Sarah Haviland was on Governor’s Island one day last summer when she spotted a group of strangely attired people crowded around her public sculpture, “Reflection Bench.”
So named for the round convex mirror set into it, the cement sculpture “is a functional piece and intended to be sat on,” says Haviland, an assistant professor in BMCC’s Department of Music and Art. As it turned out, the costumed visitors were involved in an island-wide scavenger hunt. “One of their tasks was to find the bench and take a picture of themselves at it,” says Haviland.
Pulling visitors into the art
During its time on Governors Island, Reflection Bench drew a constant procession of visitors, who sat on it, posed in front of it, and gazed at themselves in the mirror. “I’ve incorporated mirrors into many of my works,” says Haviland, a highly regarded artist whose sculptures and installations have graced parks, plazas and other public spaces in six states. “A mirror pulls visitors and their environment into the sculpture. When you look at yourself, you actually enter that silvery, convex world. Beyond that, mirrors have historically had a spiritual quality that has interested me greatly.”
Haviland originally created Reflection Bench to be sited on a Hudson River overlook in Peekskill, NY, as part of a festival sponsored by the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art. “I worked closely with Herman Roggeman, a gifted welder and metal worker, who fabricated the required steel structural supports,” she says.
As Haviland describes it, Reflection Bench “is almost mountain-like in its shape, but also relates to human and bird forms.” At first glance, its winglike back suggests a love seat or Victorian sofa. The design is evocative of the Madonna della Misericordia—a religious image that has fascinated the artist for many years and inspired much of her work.
A protective figure
“Misericordia—or ‘merciful heart’—refers to a depiction of the Virgin Mary with outstretched arms,” Haviland says. “It’s an image that has appeared in churches and frescoes for many centuries and also resembles a protective figure in many other religions and cultures in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. For that reason it has been especially wonderful to see a family place a baby on the bench.”
On October 10, Reflection Bench was moved to Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where it will be on view as part of a sculpture collection in the school’s sculpture park. Haviland is pleased that visitors will continue to have the opportunity to see and experience it.
“I have been long been interested in public art and this is a functional kind of public art—humanistic and not imposing,” Haviland says. “Watching people interact with Reflection Bench has fulfilled a big part of the work’s meaning for me.”