George Trakas, Bay View Station, 1987
George Trakas, 1987.
Four sections of wood and steel. 45' x 144' area.
Photo credit: Sandra Locke
987 Sculpture Symposium funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and private donations. Temporary installation in 1987. Permanent installation, gift of David and Kay Syre Family.
George Trakas' installation creates a pedestrian's passageway between the industrial, port city and the university on the west side of campus, and a viewing station for reflection on these communal connections. He has used both architectural structures in his work and architecture as the subject of his sculpture. At Western Trakas first studied the site conditions: primarily a steep, weedy hill with a dirt path rising to the concrete pillars of the Performing Arts Center and a sitting area on a small concrete pad. Trakas chose to weave his own catwalk and irregularly shaped decks across the hill.
Both Hamrol and Trakas enjoy the dedicated time, concentration, and physical labor involved in the building of their structures. Trakas actually wanted to be an architect but soon realized he could translate this craft into a sculptural experience. He could infuse sculpture with the architect's research into materials, site, and function. Similar to Serra, Trakas goes where he can build work. Influenced by Serra's precedent of generating sculpture from a particular setting and directing the viewer's physical awareness of self and site, Trakas took his response one step further to include in his work the themes of a site. When he was asked to participate in the University's site-specific symposium in the late eighties, Trakas no doubt saw in the old lumber mill town of Bellingham on the bay something that reminded him of his various backgrounds. He had grown up along the St. Lawrence River in a rural area of Canada with economic foundations in manufacturing. Later he was attracted to New York, a city transformed by industry and built at the merging of river and ocean traffic.
Some of the titles of Trakas' works-Locomotive and Shack (1971), Union Station (1975), Union Pass (1977), and Transit Junction (1976) suggest movement from one location to another. Others as Crotch Dock (1970) or Berth Haven (1983) and Pacific Union (1986) imply a nurturing place at the edge of the water. Trakas’ title for Western’s work – Bayview Station (1987)—indicates a standing place from which to view a landscape. But rather than positioning someone in front of something like a stilled or timeless view of a place, Trakas only takes certain clues from traditional landscape painters. He uses their vocabulary of paths, waterways, bridges, and other landscape features to help measure movement and punctuate intimate spaces and grand vistas. Rather than planning a formal garden with openings and closings to orchestrate the vistas, Trakas utilizes the existing landscape at the site. Most importantly, the patterns of his structures are linked to the themes of the site At Western Trakas chose a site that could only be called a weedy hill on one side of the Performing Arts Center. On this hillside there already was a cow path begun by students as a shortcut from Garden Street, which winds up the long hill to the University. As artists before him, Trakas knew that the University's niche is located on one of many steps down from Mt. Baker, close-by Sehome Hill, and Garden Street Hill, before reaching Bellingham Bay. Another one of the measurements of that distance from mountain to sea is the Nooksack River which flows into the bay northwest of the University. At the edge of Bellingham's waterfront are other types of posts and arteries: park trails, streets, railroad tracks, train and bus station, ship dock, log mass and paper mill effluent, and wakes of ferry traffic to Alaska. As an intervening material between earth's and industry's processes, Trakas decided to use cobblestones from the Nooksack River to emphasize the natural path and to form a foundation for his welded steel catwalk. At the top of the path he created a series of segmented decks constructed of fir planks on wood and steel posts. In responding to the immediate details of the concrete modern pillars of the Performing Arts Center and the existing rectangular benches on a small concrete plaza, Trakas chose to weave his path and shaped decks irregularly across the hill.
The viewer traversing Trakas' structures comes to understand the site's physical conditions and to perceive the larger narrative of what is beyond. Since he was involved in dance in the late sixties and early seventies. Trakas, like Noguchi before him, knows how to transfer a sense of balance and movement to the viewer: for example, a constant change of differing heights and widths in rock steps; spaces between decks; shifting segments of decks; slow and fast slopes or paths; and the spring and sound of metal catwalk. But dance also has metaphoric meaning. Just as one viewer interacts with another while sitting on the decks or passes another on the catwalk, he also can reflect on his future participation or passage from University community to city, industrial waterfront, and ever expanding horizon of the water.
© Sarah Clark-Langager