UAA | University Art Analysis – From every angle: Tetradigm

The $26,000 sculpture in the UAA/APU Consortium Library parking lot appears to change at different viewpoints.

Tetradigm sits in front of the East Campus Central Lot, between the Natural Sciences
Building and the Social Sciences Building. Photo by Chase Burnett.

Tetradigm is constructed out of scrap pipes from the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. It is a 26-foot tall sculpture comprised of nearly 100 feet of pipe, assembled over the course of 16 days in July of 1976. It has been repainted five times since. Some students do not see the inherent value in the art structure.

“I feel like [the sculpture] is so pointless,” incoming freshman Adrian Hanson said. “I don’t understand why we have something so expensive that nobody really looks at.”

Tetradigm is a sculpture by Theodore Jonsson, a Seattle sculptor who got his start as a college football player. He rejected recruitment by the Baltimore Colts to pursue art, sculpting public art for notable facilities such as the Sea-Tac airport.

“It’s an interesting shape to put here on campus,” senior natural science student Shantina Gillion said. “I don’t know what purpose it actually serves, or why it was built.”

Jonsson designed Tetradigm to change shape depending on the angle and location the sculpture is viewed from. For example, the sculpture appeared hourglass-shaped when Gillion sat in the sky bridge and triangular when he observed from the bottom floor of the Natural Sciences Building.

“This quality symbolizes intellectual freedom and personal expression,” read the sculpture description within Wanda Seamster’s “The Art Of The University of Alaska Anchorage: An Inventory.” “The multiple ways of interpreting the same subject matter – that is expected in an academic setting.”

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Assembling the sculpture required two cranes, as well as a team of 12  additional individuals. Tetradigm was designed to withstand earthquakes of up to a 9.0 on the Richter scale.

“I met Ted [Jonsson] in 1976 when he was making his Alaska pipeline [sculpture] in Anchorage,” Pamos Grames commented on Jonsson’s obituary. “I was 8-years-old, and I can still vividly remember him and the motley crew of characters building this beautiful structure out of what I knew, even at that young age, was an industrial monstrosity. It was simultaneously underhanded and overtly political.”

Tetradigm has withstood earthquakes, budget cuts and countless generations of incoming freshmen classes. Regardless of what angle it is viewed from, many truths emerge. The longevity of this sculpture combined with the controversy stimulated by it makes Tetradigm a major landmark at UAA.

Jonsson passed away in 2015. Noted in his obituary, he frequently said the phrase, “Life is short, art is long.

Have you seen art at UAA you want to know more about? Contact Robert Gant at [email protected]