PROVIDENCE -- “Like a buoy, like a barrel,” a massive oval-like sculpture filled with plastic laundry detergent containers, netting and rubber tires, was destroyed by fire overnight Monday.
The sculpture created by artist Steven Siegel had been installed on the plaza outside the Point225 corporate office building, part of Wexford Science & Technology Innovation Center, since last fall.
The project was supposed to remain on the site for about three years. It had withstood battering from nor’easters and tropical storms, blizzards and heat waves, and settled into its place on the plaza.
Until around 2 a.m., when the sculpture went up in flames. All that remain of it are ashes and its sunken blackened frame.
Before and after photos of the sculpture:
The fire that destroyed the sculpture is under investigation; there was no immediate information about what caused the blaze.
Yarrow Thorne, the executive director of The Avenue Concept, which facilitated the public art for the space with the Wexford and Point225, said the project had been in the works for several years. (The Boston Globe has an office in the Cambridge Innovation Center at Point225.)
“This was a large piece, in many ways iconic to the installation of where it was put,” Thorne said. “We wanted to believe the community was falling in love with this piece.”
Siegel had designed the piece, but the materials were brought in by hundreds of volunteers, who collected waste materials from Save the Bay and municipalities, bags filled with laundry detergent bottles from four laundromats in Providence, netting from the fishing community in Galilee and discarded from athletic fields, shrink-rap from boats, and old bicycle tire tubes, Thorne said.
They ended up with hundreds of cubic yards of materials, which local youths and employees from local companies volunteered to wash by hand so they could be used for the sculpture. They also hand-cut the materials in order to give the sculpture its shape and definition.
“If we were to take the same material and put as a pile in the middle of the city, people would see it as trash,” Thorne said. “But if you create a curated art, it gives people a reason to walk up and ask questions. ... You walk up and see netting from a fish net, there’s the scent of laundromat, bicycle tire tubes, all these parts and pieces that people use every day ... and you lose context of what is the second life of that stuff.”
The sculpture was colorful, strange and eye-catching, and often attracted gawkers. The effect was like looking at a giant net of plastics and rubber, like something strange caught in the water, or a giant buoy washed up from Narragansett Bay.
In a video by The Avenue Concept, Siegel described the piece:
“There’s too much plastic, too much rubber, too much paper, but it all happens to have a certain kind of beauty,” he said. “What triggers our emotions and what triggers our aesthetic response, which can be joy, which can be disgust, which can be any number of things, is not really understood until it is framed within vision. And it can then not be translated into words.”
Siegel’s installations are usually only up for several weeks, Thorne said, but this was supposed to be there longer.
“It survived hurricanes and winter storms. It moved around a little -- we liked to think it nestled itself into the property,” Thorne said. “It was entering its new phase with some colors starting to fade and others becoming more vibrant.”
We are devastated by the sight of such a beautiful, powerful piece of art being burnt down and destroyed last night. This piece was a beacon of hope in the #environmental movement. We will fight back stronger and harder than ever ✊@AvenuePVD pic.twitter.com/KFRnUb4jGH— Impact Everything (@ImpactEverythng) August 10, 2020
Now that it’s gone, Thorne said The Avenue Concept is inviting people to share their photos and stories about the piece.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but it’s part of the life of this work,” Thorne said. “We’ve already started planning for another installation there. We worked with the Wexford -- they wanted art and this is the creative capital.”