Exchange Sculptor Portrays ‘Parallel Realities’ in Jamestown Work

Posted: March 29, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

This week, R.G. Brown III has been working on a sculpture at Mason that coincides with the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. But the impetus for Brown’s involvement with the project began on the eastern shore of North Carolina.

R.G. Brown
R.G. Brown

About two years ago, Brown, an associate professor of art at the University of Georgia, was studying the “Lost Colony” on Roanoke Island, where in 1585 and 1587, colonists were left to establish a permanent English settlement. The final group eventually disappeared, hence the name “Lost Colony.”

“I am about 150 miles south of where I should be,” Brown thought to himself. Brown was thinking of Jamestown and was well aware of this year’s events noting the arrival of English settlers in 1607.

Brown, who grew up in Salem, Va., wanted to contribute to the 400th anniversary in some way.

“Growing up in Virginia, whether we liked it or not, we went to Jamestown and Williamsburg [on school trips]. I went frequently,” says Brown.

Thanks to the East Coast Sculpture Exchange Program, which this academic year involves Mason, James Madison University and the University of Georgia, Brown began work March 25 on a sculpture in an open field in the northeast part of the Fairfax Campus just off Roberts Road.

Brown’s work is called “Jamestown Triangle: A 21st Century Interpretation.” The work is a 30-foot equilateral triangle made out of wood, aluminum flashing and polystyrofoam. It is embedded just below ground level.

The triangle is actually a modification of a design that was found on the back of a John Smith map of the Jamestown Fort.

“I used that as my inspiration,” says Brown. “It’s a simple wooden form lined with aluminum flashing, and then filled with polystyrofoam, which creates a void.”

Brown explains the fort is an example of the type of experimental work he has been doing recently.

Sculptor R.G. Brown with installation
Sculptor R.G. Brown with the Jamestown installation on the Fairfax Campus.
Photos by Nicolas Tan

“I take a piece and bury it. People say, ‘Why are you burying the work?’ To simplify it the best I can, once the piece is out of sight or beyond perception, then it can be revealed in other ways. Parallel realities is the term I use.”

Once the installation is finished on Friday, March 30, an archaeology student from the University of Georgia will come out to the site with ground penetrating radar and survey it.

“The output will be something quite different,” says Brown. “We will display that on campus in other buildings. We will have live animation.”

Elaborating his goals further, Brown says, “I am not trying to create pseudo-archaeology. I am interested in this notion of parallel reality. You can see the thing and experience the thing, but you have to use technological devices to do it.

“There are a lot of places that we go to in our lives that are special and unique, but don’t have anything there. People come here knowing the piece exists. Then they have the opportunity to go elsewhere and see the manifestation of it through other mechanisms.”

George Mason Art and Visual Technology students have been assisting in the project this week, according to Harold Linton, department chair.

“This terrific opportunity for our students is also to introduce them to the diversity of approaches in conceiving of and creating sculpture beyond the traditional methods of defining 3-D form and space,” Linton says.

“R.G. is providing our students with a very provocative way of defining sculpture and documenting a work of art. Advanced imaging technology has multiple applications across several disciplines, including science, art and history; it’s a great lesson from an accomplished artist and educator. I am thrilled that R.G. is here on campus this week.”

Linton, who has known Brown for several years, says flat-screen televisions around the Fairfax Campus will show the sculpture later this year. He adds there are plans for a print exhibition of the sculpture; the sculpture will stay underground for the foreseeable future.

Sean Watkins, technical director for Art and Visual Technology, has been filming the work done by Brown this week. Brown has been assisted by Tom Ashcraft, associate professor in Art and Visual Technology.

“This is a great opportunity to do this piece,” says Brown. “It is in Virginia. It is relevant enough. It is a celebration of the 400th anniversary.

“My work for the last 10 years has been about the notion of journey. For me, I used the journey [from England] as a metaphor. I build boats. I built a boat in Africa, I built a boat in Italy, and in Canada. I hope to build a boat on every continent. This is about an important journey.”

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