Walking to the Sky

Walking to the sky

Ahhh, a modern sculpture with some controversy. “Walking to the Sky” is a stainless steel and resin sculpture by CMU alum Jonathan Borofsky. It was erected in the middle of “the cut” on May 15, 2006 and is one of the most obvious things on CMU’s campus.

Described by the artist as “a portrait of all of humanity rising upward from the earth to the heavens above — striving into the future with strength and determination” and “a symbol for our collective search for wisdom and awakened consciousness”, it just doesn’t live up to its goals for me. It looks like they’re walking up to the end of the pole in order to jump off, which would be a different outlook on humanity. I guess I tend to like sculptures that are either realistic or abstractly symbolic, rather than the realism plus literal symbolism here.

I didn’t get to take any pictures in 2009 when it was partially removed to be strengthened because it had started moving in the wind; I remember riding by on the bus and wondering what was going on.

I was surprised to learn while researching this post that CMU’s Walking to the Sky is a copy. The original is in Texas after a stint in Rockefeller Center, and there is another copy in Seoul. There are also variations with only one person apiece in Kassel, Germany and Strasbourg, France.

Another thing that bothers me about this sculpture is the built-in admirers:
It just seems a bit… cheeky. The 3 life-size figures at the base, staring up at the rest of the sculpture, can easily be mistaken for real people at a distance. It seems like the part of the sculpture on the ground is perpetually playing the prank of staring up at nothing just to see how many people it can get to stare up at nothing with it.

on campus

The students at CMU also did not like the sculpture when it was proposed and installed originally– mostly due to the prominent location the sculpture was given with little input from the student body. It also seemed to provoke a lot of negative reactions– from “vaguely phallic” to “it defines us as a leading university that doesn’t believe in physics”. It’s also been the object of at least two temporary “modifications” presumably made by mischievous students.

The trustees and President of the university believed in the positive symbolism of the sculpture and its relevance to CMU’s goals, had a forum with the students about the location, and have honored a distinguished alumnus. Student dislike of the sculpture seems to have died down as new students come in, and Walking to the Sky seems here to stay.

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