Ned Kahn is Creating Prairie Tree: Iconic Work for Nicollet Mall

This is the moment you’ve been waiting for! Blog posts over the next six weeks will feature design proposals by three artists who are creating new works especially for Nicollet Mall: Ned Kahn, Blessing Hancock and Tristan Al-Haddad. The designs will be introduced here in the blog and then you may follow them on the Artist’s Process pages where I’ll be posting updates including studio visits, conversations with the artists, photographs and videos as they work through the details of fabricating and installing their works.
– Regina Flanagan

I call these artworks “registers” for they reveal the effects of the invisible. –Ned Kahn

Ned Kahn has designed an iconic artwork, Prairie Tree, to be installed before the end of the year on Nicollet Mall between 10th and 11th Streets on the east side of Nicollet in front of WCCO.

Ned describes Prairie Tree:

For the past 20 years, I have created large-scale public artworks that increase people’s awareness of natural phenomena. Using materials such as water, wind, fog and light, I create contemplative oases in urban environments – places where people can reconnect with the larger forces of nature. Blurring the boundaries between art, science, architecture and nature fascinates me.

In recent years, I completed a series of artworks that reveal invisible forces in their sites by converting natural flow patterns such as wind into the pixelated motion of many small parts. I call these artworks “registers” for they reveal the effects of the invisible. The normally unseen patterns of the wind are complex and entrancing. The psychological effect is similar to watching a fire, waves on a lake, or tall grasses swaying in the wind.

Most of my previous installations have been integrated into the vertical facades of buildings. For Nicollet Mall, I am inspired by the idea of a horizontal plane that would reveal the invisible air. Prairie Tree is intended to suggest a hybrid between a tree and a field of prairie grasses. The upper surface of the artwork will be covered with a dense array of anodized aluminum vanes to register the changing conditions of the wind and sky. The thousands of wind-animated elements will reflect light and sky in a manner similar to the surface of a lake, or a field of tall grasses. Sunlight passing through the reflective array will cast intricate patterns of moving light and shadow onto the ground, filling the immediate environment with a relaxing undulating light.

The movement of the vanes will be similar to a tensioned-cable artwork I created for a rooftop garden at a school in Santa Monica. See video.

Read more about Prairie Tree’s technical and structural details and the considerations that go into creating public art on Ned’s Artist’s Process page.

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