Fine Arts

New sculpture puts residents at ease

Cougar Place Sculpture 1

Texas-native artist Nathan Carter designed a colorful and contemporary sculpture, “Houston Radar Radio Reflectors,” for the new Cougar Place dormitories. The project took about two years to design and complete, and students are intrigued and impressed by his work. | Courtesy of Mike Emery

A playful and light-hearted atmosphere settled over the newly built dorms on campus as residents reflected on the latest outdoor public artwork that has become a permanent fixture in their lives.

The lyrical sculptural installation, called “Houston Radar Radio Reflectors,” is an exuberant piece that has transformed the sleek facade of Cougar Place.

For Steffi Abraham, a nutrition junior who also works the front desk, the complementary design of the sculpture and the building nurtured a modern and sophisticated vibe.

“When I first saw it, it was definitely different. It looked so unique,” Abraham said. “Considering that this is a brand new building, I think it added a certain flare to the whole structure of the building.”

Cougar Place Sculpture 2

The new sculpture provides a unique design of a wall between students studying by the benches and the road beside. | Courtesy of Mike Emery

International artist and Texas native Nathan Carter spent about two years on the project, which is his first outdoor public sculpture. Pulling inspiration from the interactive mobile artworks of Alexander Calder, Carter strove to produce a piece students could physically connect and interact with.

“It was a utilitarian function thing. Students can sit outside on that sitting wall, and it’s kind of like a screen that gives a block between you and the line of cars while you enjoy a quiet cup of coffee,” Carter said.

Residents who passed by the newly acquired art looked on, first in surprise and then in newfound appreciation. Political science sophomore Warren Butts gravitated to the piece for its fresh, inviting and playful aesthetics.

“It livens the place up. Every place should have more around it, every dorm and every building on campus,” Butts said. “It’s such a great precedence. They should keep doing it.”

Since Michael Guidry became the curator of the University public art collection in 2006, he has completed about a dozen commission and several other purchases. With more than 250 pieces of public art, the University boasts memorable campus tours and cultural eye candy for Cougars and visitors alike.

“One never really knows what or how a piece of art will look or function until it’s installed in the space or site, and Nathan really knocked it out of the park,” Guidry said. “He not only set out to do what he intended — create a sculptural privacy screen for the (Cougar Place) patio — he created a playful, exciting environment.”

Art can be seen all around campus, both indoors and outdoors, and provides students with a unique Cougar experience.

“Most campuses, when you go visit, are just so bland. It’s just traditional four-wall buildings and it’s very ordinary,” Abraham said. “The fact that we have unique art all over the place adds a certain ‘oomph’ that makes it pleasing to the eye.”

Mechanical engineering junior Navin Krishnasing welcomed the swirling, dynamic forms.

“It kind of makes us feel at home,” Krishnasing said. “It looks nice. This isn’t just a dorm, it’s some place we could live and enjoy ourselves.”

With the sculpture’s intricate lines, colors and shapes, most students were unable to decipher the meaning behind the artist’s message. Several residents believed it spelled out “cougar,” while others traced musical notes, confetti and train tracks in the piece’s pattern.

Layla Bispo, a creative writing sophomore, believed that the artwork’s meaning hit closer to home.

“I feel like it’s appropriate for the dorm because to me it looks like it’s about diversity. Even the structure isn’t your typical structure,” Bispo said. “They all have similar materials used and similar structure to them although each one is different.”

Bispo suggests UH should commission work from the diverse student body, who are deeply-rooted in the University’s life and growth as a Tier One university.

“We should commission more art on campus to reflect what’s going on inside,” Bispo said. “The campus is so huge, why not make it a tradition? Every year that’s their senior gift. They should commission a gift.”

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