SF State News {University Communications}

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Student's public art to spruce up downtown D.C.

April 14, 2009 -- Ethan Kerber hunches over a giant metal frame, illuminating his SOMA warehouse with pulses of light from a blow torch as he bonds metal to metal.

A photo of Ethan Kerber working in his warehouse, with sparks flying.

Graduate student Ethan Kerber works in his SOMA warehouse.

For nearly two years, Kerber, a graduate student in Design and Industry, has worked to design and create a metal public art piece that will be on permanent display 10 blocks from the White House.

After finishing, Kerber removes his welding mask and admires the work in progress, titled, "Inspiration." Made of five panels, it will measure 25 ft. by 25 ft. and weigh nearly 3,500 pounds when it is installed this summer.

"I'm only about three months away from install, and it's still hard to imagine what it will look like, but it will be big, that's for sure," Kerber said of the piece commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in conjunction with Lowe Enterprises.

The two-year process has been a learning experience for Kerber. Finishing a public art piece requires constant communication between the artist, the client and engineers who ensure that the art meets building codes. Kerber's work will adorn the side of a mixed-use retail/residential building as part of revitalization efforts in the Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhood.

Assistant Professor of Design and Industry Hsiao-Yun Chu said the process of producing public art can be overwhelming, particularly for an individual facing their first big commission. "He's not a big architectural firm," Chu said. "Ethan is communicating long distance with fabricators and engineers and adjusting his designs accordingly. For a student, it's not something he's doing for his schoolwork. It's a highly professional product."

To create the piece, Kerber used computer-aided design technology. He then took the design to a CNC machine, which turns the design into X-Y coordinates and then makes the cuts in the metal. He then took those pieces and welded them to five metal frames.

The 3-D piece is inspired by art in the Queens, N.Y. neighborhood where Kerber grew up. "Inspiration" has a distinctly "modern, urban" feel, and the differing depths of the metal pieces mirror Kerber's interest in emphasizing space. He envisioned an urban-style version of the exhaled breath on a cold winter morning when designing the piece.

Before it's unveiling, scheduled for the middle of this summer, the piece will be fit into a packing frame, and lifted with a crane onto a truck for its cross country journey. "I've always dreamed of building things for a public space," Kerber said. "Public art can transform a space and create a unique experience."

-- Michael Bruntz


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