Thursday, December 26, 2013

Birds on a Wire

Here are a couple of photos of Birds on a Wire, the kinetic water sculpture on SE Water Ave. across the street from OMSI. The building in these photos is part of a PGE electrical substation, and the art here is the collection of pipes near the top of the building. The pipes fill with water, from internal piping that you can't see here, and a certain fill level unbalances them, and they tip over and empty into a pool below (which you also can't see, due to a relatively recent wall around the substation). I would have taken a video to give a better idea of what happens, but it never seems to be running when I'm there.

OMSI has an info page about the fountain, which appears to have been created for the 1995-96 "Water Works" exhibit and not updated since then. I think the exhibit overlapped a little with the years I worked there, if I remember correctly, and that was a long, long time ago. I know I recognize some of the names in the site credits, anyway. If you like the Space Jam movie website, or you miss Geocities, you'll love OMSI's Water Works pages. Anyway, the page about Birds on a Wire has a couple of video clips of it doing its thing. Unfortunately as a circa-1995 website the video clips are postage stamp-sized QuickTime movies, but they're the only ones I've been able to find of the fountain in operation. In case the OMSI site goes away, here's their description of the fountain:

This water sculpture is a popular attraction at OMSI. Finished in 1995 by David Curt Morris, this fountain is very similar to the Deer Chaser fountain, but on a larger scale. Large metal pipes move in rythmic motions that remind one of birds drinking from a fountain.

Birds on a Wire

A 2001 profile of Morris for the Reed College alumni magazine mentions that he also created the Columbia River Crystal sculpture in downtown portland, which I'm a big fan of. It and Birds on a Wire look nothing alike, and I wouldn't have guessed the connection on my own. A 1994 First Thursday blurb in the Oregonian, for a show at the Laura Russo Gallery, mentions the fountain in passing:

New York artist David Curt Morris is an architect with a predilection for water and engineering. The Oregon Museum of Science & Industry considered him the perfect person to create a sculpture for its new facility. That piece will be completed in 1994, but in the meantime his studio work made of bronze, glass and water is on view at the gallery. Morris is the son of Carl and Hilda Morris, the late Portland artists.

Morris is a common surname, of course, so I would't have guessed this connection on my own either, but Hilda Morris created Ring of Time, the abstract sculpture outside one of the Standard Insurance buildings that looks either like the Guardian of Forever or an onion ring, depending on how nerdy and/or hungry you are. I'm fond of it too, and I had no idea there was a family connection here.

In any case, another profile, for a gallery in Beijing, mentions that Birds on a Wire won an award for excellence by a local engineering society. Details of the award don't seem to be online; it's possible the engineering society didn't have a website yet back in 1994 or 1995. The 1994 date in the Oregonian article might be when it was originally supposed to be done, by the way; my recollection is that it took quite a few months to get the bugs and kinks worked out of it. But then, I wasn't personally involved in the project and mostly just heard office gossip about it, and it was quite a long time ago, and I may be misremembering the whole thing. The more I think about it, this entire 1994-95 business is making me feel old. Have I mentioned I have yet another birthday in a few days? Because I do, and this time I don't have tickets to Hawaii or Vegas or anywhere. Sigh.

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