Client: Pioneer Library System, Norman Public Library Central, Caroline Dulworth, Director/Branch Manager
Location: Norman, OK, United States
Completion date: 2020
Artwork budget: $230,000
Paul Cocksedge and Joana Pinho
Paul Cocksedge Studio, London, England
Public Art Management
Erinn Gavaghan and Debby L. Williams
Norman Arts Council
Matthew Kruntorad, AIA
Project Manager, Oklahoma City
Kirkpatrick Forest Curtis PC
Unbound is an iconic 45-foot sculpture created by artist Paul Cocksedge (London, England) in the plaza of the new public library in downtown Norman, OK. The sculpture is suspended with a wire-frame holding together 262 pieces of bright anodized aluminum rolled into paper-like sheets that appear to be elevated by the invisible wind.
Paper was the perfect subject for the artwork located at the main entrance of a building housing millions of sheets within its walls, inspiring the community, readers, and learners as they cross over the library’s threshold.
To the artist, “This piece connects with paper as an invention that changed the course of human history. Unbound pays homage to the millions of pieces of paper in the Norman library but also emphasizes our changing relationship with them. The tangibility of turning a page has always been at the heart of learning – however, that’s something that’s evolving as paper is supplemented by screens. That changing relationship makes this piece relevant not just for its obvious connections to the library, but as a milestone that marks the turning point of paper’s role in our lives.”
The first goal was for the piece to welcome visitors to the library and to complement the natural beauty of the site and the architecture of the building. It was also imperative to have artwork that expresses qualities inherent in all libraries, e.g., a sense of wonderment, curiosity, and learning.
Together the architecture of the library, the plaza space where Unbound is located, and the sculpture itself are inextricably integrated to fulfill those goals. This connection is not only figurative but also literal as the sculpture’s support cables are embedded into the construction of the library and necessitated the project team working extraordinarily closely together throughout the design and construction of both the building and the artwork.
Visually, the large scale and the weight of the architecture of the building is balanced by the monumental yet delicate presence of Unbound. Unbound matches the height and proportionality of the library but maintains an airy, dynamic movement that is an effective counterpoint to the mass of the architecture.
Finally, the artist envisioned a work that was to be light and minimal – and almost surreal or fantastical from afar. This is one of the most successful aspects of this project.
To create a sense of awe when people experience Unbound, we wanted them to marvel at how the pages seem to be lifted by the wind and suspended in air.
Immediately, we recognized that support cables for the pages needed to be built into the building and, since it was under construction, the window of opportunity was narrow. The artist and on-site project team had to work together efficiently from the moment the engineering plans were complete. Working through that challenge set the tone for a remarkable collaboration that existed throughout the project and expanded when Cocksedge decided he wanted the sculpture to be built in Oklahoma. Ultimately, the Oklahoma project team consisted of 3 businesses – Flintco LLC, contractor for the new library and also the manufacturer of the sculpture, KFC, the engineering firm, and Matherly Mechanical, who completed the wiring, fabrication, and placing of the aluminum sheets.
To Cocksedge, “this was an ‘us’ rather than an ‘I’ project. We needed skills from disciplines including engineering, fabrication, art curation, and help from the local community. At the ribbon-cutting, I told the community that this artwork - although dreamt up in London - really belongs to Norman.”