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Reconstructed silo turned into art

MONKTON — In the woods of the Willowell Foundation land in Monkton, artist Marela Zacarías is leading the local community in turning 1,024 square feet of reconstructed silo into a permanent sculptural mural installation. Zacarías’s project, called “Azimuth,” is part of a series of  artist residencies at Willowell that interpret both pre-Columbian design motifs and Vermont’s natural environment. According to Zacarías, “Azimuth” “is meant to work as a meditation on transformation and an offering to nature.”
A major source of inspiration for Zacarías is pre-Columbian architecture, in particular a  pyramid at the archaeological site of Xochicalco in Morelos, Mexico. “Looking at the work that the Olmec artists created in this site around 650 AD,” she said, “I am amazed at the connection of the pyramids with nature.
“The architects thought about the placement of the buildings and their orientation in relationship to the stars and the four directions. The stone carvings on the surface of this pyramid are very intricate and I find the combination of organic and symmetrical patterns very inspiring. I imagine the way the patterns looked when they were painted. The colors must have been bright and beautiful next to the background of the clouds and the trees.”
In the spirit of these ancient artists, Zacarías wants the project at Willowell to relate to its environment in shape, placement and color. While most murals are painted on existing flat walls, Azimuth is coming to life on the curved sides of a freestanding reconstructed silo.  Two adjacent 9-foot-tall silo halves join to form the sculpture’s S-shape. Zacarías said she had this nonlinear form in mind from the beginning, when she was approached by Willowell to create a “wall in the woods.” 
“I knew that the mural could not be painted on a rectangular wall, as it would feel like an imposition to the woods that surround it,” she said.  “So I decided to use a feminine, organic shape to paint on.” Local artist Eben Markowski and his brother Judd Markowski provided the ideal answer to the problem of building a curved wall when they suggested using the old silo at Good Companion Farm in Ferrisburgh.  They constructed the wall as a site-specific sculpture that invites its viewers to interact with the landscape by walking in and around the wall while taking in the mural.
“By walking around the wall, the people who look at the mural will complete the 8, which is a symbol of the infinite and the life cycle,” Zacarías said. “The S is also a wave, seen in the ocean or in the traveling of sound. It represents the ups and downs of our daily lives and the mountains that surround us.”
Zacarías is a Mexico City-born, Brooklyn-based artist who has worked with communities in the U.S. and Latin America to paint over 30 murals. “Azimuth” is her first sculptural mural and her first non-objective mural. She plans to paint the silo surfaces with “abstract patterns inspired by the changing of the seasons and the four directions.” The four sides of the sculpture will interpret the four seasons with non-representational patterns and colors.
The word “azimuth,” meaning in the original Arabic “a way, a part, or a quarter,” measures in nautical terms the angle between north and a star’s position on the horizon. It can also mean the angle between a forward-facing person and a sound. As the mural’s title, “Azimuth” prompts reflection on how we position ourselves within nature. It also calls attention to the playful echoes the silo walls create.
“As a foundation committed to finding opportunities that bring together arts, education and the environment, Willowell is excited to support this unique project,” says Matt Schlein, the foundation’s director. “For starters, having the youth and community get a chance to work with an internationally renowned artist can only foster creativity and enthusiasm for the arts. Additionally, Marela’s design and concept of the piece, blending notions around time, nature, pre-Columbian design motifs, and Vermont’s agrarian history will continue to inspire and promote a sense of place long after the residency concludes in October.”
Before the end of her residency, Zacarías will have worked with over 80 local students ages 6 through 18. Elementary students from Monkton and Vergennes marked the first days of fall this past week by painting autumnal colors on the first side of the wall to be painted.  Students in the Walden Project outdoor public high school program, run by Vergennes Union High School with support from Willowell, are providing the most extensive assistance. The mural stands outside the entrance to their outdoor classroom. Middlebury College senior Annie Ulrich is also assisting as an intern during the four-week painting process. 
Zacarías’ residency at Willowell is funded in large part by the Alex Gordon Trust and the Wolf Kahn and Emily Mason Foundation. An opening reception is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 20, from 2-5 p.m. at the Willowell land. For more information on “Azimuth,” visit www.willowell.org.

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