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Sculpting Understanding

Local artist uses work to bridge cultures

April 18, 2010
By RODNEY MINOR, The Leader-Herald

A local artist recently gave a lecture and completed a work for display in Abu Dhabi.

Caroline Ramersdorfer, a native of Austria who resides in Wells, gave a lecture along with her partner, John Van Alstine, at the Abu Dhabi International Sculpture Symposium.

Ramersdorfer, in an e-mail, said the lecture was about large-scale pieces - selected from her and Van Alstine's latest productions - that explored how environment affects public sculpture.

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Photo submitted

Aartist Caroline Ramersdorfer is shown working on her sculpture at the Abu Dhabi International Sculpture Symposium.

"Specifically, how particular sites affect the design and execution for public work and how the individual personal environments in which we live and work influences and informs artistic ideas and production," she said in the e-mail.

Ramersdorfer was one of 17 artists chosen out 400 international entries to produce a work for the symposium.

According to the Web site for the symposium - - her sculpture, titled "Inner View Open," weighs 15 tons.

Her sculpture is made of Turkish white marble. She worked with six square slabs and two rectangular base stones. She worked on the pieces with her crew, three Egyptian assistants, who helped with the hands on work.

"My idea consisted of a horizontally extending architectural structure, relaying upon transparency and opening as main constituents evoking a dialogue between the outside and inside," Ramersdorfer said in the e-mail "therefore I integrated six elements on two base stones, holding up through the perfect fit in notches and gravity, giving the view of union and chaos at the same time, a metaphor for the eternal movement of creation."

The only woman

Van Alstine said Ramersdorfer was the only female sculptor participating in the symposium in?Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. While other female sculptors were invited, they turned down the opportunity. He said one reason was the difficulty women face working in a Muslim country and being seen as equals.

Van Alstine said to her great credit, Ramersdorfer accepted the invitation and worked tirelessly over five weeks to create the sculpture. She worked with the assistants "commanding their respect by her hard work, skill and determination," he said in an e-mail.

"It turned out to be a spectacularly successful collaboration -one, I would guess, that changed these assistants [and many others] idea of what a woman is capable of."

Ramersdorfer studied art in Florence and sculpture in Carrara, Italy. She was awarded grants from the Austrian Ministry of Art and Education that took her to Japan and New York City in the 1990s. While working on small scale sculptures in her studios, her work was always trying to bridge cultures to increase tolerance and understanding, she said.

"I see being a sculptor as an active process in creating a union and finding intersection points between art, world cultures and their decisive human factor," she said in the e-mail.

Ramersdorfer works with stone for her sculptures. She can take the pieces of stone and not only work with the individual blocks, but assemble them into a new construction. That gives the stones a new context and volume, she said, where light and its reflections play a significant part.

"It opens sights, showing an inner Life made of light, shadow, transparency, filtering of lines contrasting the full and the void, the cubic and the structured layerings," Ramersdorfer said in the e-mail.

Van Alstine, who also is a sculptor, said that although both of them use stone as their primary materials, he combines it with metal. Usually, he uses the strength of the metal to lift or float the stones to create a sense of visual tension.

Also, Van Alstine said in the e-mail, he tends to use stones as a found object - meaning he does not carve it in the traditional way, as Ramersdorfer often does.

"At the core of my work is the combination of natural and human made - hopefully creating unique and interesting amalgams or marriages of materials and a compelling visual experience," he said in the e-mail.

Van Alstine said both he and Ramersdorfer take pride in the other's accomplishments, and that there is a type of "friendly competition" involved.

While having two strong forces in one house can be a bit overwhelming at times, he said, they also are supportive of each other.

"Making a living as a sculptor is not an easy career choice - but one we have been able to manage quite successfully in part because of our mutual support," he said in the e-mail.

Van Alstine noted both of them were commissioned by the city of Beijing to create large-scale works for the Olympic park in 2008. There were more than 2,800 project entries and only 50 non-Chinese artists were selected.

Ramersdorfer said living in Wells, she finds she is inspired by it every day. Living with Van Alstine at the former Adirondack Lumber Yard, they bothe have their own spaces: her studio is in the historic log mill on the Sacandaga river, while Van Alstine's is in the old warehouse.

"As much as we both are workaholics we love to enjoy the outdoors hiking, kayaking, skiing and snowshoeing," she said in an e-mail.

For more information, visit Ramersdorfer's Web site at



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