Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Hedgehog and The Fox

The Hedgehog and the Fox

Last December I was contacted out of the blue by someone interested in using a couple of pictures I'd taken of Richard Serra's sculpture "The Hedgehog and The Fox" three years earlier. The pictures came out of one of the projects I'd given myself during while spending a few months with Kyle in New Jersey: to visit and photograph as many of the many public artworks as I could around the Princeton university campus where she worked.

Although I'd devoted quite a bit of time to the project (which I described in a blog post about it back in 2009, complete with map), I hadn't really thought much more about the pictures until my correspondant got in touch via Flickr - his interest was in using them in a couple of Wikipedia articles (one about the fable of The Fox and The Cat, and another subsequently about the sculpture itself: - so it was an opportunity to revisit both the pictures and the memories that associated with them (and with my life generally at that time).

In particular I remember one of the things I enjoyed about working on the project was actually taking the time to look more closely and for longer at the artworks than I might have done if I'd just been passing. It was often quite a challenge to take pictures that I felt captured what I was actually seeing - particularly for the large abstract sculptures like "The Hedgehog and The Fox", Upstart 2 and Northwood II - and in trying to find interesting angles for my pictures I felt that I had to engage with them to a greater degree, at least at a physical level. In this regard "The Hedgehog and The Fox" was particularly memorable - at its most basic level it's essentially three huge undulating rusty metal walls, sat between the Lewis library and the football stadium. But if you get up close then it towers over you, and walking between pairs of its walls can feel quite eerie and even a little oppressive
(especially if the light's starting to fade at the end of a New Jersey winter afternoon, and you're on your own). To some extent it seemed to be a sculpture that you had to experience first-hand to really appreciate.

Some of the artworks were made more interesting by knowing something of their backstory: two very different examples are George Segal's "Abraham and Issac" (intended as a memorial for the 1970 incident at Kent State University where unarmed students were shot by members of the Ohio National Guard) and Jacques Lipschitz's "Song of the Vowels" (which is based around the idea of the harp). In the case of "The Hedgehog and The Fox" I've now learned that the artist had a very specific message that he wished to communicate: based on the idea that "the fox knows many things but the hedgehog knows one great thing", he suggested that "There are those who follow on principle in all they do - the hedgehogs - and those who look to different approaches at the same time - the foxes." Basically Princeton students are encouraged to cultivate the flexible, creative and inventive qualities of the fox rather than the more rigid and inflexible thinking of the hedgehog.

(As an aside: the process of allowing Wikipedia to use my pictures turned out out to be quite frustrating for my correspondant but I found it interesting to go through - I learned that Wikipedia actually requires quite a permissive licence before it will accept photos for use - in the end explicitly licensing them under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 and sending a message based on the template in Wikipedia's "Declaration of consent for all enquiries" page did the trick.)

Since then I've had other requests to use pictures, including another from my "Princeton artworks" project (Pevsner's "Construction in the Third and Fourth Dimensions"), and I always enjoy getting these enquiries - just like the original sculptures, the pictures themselves also have a personal significance for me which it's nice to have an excuse to recall, and it gives me a warm feeling to know that other people I've never met find the pictures interesting. Please feel free to visit: "Princeton Artworks" on Flickr.


Kyle said...

Nice post, Pete!

pjb said...

Thanks - glad you enjoyed it!