Landmarks, the public art program of The University of Texas at Austin
Austin, TX United States
Artwork Budget: 115000
Michael Ray Charles
Office of the Vice President for University Operations, The University of Texas at Austin
John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, The University of Texas at Austin
Center for Mexican American Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies, The University of Texas at Austin
"(Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations" is suspended in the atrium of the Gordon-White Building, home to centers at The University of Texas at Austin committed to studying the history and experience of minority cultures. Michael Ray Charles’ sculpture is approximately 13 feet tall, 34 feet wide, and 10 feet deep and made from wooden crutches assembled in groups to create 26 star-shaped wheels. The individual parts maintain their own trajectory, yet form a common mass in an energetic composition.
Michael Ray Charles selected the location because it joins a classic 1952 university building to a newly constructed addition used by students and scholars of the historically marginalized. In designing the atrium’s interior, he preserved architectural ornaments from the original building and added rough, exposed surfaces to create a meaningful segue into the polished departmental offices. The result is both sculpture and site—a symbolic transition between the inherited establishment and a future that explores new ways of thinking and being.
When imagining the project, Charles was partly inspired by the activity of scholars who study minority cultures and the challenges they have faced in academic institutions. "(Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations," now the centerpiece of a thriving enterprise that champions multiculturalism and diversity, is emblematic of institutional progress and transformation. By claiming the wounds of the past and acknowledging the support needed to heal, it recognizes all who have suffered inequality and carries the promise of future growth and hope.
The location of the work within the Gordon-White Building is key to its meaning. The space of the atrium in which it hangs was created by connecting an original, neoclassical building with a new wing designed to accommodate several academic centers and departments. Viewing the space as a transition between the old guard and the new, both architectural and academic, Charles contributed to the renovation and expansion by selecting finishes such as a raw concrete floor and exposed ceilings to convey ideas of growth and evolution.
Many departments were involved in its planning, including the African and African Diaspora Studies Department, the John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, the Center for Mexican American Studies, and the Department of Mexican American and Latina/o Studies. Bringing in multiple voices and collaborators into the creation of "(Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations" perfectly complements the origin and unifying vision of the piece.
"(Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations" references the perpetual state of transition in which the fields housed within the building often find themselves, and the transformative impact the faculty frequently have in the intellectual lives of the students who take their courses, the scholarship they produce, and the larger public sphere in which their members share and develop their work.
(Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations
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