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Art project turns trash to art in downtown Rochester

"98% Air," on display at the Rochester Art Center, is an ongoing project using more than 9,000 pieces of plastic and foam pulled from the Mississippi River.

4Ground Presley Martin 05.JPG
A part of an ongoing art project, "98% Air" by Minnesota artist Presley Martin, on display outside the Rochester Art Center June 12, 2022. This piece is one of about 20 throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin as part of the Franconia Sculpture Garden's 4Ground Biennial project.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — At first glance, the field of sculptures outside the Rochester Art Center looks like something natural.

A closer inspection reveals the shapes on top of the hundreds of wood spindles are actually trash — plastic and foam pulled from the Mississippi River.

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Even so, each piece was shaped by nature as wear and tear in a natural setting was inflicted on them before they were pulled from the water by artist Presley Martin.

The work is the latest and largest installation of Martin’s ongoing project “98% Air.”

So far, Martin has collected and incorporated more than 9,000 foam pieces from the river into the work.

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4Ground Presley Martin 07.JPG
A part of an ongoing art project, "98% Air" by Minnesota artist Presley Martin, on display outside the Rochester Art Center June 12, 2022. This piece is one of about 20 throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin as part of the Franconia Sculpture Garden's 4Ground Biennial project.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Martin also assembles trail markers with some of the pieces of debris he has collected from the river’s shore. The markers resemble a stack of rocks. Some are on display inside the art center.

It’s fitting the installation overlooks the Zumbro River on the west side of the Rochester Art Center. That water is bound for the Mississippi to the east.

It came to Rochester via the Franconia Sculpture Garden’s inaugural 4Ground Biennial project.

One of the goals of the project is to raise the profile of arts organizations, artists and environmental organizations. Franconia also tapped groups advocating for indigenous and native peoples and worked to include artists from those communities.

“We really want people to go places they normally don’t go to and get to know the history of the people and the land,” said Ginger Porcella, executive director and chief curator at the Franconia Sculpture Garden.

Most of the 4Ground installations are outdoors and many are by water which Porcella said is part of the point of the project.

“It’s just getting people to think about the impact people have on the land and think about what they can do,” she said.

4Ground Presley Martin 08.JPG
A part of an ongoing art project, "98% Air" by Minnesota artist Presley Martin, on display outside the Rochester Art Center June 12, 2022. This piece is one of about 20 throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin as part of the Franconia Sculpture Garden's 4Ground Biennial project.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

The outdoor installation in Rochester is one of 17 currently on display as part of the 4Ground project. Most are in Minnesota with some in North Dakota and Wisconsin. A full map can be viewed at the 4Ground website, 4groundbiennial.org .

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Most of the sculptures and art installations will be up from June through August, Porcella said.

“Most of them are meant to be ephemeral in nature,” she said.

Porcella has also personally visited all of them so far, she added.

She said she enjoyed the "98% Air" piece and its resemblance to something found in nature.

"It's great to see it move in the breeze," she said.

“It’s a lot of time on the road, but it’s my baby and I kind of did this to myself,” she said.

Planning for the next project has already begun with more sites in Wisconsin being added along with adding at least one in South Dakota.

The 4Ground project will likely be ongoing, but given the time and logistics to set up art installations with various organizations throughout the upper Midwest, it will be held every two years.

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People interested in Martin’s piece can hear directly from the artist about it. He will be at the art center to give a tour of his work and talk about the exhibition Sunday, June 26, 2022.

If you go

What: Presley Martin Artist Talk

When: 11:30 a.m., June 26, 2022.

Where: Rochester Art Center, 30 Civic Center Drive.

How much: Free

4Ground Presley Martin 02.JPG
A part of an ongoing art project, "98% Air" by Minnesota artist Presley Martin, on display outside the Rochester Art Center June 12, 2022. This piece is one of about 20 throughout Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin as part of the Franconia Sculpture Garden's 4Ground Biennial project.
John Molseed / Post Bulletin

Related Topics: ART
John Molseed joined the Post Bulletin in 2018. He covers arts, culture, entertainment, nature and other fun stories he's surprised he gets paid to cover. When he's not writing articles about Southeast Minnesota artists and musicians, he's either picking banjo, brewing beer, biking or looking for other hobbies that begin with the letter "b." Readers can reach John at 507-285-7713 or jmolseed@postbulletin.com.
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