Things are shaking up at Jardin de las Granadas, the park on Anapamu opposite the old public library entrance. Tonight, on Thursday, March 2, the city will unveil a new public art piece designed to rock the small park, with a ribbon cutting courtesy of Mayor Helene Schneider. Titled “1925” in reference to the year an earthquake devastated and ultimately shaped the Spanish Colonial look of Santa Barbara as we know it today, the piece was designed by sculptor Kym Cochran and visual and projection artist Jonathan PJ Smith, and commissioned by Santa Barbara Beautiful and the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture. The piece is slated to stand as a temporary reminder of change and transformation for residents and visitors alike.
The piece “1925” consists of four mock boulders, each slightly more crumbled and degraded than the last. Like frames in a movie, we see the first rock poised in a state of wholeness, with the second and third stones successively more broken than the last. In the fourth representation, it rests chipped, chopped, and new. Cochran, a South Korean native who has designed rock sculptures for Disneyland and the Baltimore Aquarium, among many others, created the carefully sculpted pieces with steel rebar, lathe, and a cement mixture. The pair opted for a darker shade than our native sandstone colors, which they felt would be too tonally neutral and too atmospherically familiar to catch any eyes. On opening night, Smith will project vintage images of devastation upon the rocks to the tune of Vernon Dalhart’s 1925 song “The Santa Barbara Earthquake,” a big hit in its time.
Smith, who hails from England initially, was struck by the precarious nature of our climes when he moved here 30 years ago. “Santa Barbara is very disaster-prone. Where I come from in England, there’s nothing, absolutely nothing — since I’ve been here, it’s been floods, huge winds, fires in the mountains, earthquakes,” he said. Inspiration came in part as he walked in the mountains recently, where he beheld fallen sandstone that no doubt would have fallen in a similar fashion during that famous quake. “The earthquake in 1925 affected the entire area, and millennia upon millennia there have been earthquakes here — the rock defines Santa Barbara. Stones are the passage of history, with us involved in it.”
The pair, who have also designed regional rocks such as the commemorative plaque for the Natural History Museum’s Towbes Family Bridge, want the piece to be open-endedly interactive. Providing no explanation beyond a date, the artists hope the piece sparks some imaginations (though the rocks are also specifically designed to discourage climbing). Indeed, it’s with this sort of interactive blank canvas of nature aesthetics that the artists thrive, as in 2016’s “Tulle Falls,” a projected waterfall and pond presented at Isla Vista’s Lightworks that got children and adults alike playing with the faux falls. “We like to give them an experience; we don’t tell them what to think,” Cochran said.
If anything, “it’s a little bit mean,” Smith says. “Art doesn’t have to be a pleasant thing. What I would actually love to have happen is for people to feel like the ground underneath them is unstable; it’s a bizarre way of raising awareness.” To that end, emergency professionals will be on site during the ribbon cutting to underscore the cost of earthquakes.
The sculpture shows “how fragile everything is,” Cochran says. For a town that famously changes slowly, if at all, the artists are reminding us that not even beach resorts are immune to that passage of time. “Even stone breaks. It’s entropic; our life here is not permanent. This kind of shows you that it all changes in an instant, and we can rebuild, as well,” Smith said. “Nothing is written in stone.”