Replacing the Columbus Statue: Matthew Mohr's ARMS
A kinetic, eco-friendly sculpture comments on the relationship between humans and machines.
After 2020, a year in which—thanks to the pandemic—human interactions largely took place across computer screens and fiber-optic cables, it makes sense for Matthew Mohr to lend his talents to a replacement for the Christopher Columbus statue.
The Columbus artist, who is deeply interested in the way people interact with machines, is perhaps best known around Central Ohio for his sculpture As We Are, the massive head-shaped installation at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The piece, temporarily turned off because of COVID-19, rotates through thousands of 3D images of faces.
“We’re sort of wrapped up with our machines, sort of in love with them in a way,” he says.
Mohr serves on the Columbus Art Commission, the committee that will select the new public artwork. He will tell you, adamantly, that he doesn’t think his piece should be chosen, and that the commission for that piece should go to a Native American artist. But that doesn’t mean his work might not have a place in another public space, and the chance to talk about what could go in front of Columbus City Hall was too appealing for him to ignore.
His sculpture, which he’s named ARMS, is kinetic, with lipstick-like limbs that rotate from side to side. The piece is powered by solar cells, a nod to the inevitable cleaner future of energy in the United States.
Mohr also teaches graphic design at the Columbus College of Art & Design and spent much of the last year teaching his students via a laptop. The more time we spend physically apart, the more we rely on phones, computers and video game systems to keep connected. But each of those machines comes with a filter—in some cases, a literal one—that help hide parts of our lives from those around us. That’s part of what Mohr was thinking about when he designed ARMS. “There’s so much information that’s been lost when we don’t get to be in-person with someone,” he says.
A small door at the bottom of the sculpture leads to an interior chamber that, Mohr says, will remain a secret until his death. “I love how art and design allow me to connect with people, yet there’s always been an aspect of my work that needs to have a message-in-a-bottle nature,” Mohr says.
When he stays in a hotel, he always draws something above the door jam on the inside of the closet and adds his email address. (No one has gotten in touch yet; he’s optimistic someone will.)
“For roughly the same reason, the interior of the sculpture will also be sculptural,” he says, “but personal on a level that may not make sense to anyone.