Public Comment: Foon Sham’s Rain Garden Sculptures

Public Comment is a Site Specific series dedicated to documenting raw reactions to public art from passersby. The goal is to get a glimpse at how public art pieces are engaging with their installation sites.

Up For Comment: Four sculptures by Foon Sham: “Droplet,” “Vascular Form #10,” “Turning Point,” “Ductile.” Commissioned by the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District in Washington, D.C., in partnership with the District Department of Energy & Environment and with funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

On View: 19th and L Streets rain gardens, Washington, D.C. November 2015 to November 2016.

About The Pieces: Sham’s four sculptures comprise the inaugural installation at the 19th and L Street rain gardens, a new public art exhibition space that will rotate annually. Four rain gardens – which are designed to capture and filter rainfall and runoff water – sit at each corner of the intersection, each holding one sculpture. According to the Golden Triangle BID, Sham built these wooden, vessel-like sculptures to symbolize the rain gardens’ function.

From the artist:

The sculptures bring natural elements to an unexpected place. They complement the function of the rain garden and contrast the busy urban intersection.

rain gardens aerial

Aerial shot of the rain gardens, sans sculptures. source: goldentriangledc.com.

Jason, Virginia resident, in D.C. for work.
I didn’t even see that one, no shit! Okay.
I don’t dislike it. It’s better than just empty sidewalk.
I just walked a few blocks and it’s just the same concrete sidewalk block after block after block, so it’s nice to have something to break it up, if nothing else.
It’s something different to look at. Something that adds some un-describable something to the area.

Patrick, works nearby. Usually commutes on a parallel street.
I like the shapes. It’s almost like pottery, but in this wood.
It gives [the area] a little bit different look, because this is such a conservative, uptight area.
Just right here, it’s a lot of traffic, so I definitely think people notice it. They probably ask what they are, but it’s just a different look. Sometimes when you see something like that, it gives you a better vibe.
I like them. I’m sure a lot of people don’t even notice it because people are so caught up in their everyday routine, but I definitely noticed them.

Giana (Maryland resident by way of Chicago) and Erica (D.C. resident). In the area for leisure.
G: I wouldn’t really notice them because these trees are blocking them.
They’re pretty cool. I like the shapes of them, I like the color, but I wouldn’t put them here. They just seem out of place – this doesn’t seem like an area where they should be.
E: They’re too away from the street – from the corner.
But when you get closer there’s chairs and stuff around them, so I guess it is prominent if you were actually walking down this street.
I just really wonder if I would- I think they are pretty, but if I would have noticed them even if I was walking down this regular part of the street.
We’re just all so busy, I think that we don’t even look at things like that. We’re on our phones, or we’re talking to the people that we’re walking with, or we’re listening to music, and that’s scary to me that I wouldn’t notice them.

Aaron, Maryland resident. Works nearby in graphics.
I thought they were brick or something that I had to go over and look at what they were made out of. They’re made out of wood, and they’re a fun little form.
I like that they’re kind of classic vase shapes brought to be oversized, and it’s sort of out of place where they’re supposed to be, but that kind of works for me.
They’re large amphoras in the middle of the downtown business district.

Mandy and Leslie, work and worked, respectively, at a historical/ cultural institution. First time in this area in a while.
M: Initially I thought that looked like an odd, unfinished object, but as soon as I looked and we were both looking across the street and seeing that it was part of a set, I was more interested in them. I think they add something to the streetscape.
What I like about them individually is the combination of organic-looking materials, but with an oversized presentation. And they’re right in the middle of very inorganic buildings and an environment so it’s kind of refreshing.
L: I think it’s wonderful and I think it defines this corner, having the two sets on either side within that natural environment with the plants.
I think they’re the perfect scale, size.
It is at eye level, it’s not way up, and because Washington’s a more walkable city, and I think people enjoy having that, contextually it’s more appealing somehow.
M: I think our streets can be kind of impersonal, because of the broadness of them and the flatness, in a way, of not having a tall city. But [the sculptures] sort of personalize and humanize this streetscape a lot.

Ken, Maryland resident. In the area for shopping and eating.
I didn’t really notice these before you pointed them out.
Different shapes and a bit unusual, a bit foreign to the architecture and environment here, so I like it.
We were shopping, so we were just looking at shops and the restaurants, so we didn’t really look around. So that might be one reason [that we didn’t notice the sculptures]. And it doesn’t really shine out in color.

Fernando, D.C. resident. In the area for shopping.
They kind of look different, like a country feeling to the street, which is interesting because we are in the middle of downtown. So the material, the texture, I think that’s what caught my attention.
These plants are really ornamental, but they have a reason, because they are here to catch water or pollution or something, I was reading there. So it’s not really ornamental, which is actually good because these have a purpose.
I thought that these [sculptures] are somehow capturing the moisture or the pollution around here.
It blends with the rest of the installation.

Sid, in the area as a tourist.
I didn’t like it. It just doesn’t go with the atmosphere somehow. It’s not that lively.
The color just doesn’t go with the street.
I may be biased because I like white, but otherwise I think maybe something in white would have looked much better.
That one [“Turning Point”] looks a little odd, this [“Droplet”] looks more like a container, a vase, a big-size vase [you] can put flowers in.

Dean, lives and works nearby.
When I was on the corner waiting to cross the street, I noticed it. It’s nice.
I thought it was made of wicker, so I was kind of curious about what it was made of, to tell you the truth, and I didn’t know if there was a restaurant or something here that had put these out.
It looks like a drain actually and a filter at the same time, because it’s open. But it’s nice. What’s, it made of, wood?
It’s not going to get lost. It’s not green like a tree, it’s not white, [it] won’t get lost in the snow. It’ll be there all year, no matter what, on a gray day.

Meredith, works in policy analysis and studied urban planning. First time in the area for a while.
I noticed them when I parked my car, and I thought, “oh, that’s new, that’s different.” They reminded me of baskets of perhaps some traditional basket weaving or something. I couldn’t identify them with any particular culture, but I thought they were nice.
I see there have been some other improvements that they’ve done.
It looks like with the improvements, [the sculptures] do compliment it.
They maybe are a little bit disjointed with the very modern – just looking now, with the architecture of the buildings that surround them – but I think overall they’re nice.
If they were metallic or something they would probably blend in more, so having the more natural – I’m guessing glazed brick probably or ceramic – to have them that color, it helps them to stand out more.

Lakaw, works nearby.
It’s kind of a bottle.
I like the color.
[There are] a lot of pieces in there, so you put together the pieces, and you make a bottle, or you put together the pieces and you make something interesting. So I just perceived maybe it portrays kind of cooperation, or getting together.