When Pittsburgh International Airport put out a call to artists whose work would create a “calming effect,” Carin Mincemoyer found her inspiration by looking up.
“I was thinking about the experience of looking up into a tree canopy on a sunny day,” she said. “I wanted to create a piece that would dapple the light from the skylight and add some color and soft movement to the space.”
A Pittsburgh artist who has done commissioned work for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, New York City and the city of Pittsburgh, Mincemoyer’s latest public installation now graces Concourse A at PIT.
Shy Canopy consists of 13 mobile-like modules made up of space frame structures built with poplar, ranging in diameter from 42 inches to 8 feet. They will be suspended along most of the 90-foot skylight near gates A4-8.
Hanging at varying heights from frame are pieces of birch-veneer plywood, laser-cut into shapes that mimic tree leaves and painted rich shades of green characteristic of spring and summer.
All the various parts of the artwork are independently connected by swivels, so when any air current moves through, they will spin and sway, evoking the subtle movement of a forest canopy in the breeze.
Seed of an idea
For an artist who contrasts natural and manmade systems, the carefully engineered setting of a facility that creates a portal to the sky became the perfect counterpoint to a seemingly chaotic network in the air.
The name and overall form of the piece were inspired by a phenomenon called “crown shyness,” in which the tops of some types of fully grown trees do not touch those of their neighbors, leaving a random but clear network of gaps in a forest canopy. Scientists still aren’t entirely sure what causes crown shyness.
“We’re constantly trying to navigate these vast and complex natural systems around us, many of which we barely understand,” Mincemoyer said. “Looking up into both the skylight and the trees draws our eye skyward and pulls our mind out of our daily concerns for a moment by inviting us to connect with the sun and sky above.”
As PIT has focused its Terminal Modernization Program design on the themes of nature, technology and community, Mincemoyer’s proposal caught the airport’s eye for its nod to the local flora, said Rachel Rearick, Arts and Culture manager.
“When I visited Carin’s studio to view her test installation of the work suspended, I was in awe of what she’s accomplished,” Rearick said.
“The artwork performs a bit of magic; it truly conveys that you’ve been transported from an architectural space into a forest as the sculptures catch light similar to that of individual trees making up a canopy.”
Mincemoyer often combines geometric, engineered forms with organic shapes in her work. In this case, she references the truss designs from Pittsburgh’s iconic bridges in the space frame structures and patterned the lower suspended pieces after leaves from white oak and sugar maple, trees common to Western Pennsylvania.
A moving walkway beneath “gives you a tour” of a piece that will rarely be still as air currents move through the space, she said.
“It will make visual whatever air movement there is in that location, and so it will constantly be changing in a very subtle way,” said Mincemoyer, who is also an assistant professor at Point Park University. “And it’s also complex enough that it looks different from every angle.”
Shy Canopy is the second of four suspended artworks planned for each of the airport’s concourses. The first, Rachel Mica Weiss’ Recto Verso, was placed in Concourse B last winter.