By Anne-Solène Bayan, Assistant Curator
Swamp potato. Duck potato. Wapato. Arrowhead. Katniss. These are the names commonly associated with the plant that inspired the brightly colored constellation hanging in Telfair’s Jepson Center. katniss, a site-specific installation by local artist Katherine Sandoz, has been on view since 2019. To date, it has been the largest-ever commission and project designed for the space. In honor of its 3-year residency, we look back at the piece’s origins, construction, and its maker’s designs for its future.
“I first came across the plant while attending a cookout in nearby Pinpoint. The blossoms and leaf shape caught my attention immediately, and I saved the picture for some four years,” recalled Sandoz. Sagittaria latifolia (its scientific name), native to South, Central, and North America, thrives in the mud, improbably sprouting out of swamps, bogs, ditches, and ponds. It produces blossoms and edible tubers which, when not foraged for human consumption, sustain their environment by nourishing a variety of aquatic critters. At the Jepson, katniss hovers overhead as if the museum’s atrium were a vast, light-filled pond. Consider a scene from Claude Monet’s water lilies—but inversed. In Sandoz’s piece, we are the amphibians or “tiny bug[s] floating around and observing the plant, the concept of reflections, the greater world above and below.”
The piece is airy despite its significant weight, approximately 500 lbs. Its creation necessitated over a dozen professionals, including engineers, designers, and fabricators, over the course of a year. Fabricated in Miami, FL by Price Street Projects, the installation was based off 6 acrylic sheets layered and suspended from the glass ceiling from cables made of industrial aircraft material. The time of day, weather conditions, and architecture activate katniss, generating unexpected shadows and colors on the structure’s walls. Back in 2019, it existed side-by-side another project by Sandoz—sagittaria, a painted mural on view for a year on the Jepson’s third-floor landing. Featuring the plant’s blooms, arrowhead leaves, reeds, and aquatic bed, its colors echoed the hues generated by the atrium’s acrylic sheeting.
When asked about katniss’s future, the artist shared: “I am planning on having a fabricator recut the current shapes into another sculpture I have designed. The work will become a new plant, take on a new shape and be table-top size. I love that it will have a new life, be re-used, be the “seed” in new works, with new homes, same materials, same colors, same partnership with light and the possibilities it offers. The best layer will be the new sculptures’ history. I also appreciate the fact that something so large with so many pieces will become something very small, multiply, and spread from its first and singular home—the Jepson—to, hopefully, many homes across the country.”
During a visit to Sandoz’ studio one rainy November afternoon, she revealed that she had selected a plant muse and motif for the new year: the lotus. As a symbol of strength, resilience, and rebirth, it may very well be the ideal vessel for katniss’s reincarnations!