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Working from her studio in a century old steel foundry and limestone quarry in Birmingham, Ala., sculptor and installation artist Deedee Morrison’s work is heavily influenced by the setting and attempts to juxtapose the industrial with the natural environment. Morrison has been working as a professional studio and public artist for over 10 years and her experience includes a broad range of commissioned work and public art planning and development.
An innate affinity for plants, other biological forms and light is central to Morrison’s work. As a result of her interest in the natural world and a fascination for technical and scientific advances, a unique style has evolved. That style reflects the artist’s understanding of the biological world by using heavy industrial metals, laser jet cutting methods and botanical inspired designs to create solar powered sustainable sculptures. By combining green consciousness with forward thinking and sustainable designs, each piece of artwork fabricated is a functional solar powered sculpture that pays tribute to nature’s beautiful efficiency.
About her installation work Morrison says “I believe that sculpture site planning should incorporate the nuances of the land, the specific environment and/or any unique cultural features that will contextualize the onsite art. Each sculpture seeks to educate, enlighten and distribute nature’s solution for our communities.
TGR: What gave you the idea to incorporate Solar Power into your artwork – its seems outside the mainstream of public art?
Morrison: Light was introduced into my sculptures years ago by the nature of the materials and technologies that I utilize to create my art. I am a fabricator, so the sculptures, by design, are built on an internal armature system that creates hollow spaces. I began experimenting with color and light to fill up this space inside the sculpture and give the work an added dimension.
Several years ago while I was out on a boat in a harbor in New York, I saw a home that had placed an enormous solar panel system in the front yard. I thought it was inspired, forward thinking and flawed – because it had solved one problem and created another: an eye sore for both the home and everyone on the lake. But it did germinate an idea regarding the relationship of my artwork, light, and I began the transition into creating solar powered light sculptures. I kept re-creating the system that I had seen on the lawn – “if given the opportunity, how would I create both an aesthetically pleasing sculpture that would not only serve the home (or community) for its energy function but have a powerful artist statement as well?” The first solar powered sculpture that I created came out of this process. It is called Sun-Catcher and it’s a visual display of the power and energy thatʼs available every day from a single solar panelʼs relationship with the sun. The solar panel is actually incorporated into the sculpture and is installed on the top panel of the sun totem, capturing energy during the day and emitting its dramatic stored light at night.
TGR: Where would you like to go with this – how do you see solar and art in the future?
Morrison: Currently, solar panels and systems are considered unattractive in the majority of settings they are placed in. But what if a system that is sculptural by design can be created to capture energy and add aesthetically to the environment simultaneously? Solar sculptures in the right environment are extremely effective ways to demonstrate how solar energy works and can become an icon of sustainability for a community.
My dream is for a project with monumental scale, where the solar light sculpture created could feed not only the light sculpture, but harvest the energy for the adjacent building, home, or park where the sculpture resides. What a powerful statement.
TGR: You have an unconventional setting for your studio. Is this the environmental inspiration behind your artwork?
Morrison: I work in a very industrial setting that is an amazing work environment for an artist. My studio is in the home of the Old Republic Steel Mill and what is now Wade Sand and Gravel Quarry. When I work with rocks out of the quarry, the limestone is harvested from an area with 600 million years of geological history. I think the process of harvesting the stone brings a certain awareness and perspective to my work. The second element of influence is the backdrop of the old steel mill and buildings that brought in the industrial development of this whole region and has now been made obsolete – Republic Steel closed in the 70’s. There is, of course, residue and environmental impact from this period in Birmingham’s history but at the time, the plant made the most of the known technology at the time by producing by-products from the coke ovens that included gas, tar, light oil, etc. I think it’s intriguing to think about how technology can continue to answer many of the compelling energy challenges we face today – smarter, cleaner and more energy efficient as we evolve in our understanding of what serves our future and the future of our children best.
TGR: You are a Public Artist – what does that mean?. Give us an idea of what public art does for a community?
Morrison: Public Art has the wonderful opportunity of communicating the values and cultural identity of a city. The public art opportunities in the US have seen remarkable growth over the last 10 years as many cities have come to understand the importance of art in the revitalization and economic development facilitator cities. There have been Percent for the Arts programs started in multiple cities that have transformed the public landscape. It is a wonderful experience to be able to answer a call to artist for a public art program, be awarded a contract, work on the project for nine months and install a sculpture the community supports and embraces. I have recently installed two solar sculpture projects in Clearwater, Florida and Chattanooga, Tennessee. I also have two upcoming solar light sculpture installations going in Colorado Springs, CO and Palm Springs, CA.
For more information visit deedeemorrisonsculpture.com
01) Seed Pod
Aluminum and Lucite with Solar Powered LED Lighting
8ʼ x 12ʼ x 12ʼ (Sculpture) & 18ft. Solar Tower
Eighty-four aluminum and colored Lucite panels were laser cut and re-fabricated to create the intriguing
Seed-Pod solar sculpture. The Seed-Pod design was inspired by studying organic forms and the geometric
principles that determine their patterns and structures. Morrison attempts to imitate the design principles that
exist in the world to create sustainable solutions with art, by mimicking the strategies found in nature. The
solar-powered sculpture resides near the wetlands in Renaissance Park and artistically demonstrates how
solar power works by illuminating laser-cut sheets of metal designed to replicate a seed pod coming out of a
dormant state to form new life.
02) A Matter of Fiction
Fairhope Public Library
Corten Steel and Lucite with Interior LED Lighting
5ʼ x 8ʼ x 8ʼ
A Matter of Fiction is an intriguing sculpture, constructed using ten sheets of three-quarter inch industrial grade steel. The
metal is gracefully bent to resemble the open pages of a book, with the jacket intricately laser engraved to emulate the
scroll patterns of a renaissance manuscript. The cover panels are a light box that will illuminate the sculpture from within
and cast a warm glow on the interior pages of the book at night