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On the Alaskan Coast, a Crowd of Human Casts Captures Our Emotional Trauma

Sculptures lining the coast of Alaska (photo by Sarah Davies, all photos courtesy 100 Stone)
Sculptures lining the coast of Alaska (photo by Sarah Davies, all photos courtesy 100 Stone)

Sixty-eight life-sized sculptures of humans — some peering towards the sky, some shrouded with downcast eyes — currently stand along the snow-covered coastline of Anchorage, Alaska. Each is cast from someone affected by emotional trauma, whether from occasions of abuse, chronic or mental illnesses, depression, experiences in the military, or other severe life circumstances. The sprawling installation is the outcome of 100 Stone, a lengthy and collaborative creative undertaking to engage with such people all across the state and give their collective stories a visual presence (as its title implies, the project initially aimed to display 100 statues). Last weekend, nearly 1,000 participants, their families, and friends, met at Point Woronzof Overlook Park — near Ted Stevens International Airport — to commemorate the works, representing the network that formed and grew over the past two years in support of this particular community.

Detail of a cast figure (photo by Sarah Davies) (click to enlarge)
Detail of a cast figure (photo by Sarah Davies) (click to enlarge)

“Ultimately, this is a suicide awareness project, a creative project for people who experience acute and persistent vulnerabilities,” project lead Sarah Davies told Hyperallergic. “I’m hoping that a transformation happens — of our attitudes and approaches towards people who are particularly vulnerable.”

The endeavor began two summers ago, when Davies drove about 2,100 miles along the state’s central road system with a U-Haul van and a trailer full of cast-making material, stopping at local agencies and organizations to which she had previously reached out to meet people wrestling with personal traumas. Funding from organizations including ArtPlace America and Alaska’s Mat Su Health Foundation also enabled her to fly into more distant, rural areas. At each site, she and local volunteers created plaster-covered burlap casts of interested participants, listening to the stories of those willing to share them.

The accounts Davies heard ranged from acts of domestic violence to incidents of childhood abuse, and the casting sessions, she noted, offered people an opportunity for emotional release. In addition to vocalizing these painful histories, the actual act of emerging from the cast, to many, also represented a physical liberation from individual burdens, with the shells standing as vessels for the troubles from which they could then walk away.

“Oftentimes the things we experience are very difficult to talk about,” Davies told Hyperallergic. “Using creative action enables us to communicate our experience without having to use words, to find words. Some of us just don’t have the emotional vocabulary, and often people won’t have the emotional vocabulary if they don’t experience the benefits of some kind of therapy.”

The 100 Stone Project (still from Affinity Films)
The 100 Stone Project (photo by Affinity Films)

Davies focused on creating just the figures’ torsos and legs during her road trip casting sessions, returning to her studio to mass-produce arms and legs from mannequins. She and a number of sculptors then adjusted the proportions and volumes based on the cast parts, and, as a final step, filled each model with a lightweight concrete to complete them. The forms were then merged with plaster masks molded from the visages of those who were not comfortable with having their bodies cast but still wished to be involved. Each figure thus captures two people and cements their fragile narratives.

“It’s about vulnerability — the acute, the persistent — and just this universality of humanity, and how we are all vulnerable to our environments and to our circumstances,” Davies continued. “Yet with this project and with this creative action we were taking, we were demonstrating powerful, powerful resilience.”

That message especially resonated nearly two weeks before the December 5 dedication, when high winds and high tides tossed some figures across the beach; others disintegrated from a three-day spike in temperatures. Even though the original number of sculptures fell from 85 to 68, Davies, aided by many volunteers, managed to painstakingly restore some of the damaged works so they stood once more after being battered down by unexpected forces. The dedication occurred as scheduled, during which members of the large crowd observed, touched, and even hugged the sculptures.

“We were able to look at this massive thing that we have all made, the hundreds of us, and recognize how we are all identical in our humanity and in our capacity for vulnerability,” Davies said. “How important that moment was for us to be able to recognize that we had achieved a moment of transformation from feeling that we are different from people to feeling like we are the same, and connected.”

The figures will remain perched on the rocky coast indefinitely, with only nature determining their lifespans.

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Detail of a sculpture (photo by John Whipple)
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Detail of a sculpture (photo by Affinity Films)
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Detail of a sculpture (photo by Evan Mulcahy)
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The 100 Stone Project (photo by Affinity Films)
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The 100 Stone Project (photo by Sheila Wyne)
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The 100 Stone project (photo by Affinity Films)
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The 100 Stone project (photo by Sarah Davies)
A casting session (photo by Charlie Kovalenko)
A casting session (photo by Charlie Kovalenko)
Sarah Davies with her van of materials and casts (photo courtesy 100 Stone)
Sarah Davies with her van of materials and casts

The 100 Stone Project continues indefinitely at Point Woronzof Overlook (Northern Lights Blvd, Anchorage, Alaska). 

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