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Kinetic Sculpture Mimics Movement Of Construction Equipment

Johnson County launched its one percent for art program in 2007. This means that one percent of the budget of a new major capital project is set aside for public art. The county's first public artwork was installed last year; and the second, "Adaptation" just this week. Both are in Olathe, Kansas.

Artist Matthew Dehaemers' sculpture "Adaptation" is sited near the entrance to the Johnson County Department of Public Works and Infrastructure complex, 1800 West 56 Highway in west Olathe. The sculpture - built from stainless steel, hydraulics, bearings, and yellow paint - slowly changes its shape. 

As part of an an occasional series we call “Artists in Their Own Words," Dehaemers talked about the work and his ties to the area.

Family with roots in Johnson County

Since at least the early 20th century, Dehaemers' family has had ties to Johnson County. "It's an honor in the sense that my family has roots that go back to the days of Shawnee's development and the Belgian farmers," says Dehaemers who was born and raised in Leawood, Kan.

The artist graduated from Rockhurst High School in 1991. He then went on to receive a B.F.A. from Creighton University and an M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin.

Before retiring, Dehaemers' father worked in Olathe for 40 years, operating an auto salvage business near I-35 and Santa Fe. "As a kid, I know this place really well," he says. "It's neat to have a presence here that dates back to when I was a little kid."

Structure mimics movement

It takes about an hour for Dehaemers' sculpture "Adaptation" to cycle from all the way open back to closed through a series of three movements. When it's closed, the sculpture is 16 feet in height; when it's open, it's about 23 feet. (You can see a portion of that movement in this short video).

"When it's fully open, it's this idea of a hand form structure that mimics construction equipment and these tools that workers use that basically simulate their own body movements," Dehaemers says.

The 'fingertips' include abstracted bird structures in bright yellow, appearing to lift off in a V-formation. As people drive by, he says they'll be able to "capture different iterations of the gesture."

The role of public art

Dehaemers has created a number of public artworks, including "Catalyst" for the Kansas City Area Transit Authority, "Seven Sentinels" at the Vehicle Impound Facility in Kansas City, "Convergence" commissioned by Los Angeles County, and "Detour" for the Missouri Department of Transportation.

The budget for "Adaptation" was $130,000. In the process of creating "Adaptation," the artist says he became a "construction manager" employing welders, mechanical and electrical engineers, and electricians.  The process became "a labor of love, not just of my own, but something that is benefiting the community."

"Creating public art is a opportunity to create a unique environment," says Dehaemers. "The hope is that people who may not even have a reason to come out here may want to come out and view the art."

He encourages visitors to the Public Works complex to "simply sit here. After awhile when everything is quieted down, all you can hear is the birds.  And you can hear the soft moving of this piece, up and down."

The “Artists in Their Own Words” series is supported by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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