Planted near the shrubbery at the north end of Parrington lawn, the Department of Forensic Morphology Annex presents the most basic of questions to the viewer: what the heck is that? The Annex resembles a cross between some alien creature dredged up from the squiddy depths and the silver-skinned antagonist from “Terminator 2.” Curvy like a root vegetable, but silver plated like a B-29, the Annex resembles nothing natural on this earth.
The Annex was commissioned specifically for the UW under the Art in Public Places program, and it makes direct reference to the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory and the F.K. Kirsten Wind Tunnel on campus. It’s a playful piece, though mysterious on several levels. Its name suggests a stuffy academic administration building dedicated to an obscure discipline with few professors and fewer students. It superficially resembles a building, with a small triangular crack functioning as an ersatz entryway, but that entrance is blocked by the spidery scaffolding that supports the structure. It’s made of cut stainless-steel plates, but those plates appear stitched together, like fabric.
The Annex was the work of Cris Bruch, a Missouri native, educated at the University of Wisconsin (the other UW), who came to Seattle in 1986. Bruch’s work takes natural forms and renders them in modern materials. Many of his works are simultaneously swirly and blocky, curved and angular at the same time. Shortest Distance (2006), which resides outside the courthouse in Eugene, Oregon, looks like a giant pencil shaving done in stainless steel. Another, Whistlestop for an Organ Teacher (2009), features curved and fluted pipes rising from a low box, also mitered and angled to appear sharp and otherworldly.
In a column for Vroom Journal, an apparently-now-defunct online regional arts magazine*, Bruch wrote about his thoughts when creating the Annex: “I built this sculpture to house the future department of a field that does not yet exist. Morphology is the study of form and structure of animals and plants, without regard for function. It also refers to the branch of linguistics that deals with the internal structure and forms of words. Linking these studies to forensic science—well, just imagine the possibilities.”
Albert Einstein, author of many misattributed quotes, once really did say**, “The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” Abstract art like the Annex helps us remember when everything was mysterious and new, and opens us up to the experience of wonder, which is something we all can use.
*Which was affiliated with the 911 Media Arts Center, which is still very much a going concern.
**No, seriously, he did. In his essay, “The World as I See It.”