I first noticed them when I was coming up the escalator at the Farragut West Metro stop with my son’s fourth-grade class on a field trip to Decatur House in February — these perforated metallic discs that glowed even in the daylight.
They stopped me in my tracks, they were so beautiful. I couldn’t stop staring at all those holes — like snowflakes almost, each one a different size:
I thought to myself that I couldn’t remember seeing them before. And now I know why. I was honored to be invited to the formal dedication of the Farragut Spheres yesterday, a sculptural light installation by Michael Enn Sirvet, a DC engineer-turned-artist who brings his scientific background into his sculptures.
The installation is the result of a collaboration between Metro, the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District, and the DC Commission on Arts and Humanities.
“Farragut Spheres is what art in transit is all about — as travelers enter or exit the station, it provides an unexpected delight along the way,” said Michael McBride, Metro’s Art in Transit manager. (Metro has an Art in Transit manager?? We learn something new every day!)
The Metro already has 30 commissioned art installations throughout the system, said Richard Sarles, general manager and CEO of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. “This is just a fabulous addition to that,” he said. “Michael is an engineer like me — what he’s doing here is a great addition to society.”
Michael, looking very Zen in his Mao-collared suit jacket, explained the motivation behind his work since he left the engineering field in 2008: Engineering “has been reflected in my work since the very beginning,” he told the crowd, over the groaning of the escalators and while confused commuters came and went. The combination of the natural and the industrial is what fascinates him.
He started “drilling holes in most of my sculptures and filling them with bolts,” like this:
But then he and some friends happened to be watching a documentary on Ecuador at one point, which featured a square mile of ancient rocks “that had been worn away to the point of staggering beauty,” he said yesterday. “I ran back to the shop and started drilling holes and NOT filling them.”
Here is the result — a sculpture called Millennia from 2009 that served as the inspiration for the Farragut Spheres:
This piece received an award for Excellence in Metal Craft by the James Renwick Alliance, which supports the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery across from the White House. (Small world — I’m a newly minted member of the JRA!) The piece got noticed by the Golden Triangle BID, and this project at Farragut West culminates almost three years of planning since then.
The installation forms an 80-foot wall of 20 concave discs of differing sizes, each one individually illuminated with custom-designed LED lights. Alex Cooper, a lighting designer for the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, designed those lights, which glow anywhere from yellow to orange to pale green.
All told, there are more than 139,000 holes in those spheres, only Michael did not drill all of them himself. He got assistance from Products Support Inc. in Jessup, MD, a machine shop whose bread and butter comes from fabricating parts for things like… fighter jets.
Union Electric Company from Baltimore installed the lights (other projects to their credit include the Kennedy Center and Wolf Trap).
The Farragut West project is part of a strategic plan to make the Golden Triangle district a more pleasant area to work in and visit, said Leona Agouridis, the BID’s executive director.
“Art is a way to make the neighborhood much more enjoyable for people,” she said. Next on tap is an installation at the Farragut North Metro, just across Farragut Park. The two projects will then bracket the square between K and I streets. “We kind of see that (space) as our town square.”