State of the Arts Blog

Susan Solarz builds a bench for rest – and to pound on

Musical bench
Sculptor Susan Solars (right) talks with a group of passers-by who stopped to play her musical bench in downtown St Paul on Tuesday September 24th 2013 (MPR photo/Jeffrey Thompson)

Susan Solarz is a sculptor on a mission: to provide more comfortable seating in St Paul - and maybe a little music too. She has made a musical bench out of 270 pieces of PVC pipe. It's designed to be durable, rain-resistant spot for someone to rest their legs, but not someone who wants to take a sleep.

"I kind of added the extra element that if parents are using the bench and they have kids with them, waiting for the bus, there's an activity for the kids to do, that is that they can actually play the bench, because it's made out of PVC pipes, by striking the top with their hands, or these paddles that I made, or you can even use your own flip-flops."

Solarz spent four hours with her bench on the corner of 5th and Cedar yesterday, asking people to have a seat, or to see if they could coax a tune from the bench. It was a little hard to pick out a ditty, in part because the bench isn't tuned, and you have to be able to make sure you smack the top of the open tubes in such a way that it creates the complete seal in order to generate a satisfying "whomp" sound.  Solarz admits she spent a lot of time watching Blue Man Group videos trying how they had designed the beaters they use for their percussive performances.

A lot of people did stop by in the early fall sun to play a little, including your correspondent:

Solarz is part of the Irrigate group, an artist led project based along the six miles of the Central Corridor Light Rail Line. She'll demonstrate the bench today and tomorrow at 5th and Cedar. It's ultimately destined for the Daytons Bluff area in St Paul, but won't be put in place until next spring.