The dirt days of red soil and the aroma of deep loam – these were simple days of whimsy and adventure where with two fingers we’d adorn our faces with Indian war paint and where imagination magnified the mysteries of the mundane and spoke for nature’s silent history; these were the times when the land was a companion and not a possession.
Barefoot amidst miniature peaks of red earth standing in contrast to the white walls of ii Gallery in Kaka‘ako, Sean Connelly’s installation A Small Area of Land (translated from the Hawaiian word kuleana) seems to be his evolving sandbox.
With meticulous precision, Connelly builds the wooden structure for his sculpture in accordance with the alignment of the sun and the moon on a particular day in time: a day he’ll reveal at the gallery opening. “It’s about meshing an architect’s practicality with an artist’s emotionality, and essentially, Hawai‘i’s history with the architecture of my work,” says Connelly, who was born and raised beneath the Ko‘olau’s shadows on the Windward side. Utilizing a soil-and-sand-based mixture as his medium requires Connelly to sacrifice some of the exacting perfection often found in architects for the deviations within the organic material. Poetic, in a sense, that man must render himself to the will of nature.
Functioning to challenge habitual perceptions, Connelly says his sculpture creates a “discomfort with the familiarity we possess with soil, framing it in the guise of art.” Prized and pined over in the islands, earth and sand have become commoditized, no longer simply functioning to cultivate and balance the natural world but also to nourish greedy pockets. “The symbiotic harmony of mankind with the land has waned,” he says.
For Connelly, the watershed, where mountains and water meet, exemplifies the interconnectedness of the land with a life cycle similar to our human life cycle. A Small Area of Land embodies nature’s impermanence: Upon the exhibition’s closing, it will be destroyed and made anew, potentially as a garden outside of R&D. “Nature has an intuition and a genius, constantly inspiring and instructing us,” says Connelly. It seems that if we look with simplicity and allow nature to run its course, it can show us how to savor a life without fear of death.