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Erie Arts & Culture and TEDxErie are continuing their collaborative efforts in bringing the stage to life for this year’s TEDxErie event on November 4th. Local art professor and exhibiting artist Dietrich Wegner received the Artists Commission for the stage installation. We recently contacted him to learn what his plans are. Keep reading to find out how Wegner uses houses supported by interlocked tree roots to symbolize this year’s Bridges Over Barriers theme.

What were your initial thoughts when your concept was selected for the TEDxErie set design this year?
I was excited to get the opportunity to do a local event. I have shown my work quite a bit internationally but until recently I have not been very involved in this community.

What was your process for coming up with the idea for the Bridges Over Barriers set design?
My wife who is also an artist and art teacher at Fairview High School initially saw the TEDx call for artist proposals. She actually initially suggested that I think about how to transform my old Homeland sculptures into a solution for the TEDx stage. I set up the sculptures across my living room for a few days and did several drawings trying to turn the old work into a new image that emphasized community more. This is explained more below.

Tell me about your concept.
In my TEDxErie set design, I will revisit an older body of work entitled Homeland. Originally these precarious houses floating high on stilts contained several divergent concepts simultaneously: a portrait of the tenuous state of the American Dream as well as an exaggerated expression of how we seclude ourselves for security. The original houses were atop separate stilts and this heightened their peril.


For the TedxErie stage, I will reshape the old work into one that interlocks the stilts of the houses, creating an image of a rolling wave or bridge. The resulting sculpture will retain an element of upheaval and the precariousness of the old sculpture but will be visually stabilized by the houses each being perfectly level and by their stilts being interwoven with each other. This interlocked “root” image came to me during a recent trip to a redwood forest in California, where I learned that redwood trees can have intermingled roots. When one tree does not receive enough of its own nutrients another tree that may be miles away can send its own excess nutrients through a network of roots to the vulnerable distant neighbor. Our community has been in a tenuous state as long as I have lived here. Erie’s stabilizing force is its sense of community, our bridge over the barrier of a shifting economy and rising income inequality. We succeed when we recognize ourselves as interlocked with our community.

What do you think makes your design unique?
I am highly interested in ambiguous images, in images that can simultaneously communicate different sensibilities; stability and tenuousness, community and isolation. Our politics and pop culture can have a tendency to flatten depictions of our world and erase important nuances essential to understanding who we are and how we have become the nation that we are. I strive to make images that are multilayered, images that are built out of these nuances.

How long do you think it will take to construct the set design?
I will be using old sculptures that already have hundreds of hours invested in them. I probably have one hundred to one hundred and fifty hours ahead of me in partially taking apart and reassembling the new design.

What do you think will be the most challenging part of constructing your stage design?
Making an image that looks as though each house is interwoven with every other house seamlessly while allowing for the sculpture to come apart in pieces (for transportation) will be the most challenging part. The final sculpture will be 24 feet wide by 10 feet high by 4 to 8 feet deep but will need to come apart to fit in a trailer and through doorways.

Who or what influences you?
I am mostly influenced by society itself and the person to person interactions I have every day.

What advice would you give to young artists looking for opportunities to exhibit their work?
If the artist is under 18 I would suggest participating in local art leagues, museums, and our community and keep an eye out through websites of local arts organizations for opportunities. These younger artists should spend most of their time making their own work and looking at the work of others. If “young” artist means older than 18 or 20, then I would recommend looking at a website such as for national calls to artists for shows outside their local community.

What does “Bridges Over Barriers” mean to you?
Our community has been in a tenuous state as long as I have lived here. Factories and jobs have been in a constant state of flux. We succeed when we recognize ourselves as interlocked with our community. We succeed when we build a sense of belonging and participate with our society. Erie’s stabilizing force is its sense of community, our bridge over the barrier of a shifting economy and rising income inequality.

Thank you, Dietrich, for taking the time to talk with us. See his design come to live this November 4th at McDowell High School for the TEDxErie Event.

The mission of Erie Arts & Culture is to strengthen the vibrancy and vitality of the Erie Region and enrich the lives of our people through the advancement of arts and culture.
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