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Originally published Friday, July 31, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Walking with purpose through a blend of art and nature at Carkeek Park

"Heaven and Earth," an exhibit of outdoor sculpture in Seattle's Carkeek Park, makes an afternoon's meander into a treasure hunt.

Seattle Times arts writer

Art exhibit

"Heaven and Earth"

Outdoor sculpture, 6 a.m.-10 p.m. daily through Sept. 10, at various locations in Carkeek Park, 950 N.W. Carkeek Park Road, Seattle; free. Exhibit-related book-release party, 7-9:30 p.m. Aug. 8, CoCA Ballard, 6413 Seaview Ave N.W., Seattle; free (206-728-1980, www.cocaseattle.org or www.heavenandearthexhibition.org).

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There's a scene in an old Dylan McDermott movie, "The Blue Iguana," where the barmaid says, "I like golf. You want to know why I like golf?"

McDermott reluctantly takes the bait.

"Because golf," she explains, "is like walking through a park with a purpose."

You might say the same thing about "Heaven and Earth," the Center on Contemporary Art's exhibit of temporary outdoor sculpture at Carkeek Park.

The actual artwork is a mixed affair. But the "show" takes you through oddball corners of Carkeek Park with a sculpture-seeking intent that's surprisingly satisfying — no matter what you find.

Guides to the 13 installations, all by local artists, can be picked up at Carkeek's Eddie McAbee Entrance on Northwest 100th Place, where the exhibit begins, or at Carkeek's Environmental Learning Center. The artists' mandate was to contemplate "art and nature in a world of change" through works "constructed of primarily natural materials ... designed to have minimal impact on the park."

The best pieces strike an ambiguous note, entwining the natural and unnatural with a punlike precision. Barbara De Pirro's "fungo plastica," nestled in tree-trunk hollows in Piper's Orchard, does just that. Her "fungo" resembles squat pinecone-like nuggets that, from a distance, might be some sort of honeycomb or hivelike structure.

Touch them, and you know you're dealing with balls of synthetic twine camouflaged to look as though they belong.

"Tree Wrap #2" by Gerry Stecca does something similar to "fungo plastica." It seems, from a distance, to be a dead tree trunk that has partly shed its bark. Walk up to it and you'll see that the lighter "barkless" portion is actually a veneer of interlocked clothespins closely hewing to the tree-trunk shape.

Several artists confine themselves entirely to natural materials, with striking results. "Visitor" by "branch artist" Julie Lindell is splendidly positioned in a meadow by the Environmental Learning Center.

Intricate in shape — like a many-limbed hollow star — and big enough in scale to have a strong, spooky presence, it's a deadfall golem that might come to branch-clacking life if you chanted the right spell over it.

Stephen Rock and the Rock Brothers also use all-natural materials in "Executive Decision," consisting of four picnic tables under seeming aerial attack. One table surface is pierced by a chunky, pointed Douglas fir wedge, while landscaping boulders lance the others.

The artists' stated intent is to explore how "issues, once laid on a table, can hardly be ignored." The piece's blend of utility and violent whimsy merit permanent placement in Carkeek Park.

Aaron Haba's fanlike "Alto" — built of rope, twine and Holodiscus discolor (ocean spray) — is another perfect fit of artwork and setting: a sort of soft-sculpture answer to Isamu Noguchi's "Black Sun" in Volunteer Park.

Some works depend too heavily on artist explanation to have their intended impact. Meredith Hall and Vaughn Bell's "post-colony," for instance, consists of several tripods constructed from invasive plant species removed from the park. Nice idea — but without the artists' statement, the piece just looks something some bored kids put together.

Other pieces suffer from poor positioning or unimpressive scale. Miguel Edwards' "Que viva el Sol, La Vida Del Sol" is a fine, dynamic "broken sphere" depicting, the artist says, the mass and gaseous nature of the sun. But the sculpture feels almost shunted aside to a parking-lot side strip. It needs to be on a bluff somewhere, and five or 10 times the size it is, to have optimum impact.

Most park wanderers will have their own takes on what they discover among the streams and ravines of Carkeek Park. Put on your walking shoes, open your mind for an hour or two — and see what you can see.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company


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