garden art: drago-19

The garden is home to Drossian Resource Ark Glenwood Object-19 (DRAGO-19), a 12-foot-tall metal sculpture created by local artists Jeff Shauger and Joe Mross. The multi-ton object is partially buried in the ground, as if it had crash-landed in Eugene or was unearthed during an archaeological dig. With its welded body, working lights and dials, and boxes that emit strange sounds, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake the structure for a spaceship from a far-away land.

That was the artists’ intention. Shauger and Mross even went as far as inscribing a fake alien language on the metal. And a closer examination of this relic reveals its true origin. The sculpture contains boilers from the former Civic Stadium, saws from old timber mills and components scavenged from now-closed local companies. There’s no question this object comes from much closer to home.

The idea for DRAGO-19 can be traced all the way back to an all-day artists charette in 2002, held a couple of years after BRING purchased the site that would become the Planet Improvement Center. Former executive director Julie Daniel explained that the nonprofit had two goals as it began thinking about its new home. The first was to create a new image for itself and the reused materials it sold.

“The old BRING site was akin to a junkyard, and that created a certain image,” she said. “We wanted to change the way people perceived us and how they perceived used things. We wanted them to stop thinking of second-hand as second-rate and see reusing was valuable, creative, and fun.”

To achieve that, BRING staff and supporters envisioned a place that was part Disneyland, part Country Fair. “They’re very different, but they use the same technique,” Daniel said. “They create a world that is so compelling and so much fun to be in, participants set aside their preconceived notions and change their behavior based on how much fun they’re having in the circumstances.”

Creativity is part and parcel of both experiences, so it made sense to include some type of art on the property. And there were also bigger picture reasons to think about including something like a sculpture. It would reflect BRING’s mission to become a center for creative reuse. And it would bring art to an area that sorely needed it.
“As we moved to Glenwood and became part of the community, we noticed there was no public art in the neighborhood,” Daniel said. “We knew that BRING serves a very diverse slice of the community, giving us an opportunity to bring art to people who weren’t typically exposed to it. We wanted to make sure our place really reflected the idea that cultural resources should be available to all—and that they should be in the places they go. People shouldn’t have to go somewhere like a gallery to view art.”

Art installations were gradually put in place, often donated by the artists, with buildings and basic infrastructure being constructed as funding allowed. Works already installed include the Altar to All Faiths and the Garden of Earthly Delights garden gate created by Jud Turner. The BRING Store features etched glass windows that represent the Four Elements made by Annah James, a tile walkway and mural made by the Art Chics, and a 40 foot long, hand-painted mural completed by students from Springfield High School.
Before they were set to retire in 2015, Daniel and former development and communications director Sonja Snyder decided they wanted to do something more fun than writing grants for concrete and roofing. They wanted to follow through on the dream of getting public art on the property, and made their retirement party a fund raiser to commission a major art work.

Daniel asked her friend Michael Whitenack, an artist and participant in the original charette, to help the dream come true. He introduced her to Shauger and Mross. The initial plan was to build a giant watchtower in the garden. But after a year of designing and planning, the team ultimately had to scrap the idea. “We found there were rather a lot of safety and engineering issues to building a tower. How would we stop people from climbing on it?” said Daniel.

Shauger and Mross put their heads together and went back to work. In sticking with BRING’s mission to show people how to be creative with found objects, they planned to craft an interactive piece that people could walk through (but not climb on) made from scrap metal sourced all over Lane County. Rather than coming up with a specific design, they let the objects they found drive the final look of the piece.

Carrying through on their vision wasn’t always easy. “I’ve never been involved with the creation of a work of art that was so dependent on the availability of materials,” said Whitenack. “Joe and Shauger literally didn’t know what this piece might look like. They combed the BRING site, sought donated materials, hunted down scrap metal, and purchased a few rusty gears and bits along the way. It was so interesting to see the piece take shape over the many months of fabrication. First, the massive forms emerged, and then dozens of machined parts, gauges, levers and graphics brought DRAGO-19 to life.”

Daniel expressed gratitude for the Civic Alliance that helped Shauger and Mross procure materials from the wreckage of the stadium; numerous contractors who allowed them to scour their sites; the farmers who welcomed them into their barns and junk heaps; and, of course, the artists themselves, who kept on going despite numerous obstacles. “It’s been a real labor of love,” said Daniel. “It took incredible dedication on their part to see this through. They’ve put untold hours into this.”

Creativity is a core value at BRING. We seek to inspire shoppers and visitors through permanent and revolving art displays of the possibilities that reused materials contain.

Anyone who has seen the finished sculpture may have left with more questions than answers. That was also an intentional choice by the artists. Art, like relics uncovered by modern civilizations, often sparks big questions about cultures and societies. Shauger and Mross hope this piece will inspire people to confront questions like, what would aliens think if they came to our world and saw how we treat the things we consume? Where will people 100 years from now find fault and beauty in the way we live our lives? What is the role of reuse as climate change advances and we deplete natural resources around the world? With any luck, the answers that people finally arrive at will inspire choices and activities that make our world better as we move out of this strange year and into a calmer, greener decade.