Nearly everyone living near Sacramento is familiar with the giant red rabbit that leaps out of the ceiling in terminal B of the Sacramento airport. This rabbit, along with an accompanying granite suitcase at the bottom of the escalators, is only one of many public art installations created by Lawrence Argent.
Argent specializes in large-scale sculpture, as demonstrated by the red rabbit, aptly titled “Leap.” I attended a presentation at Crocker Art Museum on Nov. 5 on his work and his ideas. The one thing Argent spoke most about was fear.
“Fear,” he says, “is the element that blocks most aspects of our life and keeps us from moving forward.” Particularly in the process of creating such large-scale sculpture, he said it was important for him to overcome certain fears, and take a plunge.
Argent cannot complete his projects on his own. His materials range from stone to metal to soap, and no single artist can expect to master each of them alone, especially on such a large scale. Thus, he is required to work with other artists and specialists, an idea he was not particularly enthralled by.
Putting your design into the hands of someone else is a nerve-racking concept, but Argent believes that sometimes it is best. Working with other people makes the final piece look better, and getting over the fear of doing so will make you a better artist, he said.
A public art project is more than what an artist creates in his studio. Instead he must take into account the community and the way the viewer interprets and reacts to the piece.
For example, another piece Argent designed was a 40-foot-tall blue bear that peers into the Denver Airport. It has become an iconic Denver landmark, but not because of anything that Argent put into it. Rather the community of Denver and those who travel there have turned it into the symbol that it is, he said.
People create and post comics, videos and pictures that depict the bear’s backstory or otherwise use it to enhance their own artistic development. Argent never expected when he designed it that it would become such a symbol, but the community made it so.
Likewise, the big red rabbit shows a certain level of community. I remember my own mother making snide remarks at how ridiculous it was when it was first installed. Why would they put a rabbit of all things in the new terminal? However, since then it has become a symbol of home.
Every trip we go on ends with that rabbit and its suitcase. Argent says the rabbit represents community, while the suitcase represents individuality. The body of the animal leads you down the escalator with a sense of “I’ve made it,” whether returning home or starting a trip.
As far as engineering is concerned, for those who are curious, “Leap” is 56 feet long and made of aluminum. It is actually a black rabbit body, with triangular panels covering the outside. Each panel was attached by a string mechanism and three industrial strength anchor points of velcro. However, the project was set back months when a few pieces (coincidentally, those closest to the railing that could actually be touched) fell off, and each panel had to have three more anchor points added and also had to be glued down.
The project took a long time, but it was worth it. Public art is important because it interrupts your visual plane, Argent said. It forces you, in a way, to take wherever you are and think of it in a new way. Airports are not famously calm or happy places, but when I get to the escalator and see that rabbit, I feel a little more at home.
Art is all about risk for Argent: the risk of putting it in someone else’s hands, the risk of presenting it to a community whose reaction could essentially kill the project, and the risk of making a mistake. However, if an artist takes that risk, the final piece will be so much better.
Briefly, in art as in life, the only thing that can really stop you is your own fear. Take the plunge, and in the end you might just make something amazing.