If you’ve been by the ConocoPhillips Integrated Science Building recently, you’ll have noticed a new addition to the front entrance — a sculpture by Los Angeles-based artist Heath Satow.
The piece, called “Inflorescence,” is a semi-spiral shape made of mirror polished stainless steel and consists of unique individual facets that Satow refers to as its “seeds.” He said his initial inspiration came from the intricate spiral pattern that makes up of the face of a sunflower.
“That appealed to me because it was a pattern in nature that can be described mathematically,” Satow said.
Spiral patterns appear in everything from galaxies to DNA and for a self-described science buff like Satow, this project seemed like the perfect fit. He wanted to do a piece that could relate to a broad range of scientific disciplines.
“You see [spiral patterns] from micro to macro across all the sciences,” Satow said.
While the shape of the sculpture is important, Satow compares it to what makes a diamond attractive. It’s not just the form that draws the eye in, but the way it affects the light. He wants his work to not only exist in its surroundings, but to interact as well.
“It becomes almost like a million little paintings of the environment around it,” Satow said.
According to Chris McConnell, project manager for UAA’s Facilities, Planning and Construction, there will eventually be another interactive aspect to the piece. Once Anchorage starts losing daylight, Satow will come back to Alaska to help install a light component that will radiate onto the sculpture and react to an audio capture device.
“The intensity of the light that shines on the piece and kind of reflects off the piece will respond to the intensity of the crowd inside the ConococPhillips Integrated Science Building,” McConnell said.
Working with polished stainless steel isn’t exclusively an aesthetic choice. Satow likes the fact that it maintains its look despite the elements. He said it’s difficult to maintain public art and stainless steel requires barely any care other than a quick wash.
The piece was commissioned as part of the Percent for Art in Public Places program, also known as One Percent for Art, and was funded through residual capital funds from that program, according to Ryan Buchholdt, sustainability and business manager at UAA’s Facilities and Campus Services.
Growing up, Satow loved to create. His dad owned a motorcycle dealership for a few years while Satow was a kid and let him use any of the power tools in the shop — as long as he didn’t turn them on.
“Which meant I could run the table saw by pulling on the pulley and it would take me two hours to cut a piece of wood, but I could do it,” Satow said.
As an energetic kid, he said this type of distraction was good for him. His dad worked hard, but Satow grew up poor, so if he wanted anything he had to make it himself. Using paper towel tubes, aluminum foil, plastic bottles and some imagination he’d make a Star Wars play set, but the fun mostly ended there.
“I found I enjoyed that whole process of figuring out stuff and making stuff really more than actually playing with the things themselves after I made them,” Satow said. “It was more about just building the things.”
At college in North Carolina, Satow took a sculpture studio where his interests converged.
“I fell in love. I was like, ‘Oh, I get to design and make art and make things at the same time?’ So all my loves came together at once,” Satow said. “And I was like ‘Oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”
Eventually Satow moved from North Carolina to Los Angeles for “a bigger pond to swim around in.” He has a shop in downtown L.A. where he constructed the four main sections of Inflorescence before it was hauled up to Seattle and put on a barge to Anchorage.
The project was a long time coming. It took about six years to get everything completed from the application process to design approval to final manufacturing. Once everything was approved, Satow said it took about a year working full-time to complete the project.
While he has his works displayed all over California, in Colorado, Texas and North Carolina, as well as Dubai and South Korea, Satow said this particular piece was especially meaningful to him.
“This was a dream job for me,” Satow said.
More of Satow’s work can be seen at www.publicsculpture.com.