ANCHORAGE — Osman Akan first saw Alaska on a gloomy November day in 2010. The artist, born in sunny Turkey and now based in New York City, was flying back to America after attending a contemporary art fair in Europe. He’d scheduled a stop in Anchorage to evaluate making a proposal to create a statue for the new state crime lab as a Percent for Art project.
“It was quite dark outside,” he said. “I remember having a bit of a shock.”
But he prepared a proposal and it was accepted. This summer the work, “Fragmenta,” was completed near the intersection of Tudor Centre Drive and Dr. Martin Luther King Avenue, a dazzling wave of ever-changing color.
Passed at different times of day, the sculpture takes on different colors and patterns. The sun itself is part of the thing. At 4 p.m. next January it won’t look like it does at 4 p.m. today. It also uses electrical lighting, set inside the curve of the structure, which will be more obvious during those coming winter days. The colors shift as the viewer moves around the piece. Clouds, clear skies, fog and precipitation have the potential to radically alter the effect.
“I often think my immigrant background plays a large, perhaps even unconscious role in my attraction to odd materials, such as a glass surface that is red and blue and green at the same time depending on how you look at it,” Akan said.
“Fragmenta” is made of laminated safety glass squares mounted on a stainless steel frame sitting on a white concrete base. The tiles are arranged in a giant swirl in the shape of a curled wood shaving. As the curl descends the glass, it is replaced by stainless steel squares that eventually spread and scatter on the ground, stretching about 40 feet in front of the base of the sculpture.
“In many ways ‘Fragmenta’ was the result of a focus on the site, the function of forensics and the idea of solace,” Akan said. “Frankly, it was a challenge to find a form that conveyed some of these concerns of mine while remaining neutral to the highly sensitive theme of the site.”
Among other things, the lab will be used to investigate murders.
“I wanted to use the reflected light of the environment but also filter it like the colored filters utilized in forensic research,” Akan said. “I wanted to activate a larger area with scattered tiles that were gathered like bits of information but also refrain from making a perfect, seamlessly continuous surface. I wanted the perception of the viewer to change when they changed their relative position.”
The full effect is the sum of bits and pieces, not unlike a good detective story.
In addition to symbolizing forensic investigation, Akan also wanted the artwork to respond to the area’s extreme seasonal shifts. “The curve around the base is white, for example, so that it would blend with snow and disappear during the long winters of Alaska,” he said.
Components for the sculpture came from the United States, Canada and Germany. “It is interesting to think about an artwork as something that is manufactured in multiple locations quite far from each other,” Akan said. “It is only possible via telecommunication technologies of today to orchestrate all the components and gather them together to finalize the artwork.”
The on-site assembly was handled by local workers for whom Akan had great praise.
“It was a top-notch team,” he said. “Reid Middleton did our structural engineering and Weona (steel fabricators) did our on-site welding.” The foundation, concrete and installation was handled by Neeser Construction, “who were superb in all stages of the project.”
Akan got the commission in December 2010. Neeser did the foundation work the following summer while the steel support structure was built at Demiurge in Denver. Containers with the parts arrived in Anchorage in early May of this year and, by May 26, the project was complete.
During his trips to oversee the construction, Akan wasn’t able to experience much of Alaska outside the Anchorage Bowl. What he did glimpse of the Mat-Su or Kenai came mostly in the air when he took some flying lessons at Merrill Field, one of the busiest general aviation airports in the world.
“It allowed me to perceive the landscape from a perspective that is perhaps very Alaskan, with thousands of (private) airplanes flying around,” he said. “It gave me a sense of wilderness that awaits beyond the mountainous horizon of Anchorage.”
The son of a pharmaceutical representative and an English teacher, Akan studied design at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, then went on to graduate studies at California Institute of the Arts.
He focused on experimental computer-driven “integrated media” and critical studies, dealing with analysis of the conceptual structures that underpin the emotional or intellectual impact or art.
“Exposure to multiple disciplines had a large impact on my artistic tendencies,” he said. “Those years taught me to ask additional questions and led me to produce works that played with issues of perception in the public domain.”
The Alaska Commission created a time crunch for his other projects, which include three sculptures due this fall and “the hellish task of moving my studio to a new location.”
The move was delayed because of the Anchorage installation, he said. “I’m not pointing fingers here; it would have been hellish without ‘Fragmenta’ anyway.”
He’s hoping for a break sometime soon, he said. “I am trying to have some down time with my family and gather my thoughts on a book based in part on my experience doing ‘Fragmenta.’ “
His working title for the book: “Remote.”