Saturday, October 05, 2013

Peace Chant

Peace Chant

Today's stop in our ongoing public art meander takes us back to the South Park Blocks, between Jefferson & Columbia, home to a jumble of rough stone blocks titled Peace Chant:

Steve Gillman’s “Peace Chant” is the first known peace memorial in Oregon. Gillman designed the sculpture to create a space where people could sit and have quiet time. In his work, he uses the nature of the stone to create a feeling of space and time, juxtaposing natural, manmade, and architectural elements to remind of us of man’s place in nature.

The city designated this Park Block as "Peace Plaza" in May 1985, shortly after Peace Chant was installed, thanks to a petition by local religious groups. The Oregonian article states that no public funds were to be spent as a result, and quotes a local rabbi who stated "The Peace Plaza in itself will solve no problems and will offer no solutions". The article also notes in passing that "[Mayor] Clark said the plaza used to contain a sign with names of persons killed in World War II", but doesn't explain how long ago that was. A more recent whim of the city council sited a Portland Loo in the same block, displeasing the local neighborhood association and others who saw it as sort of desecrating the local peace monument.

Peace Chant

A snarky article in the November 24th, 1985 Oregonian included it in a rogue's gallery of the worst public art in town, saying "A Pile of Rubble" would be a more appropriate title. A June 1985 profile of Gillman explained that this was his preferred style; something about respecting the "integrity of the stone".

Portland Public Art snarked about Peace Chant, saying of it (and a small companion piece across the street)

Both are granite pomo obelisks, cracked and scarred, very Artforum hip, circa 1980. The artist is Steve Gilman, who made a few more sculptures like this and then found more useful work to pursue.

The larger section of sculpture, Peace Chant, lying akimbo to walking traffic in the midst of the Park Block, is another excellent reason for revisioning public art placements. What can you say about it? Like Shelley Duvall in her heartbreaking performance as Olive Oyl, “He’s Large!”

It’s large, and kids from the daycare like to jump off it. That’s about all one needs say about it.
Peace Chant

The aforementioned "a few more sculptures" includes at least one other Portland-area example, in Troutdale's Blue Lake Park, titled Wind Plane.

A few years ago the PSU Vanguard scratched its head about Peace Chant and directed readers to the Portland Public Art post. Peace Chant has also showed up on this humble blog once before, in a post about walking through the park blocks, and I linked to the Portland Public Art post too. At the time I had no idea I'd be doing a public art project of my own a few years down the road. To be honest, I probably wouldn't be doing this project at all if PPA hadn't gone on maybe-permanent hiatus a few years ago.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, Peace Chant drew the ire of a local conservative author several years ago, in a Portland Tribune editorial ranting about the evils of modern abstract art. He merely described it as "three sprawling, nondescript slabs of broken stone", but saw it as a symptom of a wider societal sickness. Apparently the purpose of art is to uplift the public while indoctrinating them with traditional values, something abstract art pretty much completely fails to do. As I said earlier, you'd think he'd be delighted that a sculpture dedicated to world peace is so utterly ineffective at getting its point across. But there's just no pleasing some people, I guess.

peace plaza, south park blocks

A more unusual take on Peace Chant comes in the November 1985 issue of Oregon Geology, the monthly magazine of the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries. It's one stop in a walking tour of the South Park Blocks & vicinity (pp 127-134), pointing out interesting rocks and minerals used in the construction of different structures. Peace Chant gets a brief mention:

Of more recent vintage than the bronze statues is the group of large, white granite blocks forming the sculpture named "Peace Chant" (g) that adorns the Peace Plaza in the Park Block between Columbia and Jefferson Streets. This 1984 sculpture is also by Eugene sculptor Steve Gillman. The stone came from near Fresno in southern California, and the upright piece weighs approximately 20,000 pounds. The long, thin grooves visible in the blocks are from the wire saw used to saw the blocks directly from the ground.
peace_plaza_1 peace_chant

No comments :