Client: Metropolitan Council Metro Transit
Location: St. Paul, MN, United States
Completion date: 2014
Artwork budget: $187,000
Mattson, MacDonald, Young
Public Art Agent
River Dragon is the artwork for the Western Avenue station, part of the new Metro Light Rail Transit in St. Paul, MN. The station is at the heart of St. Paul’s Asian district, so River Dragon combines the symbolism of the River with that of the dragon as symbol in Asian culture.
There are a series of elements in River Dragon. Each responds to the environment and is seen from different vantage points, and all are integrated into the station design itself.
On the fences is the curving form of the river made of countless stainless steel discs that are reminiscent of the scales of the dragon as well as the water’s texture. In the day, they catch the light of the sunlight, and at night, they reflect the lights of the city, changing colors and sparkling as if with a life of their own. This element is visible from both sides of the fence and is meant for those standing on the platform as well as the motorists who drive by, being near eye level for both.
Nine feet above the level of the platform, on the lamp posts are spiral dragon forms with stainless discs that move in the wind animating and catching light of the surroundings. These are visible from a distance and announce to those on the train, sidewalk and roadway that you have arrived in the “Little Mekong” Asian district.
The community was an active partner is the development of the concept for this station. The population is primarily of Hmong and Vietnamese origins and they wanted something that would reflect their culture. River Dragon combines the symbolism of the River: (both the Mekong River and the Mississippi River) with that of the dragon. The dragon is the symbol in Asian culture of the life force, signifying good fortune. Dragons are “invested with powers of regeneration that permeate the natural world and renew the cosmic order. Through their influence, the seasonal cycles of the natural world are maintained…” While originally skeptical that an outsider and westerner could create a work that spoke to their culture, in the end the community was very pleased by the marriage of contemporary art with the reference to the symbols so dear to their sense of identity.
As always in the limited space of a transit station, the challenge is to provide art that can be seen from all sides by both the users and passing vehicles as well as engage the length of the platform. This makes it hard to see in a single image the full scope of the artwork.