Portrait: 3 Meters Per Second

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

Artist: Welles Emerson
August 2 – September 22, 2002
Minnesota Artists Gallery

Sculptor and installation artist Welles Emerson is intrigued with visceral structures and natural environments that carry symbolic meaning-structures such as brides or fences, and places like oceans or open fields of grass. She thinks a lot about the geologic record, natural selection, equilibrium, turbulence, and waves of sound, light, and water. She says when you really watch the birds it is like being able to see ghosts in an alternate universe.

For the feature sculpture of her MAEP exhibition, Emerson's idea was to collect scientific data on a specific body of water, at a particular moment, and to create a 'portrait” of its surface by translating the scientific data into another material.

She researched interferometry, stereography, bathymetry, photogrammetry, geomatic engineering, and synthetic aperture radar-all branches of science concerned with gathering reliable information about physical objects and environments. She queried scientists at MIT, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, hydro-geologists at the University of Minnesota, the naval architecture and marine engineering department of the University of Michigan, the U.S. Geological Survey, and Arete Research. She hit pay dirt with a nuclear physicist named Dave Wasson, who specialized in fluid dynamics.

Wasson learned that Emerson was after data on the specific gravity and wind speed and direction of a particular 16-by-20-foot surface of water. Wasson digitized a gray-scale image of a section of water to determine the numbers that would correspond to its topography. Emerson translated the image and numerical data by plotting the points of the water's surface every four inches. Using translucent rods of precise lengths, she created a luminous and monumental form.

Emerson's giant “portrait” and her adjacent sculptures-glass fences standing in beds of coal and stone and a flat work comprising thousands of peacock feathers-were beautiful, yet enigmatic. Her sculptural installations manifested Emerson's engagement with the natural world, intersecting one reality with the next, each hanging in the web of universal mystery.


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  • Opening Reception: Thursday, August 1, 2002 at 7:00 p.m. in the Minnesota Artists Gallery.
  • Artist-led tour: Sunday, September 15, 2002 at 3:00 p.m. in the Minnesota Artists Gallery.

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