Situated in a clearing within an Italian forest, John Grade’s latest installation, Reservoir, appears like a chandelier glistening among the pine trees. Reservoir is featured in the Arte Sella Sculpture Park in Borgo Valsugana and is made up of five thousand clear droplets each of which is delicately attached to translucent nets, supported by tree trunks.
On designing Reservoir, Grade (previously) studied the Park’s ecosystem, carefully planning the installation in harmony with the surrounding landscape. “I became most interested in the way rain falls through this grove of trees, the canopy delaying the droplet’s journey to the ground as well as how quiet and sheltered the forest was during a heavy rain,” Grade tells Colossal. “I wanted to make a sculpture that responded to the rain directly as well as a sculpture that responded to people.”
Reservoir is constructed from heat-formed plastic parts framed with steam-bent strips of Alaskan yellow cedar. Each droplet is attached to marine nets with fishing line which are then incorporated with stainless steel rings to maintain tensions and support the tree trunks above the structure. The shape of the translucent droplets are formed from casts of human hands cupped together. “We cast ten different people’s hands for variations in scale,” Grade explains.
When rain falls or snow lands the water accumulates within Reservoir’s clear pouches, giving them their droplet-like shape. In doing slow, the installation gets heavier and lowers, while in sunny, warm weather, it rises back into its original structure as the liquid evaporates. “The sculpture rises and falls with precipitation differently each time it rains or snows,” says Grade. Springs below the installation limit the vertical range of movement, so Reservoir always remains 10 feet above the forest floor.
The dry sculpture in its original configuration weighs 70 pounds, but when filled with rainwater, it can exceed 800 pounds. Reservoir serves as a water resource for the surrounding landscape: when the water it holds evaporates, it creates a humid environment for the surrounding vegetation to flourish.
Movement also manipulates the structure of Reservoir, and, as part of the project, Arte Sella connected Grade with Andrea Rampazzo, a dance artist based in Italy. Rampazzo choreographed a performance, where four dancers would interact with the sculpture, making the installation rise and fall depending on their movements. “Each tree has a cable connecting the net to the ground running down its length via pulleys which can either engage the spring limiting its downward trajectory to 12 feet of movement or bypass the spring to a second pulley near the base of the tree at waist height,” Grade explains. “This way the dancers can pull or release any of the nine lines to create varied movement in the sculpture.”
Occurring during one day of festivities, the dance lasted 45 minutes and was performed three times during the day. “The four dancers also had the assistance of four members of my studio team to help work the lines during the performance,” says Grade. Due to more control over Reservoir, the dancers brought the sculpture down to two feet from the ground, so their bodies were fully immersed in the thousands of droplet-like forms. “Because we were lucky to have rainfall, the dancers were able to abruptly jerk the movements and shower themselves with water,” Grade explains. “Now we can watch the sculpture collect and release and move over the seasons and build upon those nuances to create a second installation. Wind may become a significant inspiration the next time.”