloyd, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association who has been closely involved with the project, stood at the edge of the pool asking people passing by what they thought of the installation.

``We wanted it to be hopeful -- not maudlin, but respectful. Something that people can see and contemplate within the park -- then move on,'' she said.

The movement and flashes of light generated by the sculpture attracted most everyone who passed by the pool in the hours after the installation was in place.

Many paused to look and seemed to know exactly what the sculpture was and what it represented. Kiernon Powell of Woodinville and his two sons, Jonathan and Christopher were seated on a bench near the sculpture last Saturday morning. They had seen it being set up earlier in the day as they made their way to Bellevue Square to shop for a birthday present for the boys' mother. They came back to see how it turned out.

``It is obvious what it is,'' the elder Powell said. ``It is wonderful to look at''.

``It looks like it is floating on the water,'' Christopher Powell, 7, said.

Said Lahti: ``Doing installation art is like setting a bird free. Once you set it free, you find out what it really means.''


Copyright © 2002 Horvitz Newspapers, Inc.