WMU News

Design Center helps area residents take a walk in time

Aug. 21, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Steel, bricks and mortar will meet computer chips and video screens when Kalamazoo's new Wheel of History sculpture is dedicated in September.

The Western Michigan University Design Center, part of the WMU Department of Art, has added a computerized component to the long-awaited sculpture on the north end of the Kalamazoo Mall. A dedication ceremony is set for Sept 6.

Design center students and staff have created a computerized companion piece to go with the sculpture that will be installed in an information kiosk in the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. It will invite sculpture viewers to take a walk through cyberspace to learn more about the sculpture project; meet Mark Lere, the California artist who designed and built it; and find out more about the Kalamazoo-area history that the sculpture represents.

"If people just walk through the sculpture, they might not really understand what they're seeing," says Joseph Wingard, art director for the project and interim design center director. "This will help them understand the piece and read about Kalamazoo history, as well as learn more about Mark Lere and how the sculpture became a reality."

People who visit the sculpture will see a 16-foot tall wheel that appears to be rolling along a path shaped like an infinity symbol. The wheel is equipped with a variety of iconographic images that it stamps on the path. It also travels past several other structures, including a water-trickling monolith, large clock and huge, bench-like boulder.

The computer-equipped kiosk couldn't look much different. Yet both the sculpture and kiosk deal with the region's rich history and make statements about art and, in particular, public art.

Three colored links on the computer screen will whisk the viewer through an art and history lesson. The blue link walks viewers through the Wheel of History project, explaining the process that brought it to fruition, how it was built and why public art is important. It also includes photographs of the work as it was being built. A green link lets viewers learn more about Lere, read his artist's statement and see some of his other work.

The third link, a red one, takes kiosk guests on a ride through time, showing them highlights of Kalamazoo history from its founding until the year 1980. The historical milestones are marked by icons created by the design center that were incorporated into the sculpture. For example, a gear icon represents industry, while an artist's palette and brush stand for culture and the arts.

The computerized kiosk became a class project for design students Mike Basse, who is from Northville, Mich., and Scott Saxton, who is from Midland, Mich. Both have since graduated, but Basse continued to work with Wingard on the project after graduation. Like the sculpture itself, the design project became a "work in progress."

"It became its own piece of design," Wingard says. "It's really about taking communication and trying to present it in the most artful and creative way we can, keeping it fresh and unique so it holds onto the viewer. We're trying to create impact."

The design center was recommended for the project by Phil VanderWeg, chairperson of the WMU Department of Art and chairperson of the Public Art Commission, which commissioned the art project.

"It is gratifying that students and staff at the Design Center have been able to contribute to this now expanded project in the fashion that they do," Vander Weg says. "The expertise and commitment found there are certainly consistent with the desire to move forward in a collaborative fashion that makes it possible for viewers to engage this site-specific sculpture on multiple levels. The resulting work is well worth the wait."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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