As Concordia’s new science building — the Integrated Science Center — is being constructed, the Art Committee and Office of Sustainability have commissioned a piece of art to be displayed in an entirely solar-powered space inside the building. The goal is to increase awareness of solar power, as well as to bring art into a usually science-dominated space.
Jeffrey Zachmann, the creator of the new sculpture, is a Minnesota native and 1980 MSUM graduate. According to the transcript of an Art Committee meeting in August 2016, he “specializes in creating unique and custom kinetic sculptures that are featured all over the nation.” For the last five years, he has been collaborating with his son, Carl Zachmann, on art that has found its way to places as near as North Dakota and as far away as South Africa. His work is currently featured in Fargo’s Rourke art museum.
Jeffrey has been interested in kinetic projects since the age of eight (he is now nearing 60). As a child, he and his sisters would play with marbles in their yard, drawing paths for them to roll in piles of dirt. A naturally artistic person, he studied ceramics at MSUM for his undergrad, the place where he found his passion for kinetic sculptures. At first, he made all his pieces out of clay.
“I was a potter for 15 years before I realized that clay isn’t a good medium for this kind of sculpture–” the kind of sculpture that guides an object’s movement through physics. “So, I changed to metal,” Jeffrey said.
Since he began creating these metallic kinetic sculptures, Jeffrey’s fame has increased tremendously. The opposite of a starving artist, his work is so popular that he can live comfortably on the income from his pieces. “Not many people do the work I do, but a lot of people like it,” Jeffrey said.
The commissioned piece for the Science Center, like all Jeffrey’s projects, plays with the physics of moving objects. It will be a circular structure, measure 5-by-5-feet, and hang from the ceiling above a staircase inside the Center. According to the Art Committee, the only guideline for how the piece will look is that it will “focus on the shape of the Red River through the Red River Valley,” but Jeffrey’s own creativity and ideas will influence the final product.
The key feature of this piece, however, is that it will be featured in an area of the building that’s powered exclusively by solar energy. This is what Samantha Westrate, sustainability coordinator, is most excited about.
“This is a great way to get solar power into more of Concordia’s buildings,” Westrate said. “My dream is to get solar power into every building on campus, so this is step one.”
Concordia is very focused on becoming more sustainable in several ways, and one way is through the architecture of new buildings. LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is “the most widely used third-party verification for green buildings” across the world, according to the U.S. Green Building Council website. One of LEED’s responsibilities is to rate buildings based on how many sustainability issues the building addresses, using a system of levels (Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum). Concordia’s Offutt School of Business has been rated Silver, but Westrate wants the Science Center to get a Gold rating.
“This is a great way to make sure you’re being conscious when you’re renovating or building,” Westrate said. “Aiming for a LEED Gold rating will help us achieve that.”
Westrate described the process of hiring Jeffrey to create art for this sustainable building. In the fall of 2015, Westrate’s intern, Maddie Hyde, was assigned to come up with an interactive area of the Science Center that would be powered by solar energy. Hyde discovered Jeffrey when she attended one of his exhibits and thought he would be perfect for the job.
“I wanted a sculpture that would get science folks interested in art [and] get art students over to the science building,” Hyde said.
She pitched the idea to the Art Committee, and one year later the project is coming along smoothly.
“I think it’s great that Concordia was willing to allocate funding to support local arts and to raise awareness about solar power,” Hyde said.
Jeffrey believes that his art is perfect for this type of project, since his work deals mainly with physics.
“People don’t usually think of it, but art and science go together very well,” Jeffrey said, “from chemistry to paint colors and other processes used by artists, to the physics used in sculptures like mine.”