A dazzling 4.7-acre, permeable tunnel of reflective materials by Zilvinas Kempinas opens Sunday at Socrates Sculpture Park (through Aug. 3), in New York's Long Island City. "Scarecrow is equally about light and sound," the artist told A.i.A., referring to the continuous "music" that emanates from a vibrating canopy. The site-specific installation includes just two elements, repeated many times: slender, mirrored steel poles and mylar ribbon. The rest is elemental: sky and sun, wind and air.
A Lithuanian-born artist who has lived in New York for the past 16 years, Kempinas has installed his kinetic sculptures at many venues around the world, though rarely outdoors. His most ambitious work to date is also the largest piece ever commissioned at Socrates. A previous, quite different version, Kakashi (the Japanese word for scarecrow), involving colored poles and tape, appeared first in 2012 at the Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, Japan, and then at Kempinas's solo exhibition in 2013 at the Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland.
To create Scarecrow, Kempinas arranged 200 poles in two curving parallel lines across the park's undulating main field. The ribbons were stretched between each pair of poles, at their tops, 13 feet above the ground. Having tested his materials on the roof of his Queens studio through a tough New York winter, he felt certain they would endure the weather, including near-constant wind at the site. Still, it was a tough installation. "Digging was a big challenge," says Kempinas, "though it doesn't look that way. Placement must be precise—if there's the slightest discrepancy you can't match the sides. The poles have to be exactly vertical." Holes had to be drilled deeply into landfill and the poles secured below ground with concrete. And, as workers struggled against wind, the ribbons had to be tautly stretched. The installation demanded special drilling equipment and a huge work force.
I visited the site on a heavy, dreary day, when the grounds were sodden. Yet the world seemed to brighten when I entered the space. The ribbons create a flat overhead canopy that is constantly in motion, as the vibrating material captures swiftly modulating atmospheric effects. And they generate a sound that crescendos as the wind rises and diminishes as it falls—a bit unnervingly, as if you are inside something alive. The park and sky are always visible through the gaps between poles and ribbons; at one end, the Manhattan skyline rises above the river. It's an altogether profound experience that brings together art and nature, built and organic. "Since it's a structure you go into and out of," observes the artist, "it's architectural. The repetition of elements creates the wall and ceiling. But you can walk through the wall, and look through the ceiling."
"It lives with nature, and amplifies anything that happens," Kempinas adds. "If it's sunny, it shimmers a lot; when there's lots of wind, there's a very strong sound. If you come in the evening when the sun is setting, the poles catch the light in a particular way, and the reflections change. It is a piece that is animated by the forces of nature."