“Seat,” a sculpture made of roughly 300 IKEA chairs repurposed or “hacked” into a sine-wave-ish shape, occupies a plateau in the western end of Freedom Park, off Moreland Avenue. Though viewable as a passive drive-by, it’s worth taking the initiative to visit on foot or by bicycle. The sculpture, designed by Brian Brush and Yong Ju Lee of New York design firm E/B Office, is fully experienced only actively and from various angles. As one traverses the natural dips and rises in the park’s terrain, “Seat” appears at times to hover and in some cases blend with the tree line, revealing unique and unexpected perspectives.
Exploring around and under the sculpture, commissioned by Flux Projects, might transport one back to youthful experiences with playground jungle gyms. But “Seat” is (mostly) off-limits. There are a few accessible seats in the front row; otherwise, “no climbing” is explicitly stated. Ironically, while Brush and Lee strongly emphasize the chair and the act of sitting in their conceptual framework, this activity is elusive.
Furthermore, the chairs one can sit in face the knoll, away from the sculpture. They do not facilitate reflecting on the work but rather direct attention externally toward nature, or more specifically, the landscape. Freedom Park is a landscape in the etymological sense of the word, a combination of “land” with a verb of Germanic origin, “scapjan/schaffen,” to mean, literally, “shaped lands,” or human-made spaces. For a landscape to exist, it must be seen by an observer — you, on a seat, on “Seat.” “Seat” offers a fixed viewpoint of Freedom Park, and a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect.
Standing under the sculpture at its curved apex and looking up, the bright summer sunlight and clean lines of the repeated chairs create a well-ordered and highly contrasting grid, which reveals something not immediately evident: that most of the chairs are, in fact, without seats.
This provokes a second read: “Seat” changes from a grouping of recognizable domestic forms to functioning formally as a combination of lines that reference said object, thereby hinting (slightly) at Joseph Kosuth’s famous “One and Three Chairs.” (That piece, for those unfamiliar with it, consists of a chair sitting alongside a photograph of that chair and a dictionary definition of the word “chair.”) “Seat” even has its own didactic placard describing the work and thanking organizations and individuals.
This sign-signifier equation raises the question: was the chair theoretically specific or simply an arbitrary or manipulable object chosen to digitally reproduce in the artists’ parametric computer software?
Conceptually speaking, the idea of exploring seating’s relationship to architecture and to ourselves is engaging and relevant. (There’s a lengthy project statement on the E/B Office website explicating the artists’ thoughts.) Unfortunately, the work falls short of its intended argument. It seems that the object (the IKEA chair) and the sculptural form (the sine wave) are arbitrary. One might also question whether 300 chairs are more poignant than one.
The piece doesn’t feel fully realized. It looks as if it’s unfinished, as if we are looking at the model and site that will eventually host the finished project or waiting for the wooden armature to be burned away.
Poor execution exacerbates the feeling. Messy concrete work, uneven cutting and visible splitting in the wooden support beams, viewable hardware (intended to be concealed, per the artists) and wobbly tension rods inside the “vortex” detract from the effect of the work as an effortless and tightly designed aesthetic experience.
Flux Projects is a visual and cultural taste-maker in Atlanta. It fulfills its mission to promote art to a wide audience by funding highly visible projects such as this one. But is a safe, conceptually one-dimensional piece like “Seat” raising the level of discourse in the city? There needs to be a balance between serving a wider constituency and engaging and elevating the conversation among the art-going public, and unfortunately “Seat” is not fulfilling the latter.
Most visitors will discover “Seat” by chance — park-goers walking their dogs, riding their bikes or taking a neighborhood stroll. The experience of discovery is important, but those with a vested interest in the Atlanta arts community should make it a point to see this sculpture and form their own opinions. Dialogue about these commissioned public artworks is vital to Atlanta’s cultural health.
“Seat” will be on view through September 22.