All is flux, nothing stays still.
A Greek quotation attributed to Heraclitus: “All is flux, nothing stays still” is an appropriate way to begin to talk about Miffy Fountain.
The sight and sound of moving water is both stimulating and entrancing. Throughout history, people have attempted to shape and control this elusive element in fountains. From the beginning, fountains have been rife with symbolic connotations. Certain commonalities are inherent in the properties of water, but ways for its display have been far ranging. All cultures associate water with spiritual blessing. Over centuries and across nations, artists, architects, landscape and garden designers, hydraulics experts, and engineers have collaborated to exploit the refreshing, soothing, and theatrical potential of water—with the result that fountains grace every major city in the world.
The artist Tom Sachs explores the fountain’s function as an icon and metaphor. Miffy Fountain (2007) is the first, long-term fountain which the artist has created. This public art project is integrated into Des Moines’ Western Gateway Park as an urban oasis.
Miffy Fountain As Icon
Miffy is a little bunny who is the main character in a series of children’s books that were first published in 1955 by Dutch author and illustrator Dick Bruna. Beyond the stories, however, Miffy is a brand of products sold to children in an unending stream of merchandising. This character has been marketed worldwide in millions of products such as toys, colored pencils, nightlights, puzzles, games, cups, and clocks.
Miffy Fountain As Metaphor (Symbolic Connotation)
The American artist Tom Sachs uses this globally recognized as a symbol of childhood to comment on the commercialization of every human experience, no matter how innocent or traumatic, to sell these products. The 10-foot-tall fountain — in the form of Miffy was created as part of “The Bronze Collection” with her equally cute friend Hello Kitty — both are described as “merchandising icons” with “an almost Buddhist sense of nothingness.”
The millions of Miffy images are slick, simple and insubstantial, but Sachs made his version in an obviously hand-made way and then cast it in bronze, a material used throughout history for grand statues. By revealing the work of his own hands and then using the ageless bronze, he reminds us of the human sensibility that underlies great art and literature.
Sachs enlarged the petite Miffy to monumental scale and then used her tears to create a fountain. With water spilling from the eyes, the fountain figure weeps into pools of its own tears. Are these tears of joy or tears of relief? Tears are your body’s release valve for stress, sadness, grief, anxiety, and frustration. Crying is sometimes connected with sadness. Sadness is a natural part of life and is usually connected with certain experiences of pain or loss — as well as, a meaningful moment of connection or joy that makes us value our lives. This expression is a live emotion that can serve to remind us of what matters to us, what gives our life meaning.
Much of the artist’s work is in mixed media and assemblage. Tom Sachs’ sculptures, which often mimic mass-produced objects, make use of humble materials and tools — Scotch tape and plywood, screwdrivers and vice grips — and the finished products have a deliberately scruffy quality, with glue drips, duct-tape traces and the ragged edges of jigsaw-cut wood left visible, emphasizing what Sachs calls the “scars of labor.”
About the project
Today, fountains are often part of urban development schemes and the shift is from scenographic displays to improvisational theater.
The outdoor site for Miffy Fountain takes advantage of the very public ground exterior space along Locust Street in downtown Des Moines.
Miffy Fountain was created in 2007 by Tom Sachs from foam core. The subsequent molding and bronze casting was in 2008. Other castings were produced in 2009 and 2014. The work of art is from an edition of five. Not including the cast bronze pool, the dimensions of the Miffy-figure are: H. 108 x W. 48 x D. 48 inches; H. 9 x W. 4 x D. 4 feet; the base dimensions are H. 14.4 x W. 96 x D. 96 in; H. 1.2 x W. 8 x D. 8 ft.
[Tom Sachs artwork calls special attention to the way commodities can be reexamined and re-contextualized through their representation as art objects. First modeled from small, mass-produced toy prototypes of the character, Miffy Fountain was created in part to comment on, as Sachs relates:]
“...this merchandising icon that exists only as a licensed character.” [By rendering this character] “in a ‘fine’ material like bronze,” the artist adds, “it’s re-contextualizing and shifting it back to a high level.”Tom Sachs