The mountain peaks are made from connected triangles. Sambruce began assembling the pieces in April for the mid-June opening.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Artist Wesley Sambruce brings his reflections on the Hoosac Tunnel to life in Kidspace with an interactive sculpture that asks children and adults alike to explore courage.
Lofted in Kidspace in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Sambruce built a portal into another world. Flipping back the tunnel's heavy veil opens to meandering pathways paved with poetry, crawlways dropping off into unexplored caverns and open vestibules with hanging tendrils — all inspired by the 4.75-mile Hoosac Tunnel.
"I tried to make something that could be explorative and immersive that you could physically enter," Sambruce said recently about his installation "Cavernous: The Inner Life of Courage." "The feeling that you get when you step up to the mountain with this giant gaping hole with this unknowable darkness has a strong physical feeling for me. ...
"It's a feeling that is kind of scary but it is exciting and I wanted to try to recreate that."
"Cavernous" is the third installment of Kidspace's Art 4 Change program, a four-year project for local students that explores problem-solving through empathy, optimism and courage.
With "Cavernous," Sambruce meditated on courage, the theme of the Kidspace project. He said he thought about the Latin root of the word courage — "core." With this insight, he found the center of his mountain and dug out a core that only can be discovered by those willing to plunge into the darkness.
"Core is the heart or center of something so I wanted to have that in the installment. Here you have to explore to find this center room and enter into this space," he said. "It is sort of this poetic fluid metaphor where you are exploring a physical space but you are also metaphorically going into the center of yourself."
He said in this way, the art is more than the actual structure — an experience that lives within the mountain and outside of the walls of Kidspace.
"You are inside of this geode and it becomes this really rich metaphor because a geode is this rock that has this crystal inside that forms in the dark for hundreds of millions of years just waiting in the dark quietly and patiently," he said. "Then in one second that stone can be split open and it is illuminated. ...
"Same for us. Parts of ourselves wait and grow in the dark and at any moment can be opened."
Sambruce's stream of consciousness poetry hangs from the ceiling, lines the floor and winds through the entire exhibit. It coils around in the core of the mountain and ends. He said the poetry is his own reflections on courage and North Adams. He said he hopes it reads differently than it would on the page.
"If you were just reading it on a page it would be a different experience then walking through it," he said. "This is all language that I want to hand off and if this were in a book people may not read it but like this the language can enter you."
He said a lot of his art focuses on found art or poetry and he was inspired by what Hoosac means in Algonquin: a place of stones.
This line is hidden in a special font in the core of the exhibit that can only be seen when light is shined on it.
The inner walls of the cavern are dense with objects. Textured colored tiles begged to be touched and grooved wheels spin freely with a quick flick as explorers weave through.
Light enters the mountain differently. Some rooms allow slivers of light to streak through the geode canopy while darker spaces are only lit by small glowing lights.
Sambruce said he enlisted the help of local high school students to help sand down the tiles and wooden geodes that help create this atmosphere. He said if you look hard enough you can make out the signatures of these students on the tiles.
Sambruce said his art always reflects the place in which it is located and he makes it a point to absorb what surrounds his work and make it authentic. He said it was important to glean what he could from the locals and the high school students.
"I was asking them what they knew about the Hoosac Tunnel and I was looking for any story about them sneaking in or camping on the mountain," he said. "Knowing this long history of the tunnel and all the engineering that was needed to keep it straight and ... knowing ebbs in flows of that history of North Adams I tried to make this specific to the place. The things that I make gain their value from trying to genuinely participate in the place where they are made."
Sambruce said he can connect with North Adams and is from a similar community in northern California.
"I grew up in an underdog town in the mountains and everyone worked in construction or plumbing," he said. "We relied on money coming up from the [San Francisco] Bay area so there is a lot of overlap."
He said place also can be heard in the sounds — the looping ambient recordings of birds, trees rustling and sounds from inside of the tunnel. He said the recordings come from Colorado, California and North Adams.
With physicality of the tiles, light and sound within the piece it creates a multisensory experience unlike other pieces Kidspace has hosted in the past, Director of Education Laura Thompson said.
Sambruce's poetry hangs from the installation's ceiling.
"We try at all of our levels of programming to get people to react to the art and he is using all of these sensory experiences. It is tactile, you can hear it, the light changes and even the temperature seems to change," she said. "You have a holistic experience in here which is much like exploring a tunnel ... finding the courage to go into a dark space or an unknown space to explore."
She added that although this is the first installation in Kidspace specifically designed for children, adults seem to be getting just as much out of it.
"That's the thing about Kidspace there is something for everybody in here…adults are coming in here and loving it," she said. "They think about their own childhood and bring back their own experiences of having a fort and exploring."
The free exhibit opened June 17 and will be at Kidspace until next Memorial Day, but Sambruce said he hopes it lasts much longer than that.
"The piece as it's being made, as it is finished and as it being taken down still lives and I hope it allows people to act from that center space or core to make them feel more in tune with themselves," he said. "I want to empower them to be themselves because that takes courage."
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