Little Rock artist Sandra Sell never stops looking for new ways to collaborate on art. And that is precisely how the UA Little Rock alumna recently found herself in New York City’s Times Square helping install “Wake,”one of conceptual artist Mel Chin’s new works.
“Wake,” commissioned by Times Square Arts, is a 60-foot-tall animatronic sculpture that resembles a cross between a shipwreck and the skeletal remains of a marine mammal that rise up from Times Square. On the ship’s bow is the figurehead of Jenny Lind, an opera star known as the “Swedish Nightingale” and for whom the USS Nightingale tea clipper and slave ship were named.
Chin’s other piece, “Unmoored,” is a digitally interactive mixed reality counterpart to “Wake.” Together, the two works “open a physical and virtual gateway to the future of human existence, inviting participants to contemplate their place within the world’s transforming climate,” according to Times Square Arts.
Faculty, students and staff at the University of North Carolina Asheville’s STEAM Studioengineered and fabricated the structure of “Wake.” The head of the female figure gently nods, and her chest rises and compresses, as if she is breathing.
Sell, who was an artist-in-resident at UNC in March, was one of many people who worked on the elaborate project.
“My primary role was to construct, then carve, the figure’s dress,” she said. “It was a fantastic opportunity to share my experience with the team and engage in collaborative thinking.”
Sell worked on the piece for four weeks, leading up to the sculpture’s installment on July 11 in Times Square. The structure was built with segments in mind, so it could be deconstructed, shipped then reconstructed on site.
“I was extremely excited to come in and lend a hand in the last 24 hours of installation,” Sell said. “The team had worked extremely hard, and it was a pleasure to bring some fresh energy to help with the last push. The opening day was great, and so many people showed up.”
Times Square is just one location for art that is part of the larger exhibit “Mel Chin: All Over the Place,” co-produced by No Longer Empty and the Queens Museum. The exhibition spans nearly four decades of Chin’s work – at sites including the Queens Museum, Times Square, the Broadway-Lafayette subway station, and streaming online with Soundtrack – creating an infinite loop of the artist’s thinking about our world and how we choose to occupy it.
“Wake” will remain in Times Square Plaza through Sept. 5.
Sell is back in Little Rock now, where she retired after her 21-year career in the U.S. Army. She enrolled at UA Little Rock, completing a Bachelor of Arts in 2008 and a Master of Arts in 2014. Sell has also served as an apprentice to Little Rock artist Robyn Horn, who was instrumental in helping UA Little Rock get its Windgate Center for Art and Design.
Her creative pursuits led her to the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where she was a studio assistant for wood sculptors Stoney Lamar and Brent Skidmore. Skidmore, who directs the Craft Studies program at University of North Carolina at Asheville, then invited Sell to fill an artist-in-resident position at the university earlier this year. Soon after, she became involved working on “Wake”.
A wood carver by choice, Sell also paints and does some work in found object dimensional painting. Her work is in the permanent collections of the Arkansas Arts Center, the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, and the Historic Arkansas Museum, along with many private collections.
Since 2007, Sell’s work has been featured in over 30 exhibits in the United States.
Top Right Photo: Mel Chin, Wake, 2018, multimedia. Courtesy of Chelsea Lipman for Times Square Arts